King and Privy Council

14 10 2018

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a well-known critic of the monarchy. He has a new article at The Diplomat. Most of it, though, will be familiar to PPT readers. However, it is worth remaking some of his points.

He focuses on the recent reorganization of the Privy Council and notes that the:

king’s decision to evict old members of the Privy Council close to his late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the stripping of the power from its president, General Prem Tinsulanonda, as well as the appointment of his close confidants as new Privy Councilors, suggests that, more than just a process, this is part of the growing aggrandizement of political power of Thailand’s new King….

In fact, the king has not really done anything that should not have been expected. Any new king would want to have his most trusted advisers in place.

The dead king made sure he had pliant royalists as advisers “working outside the constitutional framework to compete with other elite groups for administrative and political power.”

They protected and advanced the king’s and monarchy’s positions:

Successive coups have over the years strengthened the partnership between the Privy Council and the military. The Privy Council played its part in endorsing past coups, including the most recent one in May 2014. Prem, in the aftermath of the coup, openly praised the coup makers for being a force that moved Thailand forward. This underlined the quintessential role of the Privy Council as an engine behind the Thai politics.

In the past reign, the link with the military mostly revolved around Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and, to a lesser extent, Gen Surayud Chulanont. The Privy Councilors

… constructed a complex web of relationships as a way to sanctify the royal power above other institutions outside the constitutional framework. In his overt intervention in politics, Prem placed his trusted subordinates in key positions in the bureaucracy and in the army. He had an influence on the defense budget, and dominated national security and foreign policy, and thus the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Pavin also notes that the:

Privy Council under Prem also had its members seated on boards in major conglomerates including Bangkok Bank, Charoen Phokphand, the Boonrawd group, and the Charoen Siriwatanapakdi business group. For the Privy Council, reaching out to these powerful factions was as crucial as allowing them to reach in, thus consolidating a network of interdependence. The Privy Council’s strong ties with the bureaucracy, the military and businesses effectively circumscribed the power and authority of the government of the day.

The new king wants similar influence, but he’s been busy pushing the old duffers aside. Prem is infirm, doddery and being made essentially powerless:

On October 2, Vajiralongkorn added three more Privy Councillors to its team: Amphon Kittiamphon, currently advisor to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha; General Chalermchai Sidhisart, former army chief, and; Air Chief Marshal Chom Rungsawang, former Air Force chief. This latest move can be regarded as Vajiralongkorn’s plot in strengthening his political position by setting up a new trusted team to replace the old one—the team that has its links with the current military strongmen.

At present, 10 of the 16 councilors have been appointed by the current king. He can appoint another two. At the same time, he has already ditched three he appointed, presumably because they annoyed him about something or other. So the “trusted team” is being put in place, but there’s still some work to do or dying to be done.

Pavin also mentions the “law was enacted in regard to the ownership of the rich Crown Property Bureau…, [where] crown property assets reverted to the ownership of the king with the bureau’s investments now being held in Vajiralongkorn’s name.”

He might have mentioned that the king is now personally the largest shareholder in both the Siam Cement Group and the Siam Commercial Bank, the latter ownership having been seen in stockholder information fairly recently. (We also think Pavin should update the $30 billion assets of the CPB/king. That was from data collected in 2005 and imperfectly updated in 2011. We would guess that the real figure is closer to $50-60 billion.)

Pavin is undoubtedly right that while “many predicted that Vajiralongkorn, perceived as having lacked moral authority, could become a weak king.” As he now says, “He is quickly proving them wrong.”





The heiress, a scam and the public purse

7 07 2018

In an earlier post, PPT commented on Singha beer heiress Chitpas Kridakorn aka Boonrawd seeking assistance from a taxpayer-funded Justice Ministry fund for defendants to meet court bail and costs as a low-income earner. Despite the fact that she’s heir to a fortune that currently stacks up to some $2.4 billion, she cried poor to apparently pay a bail surety in cases arising from her high-profile activities with the anti-democratic People’s  Democratic Reform Committee in the street protests against the Yingluck Shinawatra government.

In a report at The Nation, it now appears that this application may have been little more than a smart-assed legal ploy to delay the case: “It has been speculated that she had applied for financial assistance to stall for time in the criminal cases against her.” This is because she “had postponed a meeting with public prosecutors, citing the pending application to the Justice Fund.”

It is now reported that the Justice Ministry “has set aside a request for financial assistance from … Chitpas … to contest a treason charge after she failed to verify her suitability within the given time.” The Ministry stated that the Fund “had requested that she submit her tax documents to prove she should be a priority,” but that the letter sent had not been accepted or signed for and it had been returned to the Fund.

While this might seem to confirm a legal scam, the “fund managers chose not to scrap her request, and “Chitpas was eligible to re-apply anytime…”. That might be a legal position for the Ministry but sounds suspiciously like collusion in a legal scam.





Updated: Arrogant heiress cries poor

8 06 2018

Chutzpah, egotism, smugness, vanity, audacity, cheek, conceitedness, contemptuousness, disdainfulness, gall, high-handedness, imperiousness, pomposity, self-importance, self-love, superciliousness, overbearance and scornfulness are just some of the words that come up as possible synonyms for arrogance.

Whatever it is described as, Singha beer heiress Chitpas Kridakorn aka Boonrawd has it in bulldozer loads.

In a Ripley’s style story, she is reported to be “seeking assistance from a Justice Ministry fund to help defendants meet court bail has been given until June 21 to submit a list of her assets and verify she is a low-income earner registered with the government.”

She’s heir to a fortune that currently stacks up to some $2.4 billion.

Despite this pile of cash, shares, houses, cars, planes and more, Chitpas “filed a request on May 28 that the Justice Fund place money as bail surety in legal cases against her arising from the street protests against the Yingluck Shinawatra government.”

Chitpas is described as “a co-leader of the former People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), cited her waiting for financial assistance from the Justice Fund as a reason for the delay” in answering the charges against her.

Some dopey senior official babbled that Chitpas may have fallen on hard times: “In the past, she may have been wealthy but maybe she no longer had the means to meet her bail requirements…”. Yeah, right.

After that astoundingly farcical babble, the same senior official said the “ministry would ensure the fair treatment of all applicants [for state funds] and examine any documents submitted. Ms Chitpas’ request would be approved, or not, depending on the documentation…”. He became delirious when he said the “ministry did not have a double standard and was willing to help all groups and people if they met the fund’s requirements.”

Well, yes, but he’s saying this in the context of a multi-billionaire to be.

Justice deputy permanent secretary Thawatchai Thaikhiew scoops the pool in awards for the most ridiculous statement by an official in June. He gets a bag of hammers.

Chitpas is simply reprehensible.

Update: Some pro-Chitpas social media reckon she’s been disinherited by the Boonrawds. As far as we can see, there’s no evidence for this claim.





The funding trail

12 02 2014

There has been considerable speculation in recent years about the funding for large rallies. In the case of the current crop of anti-democrats, Post Today, and now its English parent, The Bangkok Post has published a leaked list.

The list is apparently from the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO) that claimed to have a list “of 136 firms and individuals said to be funding anti-government protests…”. The leaked list is of just 32 alleged financial backers, made up of 19 companies and 13 individuals.

The 19 companies are: Saha Pathanapibul Plc, Gaysorn Plaza, Siam Paragon Department Store, King Power Group, Dusit Thani Hotel, Siam Intercontinental Hotel, Riverside Hotel, Mitr Phol Group, Wangkanai Group, Boon Rawd Brewery Co, Thai Beverage Plc, Yakult (Thailand) Co, Neptune Co, Thai Namthip Co, Muang Thai Life Assurance Co, Hello Bangkok Co and Metro Machinery Group.

Several of these companies are linked with Princess Sirindhorn. Others are long-established royalist firms with strong links to the monarchy through large donations and other support over many years. Amongst these, Bhirombhakdi family of the Boonrawd Brewery of the Bhirombhakdi family and Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi’s family are notable. King Power was associated with Newin Chidchob and his support of the last Democrat Party government. It is also a strong supporter of things royal.

The 13 individuals are: Chumpol Suksai, Chalerm Yoovidhya of Red Bull fame, Pramon Suthiwong, Khunying Kallaya Sophanpanich (Bangkok Bank family), Nuanphan Lamsam (Kasikorn Bank family), Wimolphan Pitathawatcha, Dr Pichet Wiriyachitra, Taya Teepsuwan, Sakchai Guy, Krisana Mutitanant, Pol Gen Kitti Rattanachaya, Chitpas Kridakorn [Bhirombhakdi] and Issara Vongkusolkit (with a family worth about $1 billion).

Denial has been the first response (and here):

… PDRC secretary general Suthep Thaugsuban told supporters on Tuesday night that none of the people on the list, except Sakchai Guy, had provided financial support to his political movement.

Mr Suthep said Mr Sakchai donated money generated from selling T-shirts to PDRC.

Mr Pramon, chairman of Toyota (Thailand), also denied any financial involvement with the PDCR. He said he is considering a lawsuit against the CMPO if it officially accused him of funding protests, since as such information would damage his reputation and company.

Boonchai Chokwatana, the chief executive of Thailand’s leading consumer goods producer Saha Pathanapibul Plc, is also considering a defamation case against the CMPO if it formalises the accusation.





Updated: Questions from the news

20 12 2013

PPT has been busy in recent weeks and struggling to keep up with a large number of interesting and insightful newspaper reports on Thailand’s current political situation. Academics in the West have come up with accounts that consider that recent events are a struggle of liberalisms, the death throes of Thai paternalism and more. Some Thai academics have pointedly remarked that the struggle is against a political fascism.

As much as we’d like to, we can’t get to all of these views yet we are sure readers have seen them and don’t need our commentary to consider their flaws and contributions. We have to say that the liberalisms notion was a curve ball, and we don’t really get it, but the other perspectives seemed to offer some food for thought.

Rather than commentate, then, we want to ask some questions about items in the news of late.

Question 1: When a bunch of aged generals get together and talk of the “side of righteousness” should we take them seriously? After all, haven’t these military officers been responsible for thousands of political murders and for repressing democracy movements? Maybe the emphasis is not on righteousness but on right-wing extremism.

Question 2: When The Nation, in the same story, says the military reactionaries were joined by Prasong Soonsiri and describe him “a former member of the constitution drafting assembly,” should this newspaper be given a bollocking for outright bias, incompetence, stupidity or all three? After all, Prasong is another of the Dad’s Army of aged and disgruntled schemers who hate elections and democracy. As well as being one of the men behind Suthep Thaugsuban, Prasong has worked to bring down every single elected government since 2001. Indeed, he claims to have been involved with the planning of the 2006 coup.

Question 3: Should we believe the bosses at the Boonrawd Brewery when they distance themselves from the walking selfie, royalist and rightist Chitpas Bhirombhakdi? To be honest, we don’t know, but at least the bosses recognize that her Marie Antoinette-isms when damning every single rural voter as an idiot are damaging to the company. Santi Bhirombakdi made the excellent point that “the company is in debt to the customers…”. We doubt that a spoiled rich girl will listen to any kind of sensible discussion.

Question 4: How is it that the Election Commission can continue to ask for the election to be delayed? Their bleating seems designed to encourage Suthep’s anti-democrats to acts of sabotage against the election and the (un)Democrat Party to boycott. Their call seems unlawful. But that never seems to bother this lot.

Question 5: Has Bangkok Post op-ed writer Veera Prateepchaikul completely lost his marbles? His latest propaganda-piece-posing-as-an-op-ed actually suggests that readers should read rants by the most bizarre self-appointed commentators on the planet and take them seriously. This link is pure Sondhi Limthongkul and People’s Alliance for Democracy. For a while in 2011-12, PAD and ASTV were avid followers of Veera’s Tony Cartalucci. His blog has been Land Destroyer, which provides no information on funding, but as a reader at Prachatai pointed out at the time, it:

[l]inks to Infowars.com which is Alex Jones. Infowars.com accepts advertising from Midas Resources (http://www.midasresources.com/store/store.php?ref=62&promo=specialOffer) which is “One of the world’s premiere precious metals firms, parent company of The Genesis Communications Network, proud sponsor of the Campaign For Liberty and creator of the Ron Paul Air Corps.”

The Ron Paul initiated Campaign for Liberty (http://www.campaignforliberty.com/about.php) draws inspiration from a range of conservatives and libertarians and localists. According to University of Georgia political scientist Keith Poole, Paul had the most conservative voting record of any member of Congress from 1937 to 2002 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Paul).

Midas Resources was founded by Ted Anderson. Ted Anderson and Alex Jones are collaborators, with Jones appearing on the Genesis Communications Network, where Anderson is the CEO (http://www.gcnlive.com/contact.php). It was established to promote the sale of precious metals (http://www.gcnlive.com/faq.php). Its front page advertisers include Christian holster sellers and a range of survival products (for surviving the coming global food crisis) along with Ron Paul sites and Russia Television/Russia Today. GCN has interviewed right-wing, anti-Semite Lyndon LaRouche (http://www.larouchepub.com/lar/2008/interviews/080401jack_blood_genesis.html), seen as a political extremist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyndon_LaRouche). LaRouche also has a fan in another link at Land Destroyer in F.W. Engdahl, yet another conspiracy theorist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F._William_Engdahl), who believes in global cooling (not warming).

Jones and Anderson have promoted conspiracy rants by people associated with the extremist John Birch Society (http://mediamatters.org/blog/201101290003).

Companies linked in these groups, such as Free Speech Systems (http://freespeechsystems.com/) provide no links or information; certainly not practicing what they preach.

Land Destroyer links to a range of other conspiracy theory websites that never provide any details about funding. One of these is to the site of long-time conspiracy theorist Webster Tarpley who has a remarkable Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webster_Tarpley). Another is to anti-fluoride, anti-vaccination, Bin Laden is alive (Alex Jones too), and conspiracy theorist Jim Corr who is also on about the threat or One World Government (http://www.jimcorr.com/).

In the LaRouche Wikipedia page, in the section on “Selected Works,” it might be noted that LaRouche wrote a book with Uwe Von Parpart in 1970. Several sites note that he later worked at Asia Times and The Manager magazine owned by Sondhi Limthongkul. Interesting connections.

Question 6: Recalling that Veera’s op-ed is supposed to be a lecture on democracy but cites sources like Cartalucci, LaRouche and the John Birch Society should we consider Veera’s notions of democracy on a par with fascists, racists and mad conspiricists?

Update: As might be expected The Nation has also begun reporting the bile of fascists, racists and mad conspiricists as if they were real journalists. It seems difficult for many of those associated with The Nation to distinguish between claptrap and professional journalism. Interestingly, this story cites a journalism lecturer who appears to know little of his professed trade, and yellow-shirted academic Charas Suwanmala, who has “raised concerns that comments by academics given to foreign media were often becoming targets of harsh criticism in social media.” He makes some useful points but is then quoted as saying:

“Academics should not be condemned as long as they honestly opine academically and independently,” he said. “But if they are academics who have sold their souls, are being paid by some people to support one side, give comments without considering the facts or without caring for what is right or wrong, then they deserve to be condemned.”

Hold up the mirror. Charas has effectively been a propagandist for PAD from the beginning and cooperated with the military junta and its government. His political views are rabidly anti-democratic and pro-monarchy.





Who pays the parties?

28 03 2011

The Nation has an interesting (and biased) story reporting funding to the three main political parties.

For the Democrat Party, it says the Election Commission’s records show that last year the Party received just 1.38 million baht in donations from 197 people. This year, big Sino-Thai capitalists have been paying up:

Earlier this month, the party reported to the political party registrar that so far this year it had obtained Bt33.15 million from wealthy families connected to the Democrats, such as the Sophonpanichs (major shareholders of the Bangkok Bank), the Bhirombhakdis (who own the company [Boonrawd] that makes Singha Beer), the Chaisongkhrams, the Srivikorns, the Lamsams [Kasikorn Bank], the Thanadireks and Jirakitis.

There have also been donations of about Bt50 million from many of the country’s leading businesses. They include Benchachinda Holding, Yip In Tsoi, Mitr Phol Sugar, and … Advanced Info Service….

Some businesses are not just donors; relatives of their owners are in the Democrat Party. These include the Charoen Pokphand Group, Metro Machinery, and Singha Corp. Young members of some of these families are expected to contest the upcoming election as candidates of the main ruling party.

Of course, it was less than a month ago that the Democrat Party held a high-cost fundraiser that “has yet to report to the Election Commission about the sum raised but early reports put the figure over Bt700 million.” Big business was heavily represented.

Meanwhile, the coalition partner Bhum Jai Thai Party received “donations of almost Bt10 million last year, compared to as much as Bt35 million in 2009.”

The main donors are associated with Newin Chidchob and his family, including “Chiang Mai Construction – which is owned by the father-in-law of banned politician Newin Chidchob, who is regarded as the party’s de-facto leader – Sino-Thai Construction (owned by the family of party leader and Interior Minister Chaovarat Chanweerakul), and King Power.” These are the longstanding supporters.

Chaovarat’s company has done especially well from contracts for infrastructre under the Democrat Party regime.

Other supporters include:

… entertainment giant company GMM Grammy and East Water and wealthy figures with political backgrounds such as Somsak Thepsuthin, Sonthaya Khunplume, Sora-at Klinprathum, Suchart Tancharoen, and Teerapol Noprampa – who all are “political comrades” of Newin, who is believed to be pulling strings behind the party.

The story for Peua Thai Party is different, however. The Nation seems to speculate, saying that Thaksin Shinawatra remains the (assumed) biggest backer. It adds that the party “got donations of Bt15 million, according to the EC. Among the major donors were wealthy people close to Thaksin, including Virun Tejapaiboon, Ong-art Ua-apinyakul, and Pichai Naripthaphand.” It adds: “There are only a handful of regular financiers…”. It follows this up with a bunch of speculative comments.

It is clear where the Sino-Thai tycoons are putting their loot; it is with the royalist party. These days, they feel most comfortable being subordinated to the monarchy (as a symbol and the country’s biggest Sino-Thai conglomerate) and prtected by the military’s firepower.





Palace, politics and privilege

3 02 2010

In the past, one of the privileges of being associated with the palace is that one has been able to enjoy special treatment, political access and other benefits without having to be particularly visible and therefore likely to be open to public scrutiny. Some of this has changed in recent years as the palace’s political involvements have been more visible due to increased political contestation.

The press today has a series of stories that each relate to the topic of this post. PPT has already posted on judicialization . The other stories listed here are in no particular order.

Police: The front page story in the print edition of the Bangkok Post (2 February 2010) is about the continuing standoff over the appointment of the police chief. It explains that this standoff has allowed politicians to get involved in promotions wrangles within the police force. Which politicians? The article says politicians from the Democrat Party and their partner, Newin Chidchob the true leader of the Bhum Jai Thai Party. More startling is the claim that members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy are pushing favored candidates.

All of this politicking has hamstrung the police, or so the article says. They still seem to be out there collecting money, running drugs and murdering people (on the latter, see a story tucked away and that ought to be front page news of the murder of at least nine migrants near Mae Sot, attributed to police in the Bangkok Post, 2 February 2010).

The cause of the delay in the police chief appointment is seldom discussed in the reports but most informed insiders are clear that the problem is a lack of congruence between a senior royal and the government.

National Telecommunications Commission: Not that long ago, PPT posted on how the Royal Household Bureau had refused to send the Senate’s nominations to the NTC to the king for endorsement. This was because of a petition that claimed one nominee was corrupt. The Senate has investigated and “found no evidence of wrongdoing.” However, the Bureau has received a further petition regarding conflicts of interest so the NTC will remain commissioner-less for some time as further checks are made (Bangkok Post, 2 February 2010 ).

Protecting privy councilors and the monarchy: Army chief Anupong Paojinda is reported in the Bangkok Post (2 February 2010) is reported as having ordered increased army protection for the palace advisors targeted by red shirt protests – president of the Council, General Prem Tinsulanonda and his deputy, General Surayud Chulanond. An army spokesman explained that “There have been attempts to insult the Privy Council, which is close to the monarchy…. The army views this as a very inappropriate act.” The argument is that these men are appointed by the king, so no one can criticize them. A fallacious argument legally, but the politics and ideology are clear.

At the same time, Anupong is reported to have ordered all army units to be aware of the importance of protecting the privy council. He is also said to have ordered all senior officers to talk with their families about the need to protect the monarchy. This is a kind of odd order as one might have thought that these would be the last people needing to be reminded of the army’s role in supporting the monarchy. But politics has changed irreversibly for the palace and the army.

Privileges of wealth and position: A short report in the Bangkok Post’s business section (2 February 2010) has a story of the demise of PB Air. The airline failed some time ago, and as it is being wrapped up, its liabilities are estimated at 2 billion baht. The airline was the plaything of Piya Bhirombhakdi, a very wealthy and well-connected man. His family’s links to the palace go back a century, and its Boonrawd Brewery (Singha Beer) was set up with “a suitable contribution” from King Prajadhipok. With Piya’s airline going under with massive debts, you’d think he’d be washed up. But, you’d be wrong. The same story reports him devoting his financial resources to “his new luxurious hospitality venture, the 3-billion-baht Ritz-Carlton Reserve” in Krabi. Privilege and connections make a huge difference (see a royal link for Piya’s winery). The privileged can shed a couple of billion here and there, leave hundreds unpaid, and then go off on another pet luxury project.

We know, this happens in many places, but it often elicits investigations or condemnation. Just imagine the outcry if this kind behavior was somehow linked to a Thaksin Shinawatra supporter….

It has been quite a day for the palace and its supporters.