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.





Military and monarchy as Siamese twins

10 12 2017

The Asia Times has another long commentary on Thailand’s political predicament by Shawn Crispin. There’s some interesting bits and pieces.

For one thing, it is stated that in “the lead-up to the cremation of … King Bhumibol …, authorities rounded up 42 suspects at check points around the royal ceremony…”. Further,

Rights groups and diplomats monitoring the arrests say the detained suspects likely face prosecution on national security-related charges for threatening the ceremony, including under the penal code’s harsh lese majeste provision that shields the royal family from defamation, insult and threat.

It is interesting that Crispin credits The Dictator “for steering a smooth succession from Bhumibol to Vajiralongkorn, a delicate transition many feared could spark instability.” To be honest, we think the “delicate transition” was a bit of a beat up.

The next royal big deal, he says, is “Vajiralongkorn’s formal coronation, now seen as astrologically auspicious to be held in March…”.

Crispin asks “how stable is the transition from royal old to new, and how serious is the threat posed by anti-monarchists supposedly lurking in the shadows?”

He notes that Vajiralongkorn “has set a tone for his reign in moves that diplomats and analysts say shows his intent to shake-up royal institutions in terms of personnel, protocol and operations.”

That’s somewhat bland for what he’s doing, which is erasing all notion of popular sovereignty in favor of a monarchy that is independent of all checks and balances introduced after 1932.

Crispin says that the “Royal Household Bureau has also openly targeted those found to have abused their palace positions or association for personal gain.”

That’s somewhat bland for what somewhat bland for what’s happened. Rather, the new king has been purging the palace and appointing his trusted allies.

One interesting observation is that “[c]hampions of the new reign say the housecleaning is overdue and that ill-deeds grew in the latter years of Bhumibol’s reign when he was hospitalized for ill-health.”

That’s what might be expected, but it is one of the first statements of the fact that the new reign is embedding in a manner that is essentially neo-feudal and that shifts political and economic power to the palace.

The notion that the new palace will “challenge the big business families that have long leveraged royal connections to corner sectors of the economy, a commercial domination that has grown since the 2014 coup” seems to come out of nowhere, but it is known that the king maintains relations with several Sino-Thai tycoons.

It isn’t clear to us that Vajiralongkorn taking “full control of the Crown Property Bureau …[and] the board of the palace’s Royal Project Foundation,” seems like him establishing his dominance and lining his pockets rather than a challenge to the big tycoons.

Crispin is correct to note that the military junta has “unquestioningly” done the palace’s bidding, but adds a note:

Thailand’s military and monarchy have long had a symbiotic relationship, with the former sworn to the protection of the latter, but the new emerging balance between the two powerful institutions is still being determined under Vajiralongkorn’s young new reign.

Both General Prayuth Chan-ocha and the king are self-centered and erratic, leading to concerns that the two may clash.

Crispin is also on the money when he notes that the king is asserting authority of Bangkok-based military units, He refers to the “absorption of military combat units, including the First Region Command’s First Infantry Division, a top-fighting force, into the king’s personal guard.”

That division “was recently moved from the military’s main command in Bangkok to Vajiralongkorn’s secondary Tawee Wattana palace on the capital’s outskirts, with certain soldiers transferred upcountry.”

On the transition to an “elected” government, Crispin observes the junta’s reluctance and suggests that “anti-monarchy elements remain bent on undermining the royal institution…” may be a “reason” for further “election” delays. at a still uncertain juncture of the succession.

He reckons that there are 1,000 lese majeste complaints “still under police investigation…”. That’s a whole lot of anti-monarchists and a whole lot of justification for ongoing military repression.

For the moment, the junta and the king remain joined as Siamese twins in neo-feudal repression.





Political loosening now a political tightening

17 11 2017

All of that talk about local elections and loosening the restrictions on political activism turns out, as we had suggested, to be a steaming pile of buffalo manure.

Prachatai: reports that the military dictatorship “has ordered the police to tighten surveillance on anti-government groups and report about their activities every 15 days.”

All police have been ordered “to tightly monitor anti-government groups…”. By “anti-government” they mean anti-junta and so-called anti-monarchy groups, which the royalist junta sees as one in the same.

The junta conspiracy concoction magicians reckon that “certain groups of individuals are trying to incite conflict and stir up chaos against the government [junta] through social media and other means, adding that the groups are active both domestically and abroad.”

The Bangkok Post adds some further detail. The orders for this intensified repression have come from General Udomdej Sitabutr and Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan. The orders apply to all security agencies.

The police say they “have not yet detected any suspicious activities from leaders of anti-coup elements…”. The police helpfully added that many in the anti-junta movement “have already been detained.”

Those concocting another plot imagine that “anti-coup groups both in Thailand and abroad were attempting to undermine the government’s stability by using various online and other media to spread false information to local communities and villages.”

The targets of increased suppression are “networks of people who provide ideological and financial support…”. We think they are making this up (again).





Updated: Yet another anti-monarchy “plot”

3 10 2017

Thailand’s recent politics has been awash with rightist and royalist claims of “plots” against the monarchy. The military dictatorship claims to have “discovered” another such “plot.” This time the plot is claimed to be a plan to disrupt the funeral for the dead king.

PPT can only express disdain for this political ploy and we can only wonder if anyone still believes such nonsense. As much as we’d like to see an an anti-monarchy plot in Thailand, we haven’t seen any evidence that there is one in the works now.

One of the first “plots” was the entirely concocted “Finland Plot.” The claim peddled by many associated with the People’s Alliance for Democracy and fabricated by notorious royalist ideologue Chai-anan Samudavanija and others. It claimed that Thaksin Shinawatra and former left-wing student leaders had met in Finland and come up with a plan to overthrow the monarchy and establish a communist state. These inventions were published in the Sondhi Limthongkul-owned newspapers and repeated many times by PAD.

As bizarre as this nonsense was, Wikipedia notes that the allegations had an “impact on the popularity of Thaksin and his government, despite the fact that no evidence was ever produced to verify the existence of a plot. Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai party vehemently denied the accusations and sued the accusers. The leaders of the 2006 military coup claimed Thaksin’s alleged disloyalty as one of their rationales for seizing power.”

Back in 2015, even the politicized courts held that ultra-royalist Pramote Nakornthap had defamed Thaksin with these concoctions. Not surprisingly, many ultra-royalists continue to believe this nonsense.

The anti-monarchy plot diagram

Equally notorious was the anti-monarchy “plot,” replete with a diagram, that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government concocted when faced with a red shirt challenge in April 2010.

The government’s Centre for the Resolution to Emergency Situations claimed to have uncovered a plot to overthrow the monarchy and said “intelligence” confirmed the “plot.” Indeed, the bitter Thawil Pliensri, the former secretary-general of the National Security Council “confirmed” the “plot.” The map included key leaders of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, members of the Puea Thai Party and former banned politicians, academics and hosts of community radio programs. Then Prime Minister Abhisit welcomed the uncovering of the “plot.”

CRES spokesman and then Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, who just happens to be the current dictatorship’s chief propagandist, repeatedly declared this plot a red shirt effort to bring down the monarchy.

We could go on, but let’s look at the current “plot,” which not coincidentally comes from the same military leaders who were in place in when the above “mapping” of a republican plot was invented. It is the same coterie of coup plotters (and that was a real plot) that repeatedly accused Ko Tee or Wuthipong Kachathamakul of various anti-monarchy plots and he was “disappeared” from Laos, presumably by the junta’s henchmen-murderers.

In the new “plot,” Deputy Dictator General Wongsuwan has declared:

Anti-monarchy cells are conspiring to disrupt the funeral of His Majesty the Late King this month, deputy junta chairman Prawit Wongsuwan said Monday.

Gen. Prawit described the alleged agitators as those who “have ill intentions toward the monarchy.” Although he gave no details, he said full-scale security measures would be implemented throughout the rites to place over several days culminating with the Oct. 26 cremation.

Prawit added that “[a]uthorities have learned of threats inside and outside the country, especially from those who oppose and have negative thoughts about ‘the [royal] institution’…”. He put “security forces” on “full alert.”

Careful readers will have noticed that the first mention of this “plot” came from The Dictator General Prayuth Chan-ocha almost two weeks ago.

Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart “refused to elaborate in detail on the supposed threat in the latest intelligence report” but still declared that “[t]hose involved were among the ‘regular faces’ abroad wanted on lese majeste charges, but who still incite negative feelings towards the monarchy among supporters through social media.”

The fingerprints on this concoction are those who have regularly invented plots for political purposes. That’s the military. They read all kinds of social media and put 1 and 1 together and come up with anti-monarchy plot.

We tend to agree with Pavin Chachavalpongpun, who is reported as saying:

The cremation provides an opportunity for the security forces to strengthen their position politically using critics of the monarchy as an excuse to increase the state’s heavy handed policy to control society more tightly…. Critics of the monarchy hardly pose a threat considering how much they have been suppressed since the coup….

The cremation and the coronation that will follow are critical political events for the military dictatorship. They want to be seen to be ensuring that everything runs smoothly for both events as the junta moves to stay in power, “election” or “no election.”  Finding a “plot” can make them look even more like the “protectors” of the monarchy.

Update: We don’t know why, but Khaosod’s most recent report on this “plot” seems to be supportive of the the junta’s claims. The claims this report makes amount to little more than reporting chatter. Similar chatter has been around for some time, encouraging individual acts that do not amount to anything like rebellion or disruption.

Some of the material that has been circulated may well derive from the state’s intelligence operatives seeking to disrupt and identify red shirts.  The thing about concocting a plot as a way to discredit your opponents is that there has to be elements in it that seem, at least on a initial view, feasible and believable. That was the point of the diagram produced above, naming persons known to be anti-monarchy. Putting them in a plot is something quite different.





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.





As we said… a junta ruse

7 02 2017

Just a couple of days ago PPT posted on the sudden revelations of “death threats” to The Dictator and Deputy Dictator and their claims that the “assassination” social media posts came from red shirt, republicans “overseas.”

We speculated that the claims were whiffy and suggested to us a plot by the junta to go to the Lao government with “crimes” against the anti-monarchists that did allow extradition. (Lese majeste is not covered by the current extradition treaty.)

As the Bangkok Post reports, that speculation turns out to be pretty accurate.

The junta has determined that “Thai people who fled to Laos to escape lese majeste changes have issued the death threats against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon…”,

That’s according to National Security Council chief General Thawip Netniyom.

We can add at this point in the discussion that General Thawip was appointed only a little over a week ago “to seek a meeting with Laotian officials and work out a deal, which could include the exchange of people sought by each country.”So we can assume, if our speculation is good, that it is General Thawip who has come up with this “brilliant” plot.

So it is no surprise that Thawip says “up to six” Thais in Laos are involved. That’s probably the six he was told to get.

And, of course, “Gen Thawip plans to visit Laos to follow up on the government’s extradition request…”. He adds, “[d]eath threats against important people could lead to another criminal charge.”

Of course they are, whether real or concocted.