King, sangha and returning royal power

8 07 2018

Some time ago, the BBC’s Jonathan Head reported on Wat Dhammakaya that skillfully weaved a story that ended with this:

Thailand is in the midst of a complex and potentially dangerous, triple transition; a delicate royal succession, a battle over the future of Buddhism and a still uncertain political transition to a military-guided democracy.

More than a year later, the dictatorship and the king have again come together in defining the future of the Buddhist sangha.

In 2016, the puppet National Legislative Assembly passed an amendment to the 1962 Sangha Act. The amendment was designed to delay the appointment of Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn, known as Somdet Chuang, after he was nominated by the Sangha Supreme Council to be Supreme Patriarch. He was considered by the military junta and palace to be too close to Wat Dhammakaya.

The amendment gave great power to the king as it was he who “selects and appoints a supreme patriarch while the prime minister countersigns the appointment.”

Apparently, though, this was not sufficient. It is now reported that the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly on Thursday “endorsed the Monk Act, which will enable the [k]ing to appoint or remove senior monks and members of the supreme council of monks.”

“Voting” in the puppet NLA

Speaking to the puppet Assembly, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said that the king “is recognized in the constitution as the patron of Buddhism and other religions. He said it would be fitting for the [k]ing to appoint or strip senior monks and members of the Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand of their titles, as stipulated in Article 3 of the act.”

Wissanu essentially explained this as a throwback act: “… such royal prerogative was practiced between the reign of King Rama V to King Rama VIII. King Rama VIII’s reign ended in 1939.”

This might be poor reporting as Rama VIII’s reign ended in 1946 when he was found dead by gunshot. What was meant, we think, was that the Act was amended in 1941. We are not sure why 1939 is stated, but perhaps there are readers who know more on this.

The linked article cites Buddhist scholar Surapot Thaweesak on the most recent junta-sponsored amendment.

He stated that the amendment “is tantamount to returning royal power relations between the King and the Sangha to those of King Rama V’s time…”.

Surapot added that “this is a return of royal power.” He concluded: “Thinking from the standpoint of the … state, there will be greater control of the Sangha… But from a democratic standpoint, [Thailand] should be a secular state…”. Surapot correctly claimed that “the act in general will make Buddhism and the Sangha a mechanism to support conservative ideology.”

Pious king

King Vajiralongkorn has a particular interest in Buddhism and has engaged politically on the sangha several times as crown prince and now as king.





Cleansing and coronation

25 06 2018

Some PPT readers may know more about these stories than we do. We’d appreciate and advice at our email: politicalprisonersinthailand@hushmail.com.

Our guess is that the stories we discuss below are probably linked with the big “cleansing” at senior levels of the Buddhist sangha that began with the crackdown on the Dhammakaya sect, then saw senior monks jailed or fleeing the country, and also saw fascist, royal amulet making monk Buddha Issara jailed.

We noticed a further cleansing trend in some rather cryptic media reports that can be seen in the tone of reports at The Nation.

The Nation reported the case of the Lawyers Council of Thailand criticizing police for their violent and forcible detention of a lawyer acting for a client. The client was “a self-proclaimed spirit medium [seeking] to file a defamation complaint against another person…”.

Amid the chaos, the 49-year-old medium, Saengsuriyathep Phramahasuriya, slipped out of the precinct without filing the complaint against Atchariya Ruangratanapong, a lawyer and chairman of the Facebook group for assisting crime victims. She later returned with a new lawyer to file the complaint. That complaint was about accusations that the medium was “insulting the monarchy [by claiming to be a medium of past kings’ spirits] and promoting false information to the public – both accusations denied by her [the medium].”

Soon after, ThaiPBS reported that “Police of the Crime Suppression and Technology Crime Suppression divisions have been ordered to launch a nationwide clampdown on mediums, especially those who claim they have connections with members of the royalty.”

Central Investigation Bureau commissioner Pol Lt-Gen Thitirat Nongharnpitak “said the police had been instructed to first approach the mediums and to tell them to stop the practice…”. Police said “that people … should be told not to believe the mediums as the practice of mediumship is un-Buddhist.”

The police claim to have “nabbed at least three mediums who claimed to have supernatural powers.  One of them was removed of his strange hairstyle from which he claimed to derive his supernatural powers … adding that not one medium has faced criminal litigation.”

This report was confirmed in another at the Bangkok Post. That more detailed report states that many mediums “claimed to be possessed by the spirits of the past kings and their followers lost a huge amount of money to these psychics…”.

It added that the “crackdowns have been carried out secretly over the past two weeks with at least three mediums netted.” The report confirms that no charges had been laid by police.

Police said “the issue connected to people’s faith and belief can be sensitive…”. It was added that police “do not want people to see that police are intimidating these mediums…. However, if we let this situation go on any longer, the mediums could exploit their victims by asserting their claims they are vested with supernatural power, which is not real.”

Pol Lt Gen Thitirat Nonghanpitak, a police commissioner “said police were enforcing the law swiftly as some mediums were posing as the spirits of those in the high institutions ‘which is completely inappropriate’.” Well, harassing, warning, cutting hair….

Police say they “nabbed a couple who claimed to serve as a medium for King Rama IX in Nakhon Pathom after they organised a rite which was widely shared on YouTube.” Another in Chachoengsao claimed to be a “medium for King Rama V…. This person, who applied makeup and dressed like King Rama V, ran an unlicensed clinic which doubles as a fortune telling outlet.”

Yet another man “claimed to be the medium of Phra Sri Ariyametrai, who was the fifth life in the Lord Buddha’s past, police said. He claimed he could foretell people’s future and cleanse them of their sins.”

Some mediums went further and “claimed they could be possessed by the spirits of multiple kings.”

The mediums detained by police, who did not name them, were given a “talking to” and were released after they “agreed to stop the spiritual possession business.”

The Technology Crime Suppression Division is also being used “to track down the mediums who are operating businesses online. They would be summonsed for talks with the police.”

Such efforts do seem congruent with the broader cleansing that is taking place prior to the king’s coronation.

Perhaps surprising is the fact that, as with Buddha Issara, such use of royal names is not being treated as lese majeste. That might be a good thing and represent a change in “policy,” although there’s also the relationship between the mediums, their supposed powers and those in power.





Updated: Dumber than a bag of hammers I

6 06 2018

Thailand’s police chief Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda, a junta man, has “returned to Bangkok from Frankfurt on Wednesday — without the fugitive former monk from Wat Samphanthawong he hoped to escort back to Thai soil from Germany.”

He trotted off to Frankfurt, presumably in a first class seat, on Sunday. Not just him. The Bangkok Post says three other senior police are in Germany for a few more days. Social media says a total of 13 or 14 of “Thailand’s finest” flitted over to arrest the monk.

They expected to be able to grab Phra Phrom Methee and escort him back to Thailand “to face charges connected with the temple fund embezzlement scandal.”

Perhaps they thought they could talk him into coming back. Maybe they thought they could abduct him. It might have been that they thought German police would hand him over.

Whatever they thought, they were dumber than a bag of hammers. The monk sought asylum on arrival in Germany. There’s no chance he’s heading back to Thailand until due process has been exhausted.

Of course, Thailand’s senior police know nothing of due process. They operate on the basis of who has power, money, influence and connections. They are willing to turn over alleged criminals or political opponents of other regimes at the drop of a hat and hang the notion of a justice system.

They have provided Chinese authorities with persons approved for political asylum and resettlement in third countries. They have allowed Chinese police and security agencies to operate on Thai soil and arrest and take “prisoners” back to China. Legal process? Not even a thought about that.

They expect other governments to behave in the same corrupt and illegal ways they do. So we see a Cambodian transported to Bangkok for apparently having something to do with embarrassing The Dictator. We guess Thai hit squads have operated in neighboring countries, eliminating Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee, a political opponent.

Fortunately, Germany’s police do act according to the law, This must astound Thailand’s police chief who now looks like a complete moron after his expensive, taxpayer-funded excursion. But, if he sticks with the required haircut maybe no one will officially notice his profound idiocy.

Update: Having caused himself to lose face, the police chiefs response is not unexpected. He’s going after others. The Nation reports that: “Investigators in the border province of Nakhon Phanom have requested a court to issue arrest warrants for the five suspects – three of them Thais and two Laos nationals…”. It is reported that they too have fled Thailand into Laos. The police will be hoping that the Lao authorities will send them back. That may ease a big red face.





Recycling an imagined past

27 05 2018

The nationalist trilogy, put together by a king and used and misused ever since, most usually by fascist military dictatorships, and ground into people from school to shopping center, is in the news.

New king and a crackdown on unsound Buddhist bosses and the propaganda of the military dictatorship come together in a curious mix of police commando raids against monks, claimed to be corrupt  lawbreakers, and then apologies from The Dictator for the treatment of one fascist monk, assessments of state propaganda and the ill-timed royal launch of something called “Buddhism Promotion Week.”

The last report features mainly pictures of a jolly Princess Sirindhorn attending ceremonies with senior monks – presumably not the arrested lot – for Buddhism Promotion Week, coinciding with coincides with Visakha Bucha Day. It also shows Privy Councillor General Surayud Chulanont who was dispatched by King Vajiralongkorn to make merit on the absent king’s behalf for the deceased king and the now never seen queen from the last reign. The ceremony took place at the increasingly reclaimed area of the so-called Royal Plaza.

Bad timing when a bunch of senior monks are arrested, accused of all manner of crimes, but perhaps a part of the new reign’s “cleansing” of Buddhism. That “cleansing” has the possibility of assisting The Dictator’s electoral campaigning so long as the bad monks are not linked to him.

The Nation’s special report (linked above) on the military dictatorship’s throwback nationalist propaganda is worth reading. It covers Thai Niyom (Thai-ism) – an effort to promote the rightist concept of “Thainess,” the junta’s “patriotic” histories, the archaic costume party royalism, also promoted by the king, and crappy soaps that, as one academic says, are escapism:

“It shows the mental illness of our society…. Today we’re living in conflict, especially on the political front. Watching comical shows and fantasy soaps can temporarily heal people’s hearts. In reality we remain divided, and the fantasy is that we are united.”

The junta just craves devotion and adulation they imagine for earlier ages, located somewhere in the 1910s or late 1950s. As poorly educated, unthinking automaton royalists, the best they can do in this sphere is recycling.





Buddha Issara arrested II

25 05 2018

We continue to be mystified regarding the motives for the arrest of Buddha Issara, now defrocked and held in jail, now known as Suwit Thongprasert.

We are not sure how his arrest relates to that of other senior monks, although such reorganizations or “cleaning” of the senior monkhood have previously occurred with a royal succession and/or a new political regime.

The story is now that he was arrested for actions by “a group of anti-Yingluck Shinawatra government demonstrators he led which robbed Special Branch police of guns during their protest on Feb 10, 2014.” We mentioned this yesterday.

It is added that the “case also involves using the initials of the names of the late King Rama IX and … the Queen … on the back of Buddhist amulets without royal permission.” This seems to relate to a case discussed some time ago as a lese majeste accusation.

At the time we stated that he may be a detestable person and worse but that does not mean the accusation of lese majeste is any less ridiculous.

It is also added that the arrest warrant for the monk, issued by the Criminal Court, involved both lese majeste and “charges of ang-yee (running an illegal secret organisation)…”. The latter is a law that’s been on the books probably longer than Article 112, and was initially enacted for the control of Chinese “secret societies” during the absolute monarchy.

Tell us this isn’t a mysterious case. That probably means big powers are involved.





Buddhism, military regimes and new reigns

24 10 2017

There have been a couple of recent stories that deserve some attention. Both relate to the nature of Buddhism.

A first story at the Bangkok Post is classic dictatorship double-speak. High-ranking government mouthpiece Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd, who is usually wheeled out to babble about the things the dictatorship thinks is important stuff, denied that his string-pullers had issued “an instruction to Buddhist temples to destroy non-Buddhist sacred objects, including statues or images of Hindu gods…”.

Pious Prayuth

He said The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, “was aware [of] the actions occurring at several temples across the country but had not issued any instructions regarding the matter.”

“It isn’t true” he opined, declaring that the destruction was “being carried out by the monastic community which has thoroughly examined what items are and are not appropriate…”.

Yet the order for the destruction has come from the Sangha Supreme Council, which has been tightly controlled by the military junta. They say this is a campaign “to prevent misunderstandings about Buddhism.”

Then, the propaganda chief blurted out that General Prayuth “stressed that each temple will use its own judgement when removing the statutes or banning the sale of sacred items…”.

This is a part of the junta’s ongoing cleansing of (official) Buddhism. One of its highest risk cleansings was the attempt to destroy the Dhammakaya sect with threats of violence and several arrests.

This followed the then new king’s agreement that the law on the selection of the Supreme Patriarch be changed so that those considered “too close” to Dhammakaya be bypassed. This meant that the king and the dictatorship got their man in the top (Buddhist) spot.

Pious king

For the junta, Dhammakaya was believed to be “too close” to Thaksin Shinawatra.

A second Bangkok Post story has The Dictator seeking to dictate to the country’s two Buddhist universities. He wants the universities to concentrate on Buddhist teaching, taught by monks.

The link in the two stories is the notion that The Dictator is cleansing the religion:

… Santisukh Sobhanasiri, a Buddhism expert, told the Bangkok Post that he has much respect for Gen Prayut over his “brave” role in supporting the Sangha body in its fight against over-commercialisation, such as the sale of amulets from temples.

Pious Sarit

“It’s extraordinary for the PM to dare to deal with this issue,” said Mr Santisukh, adding that amulets produced in ancient times were intended as keepsakes to remind people of the importance of practicing Buddhanusati.

Actually, we do not consider it extraordinary. We also have some doubt that it is just Prayuth at work here. In many new reigns, there is a cleansing of Buddhism as the new monarch establishes his control over the religious hierarchy. That said, other dictators have also cleansed for control. The prime example being General Sarit Thanarat.

We have the feeling that both king and dictatorship are “cleansing” Buddhism as a feudal right of settling in for the long term.





Making monks for the royal funeral

5 09 2017

It is sometimes said that Buddhism is in something of a mess in Thailand. There’s the Wat Dhammakaya political stuff, which appears to be continuing, stoked by yellow shirts and other anti-democrats. Then there are all the stories of the moral failings of individual monks.

Some say that Buddhism is in “turmoil.”

As a result, we were struck by the military junta’s approval of a proposal “to allow civil servants and state-enterprise employees to receive 15 days’ paid leave for monk ordination from October 16-30 to make merit…” for the late king.

It seems the National Office of Buddhism has been uncertain that it can rustle up sufficient numbers for its “project to have 89 men per province – or a total of 6,853 men nationwide…”.

We can only guess that the target can now be achieved as senior officials order underlings to be ordained as a sign of loyalty.