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.





Double standards are the only “standards”

16 07 2017

PPT has several times posted on the undermining of the rule of law under the military dictatorship. The essential underpinning of the junta’s injustice system is double standards.

Readers may have noticed a swathe of cases brought against the junta’s political opponents of late. These include cases against the Shinawatra clan, including laws to be used retroactively, red shirts and anti-coup activists.

At the same time, there have been precious few cases against the junta’s allies. Yellow shirts, where cases go back to at least 2008, have barely been touched. The anti-democrats of 2013-14 have seldom been subject to any legal action, and when they are, the outcomes seem to be benign when compared with the treatment meted out to junta opponents.

Political double standards are everywhere. The latest iteration is the support to rubber growers. Of course, they were supporters of the anti-democrats and the military coup. Yingluck Shinawatra is being tried and harassed for price support to rice growers.

The legal double standards that serve the rich go back decades, but this dictatorship has done nothing to change them. Indeed, the symbolic case of the rich getting away with murder is that involving Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya, of the filthy rich Red Bull family, who has been free and living the life of a domestic and international playboy since 2012. Despite occasional movement among authorities, usually caused by media reports, nothing much has happened.

The latest report is that “[p]olice have yet to send a request to the Attorney General’s Office for the extradition of … Boss … accused of killing a policeman in a hit-and-run case five years ago, according to an official in charge of extradition.”

Amnat Chotichai at the Attorney General’s Office said “they were waiting for the request. Amnat stated: “As of now, the police have yet to send us the request. I don’t know what’s causing the delay…”.

Everyone knows what the delay is. It is that the Yoovidhya’s are fabulously wealthy, very powerful and have lots of friends in the regime and in the bureaucracy. The longer they delay, the closer the statute of limitations.

Notice that the puppet National Legislative Assembly was able to vote “unanimously … to pass the controversial draft organic law on criminal procedures for holders of a political position.”

The double standards are so wide that a fleet of buses could be driven through the dictatorship’s gape. The double standards gap expands still further when the military dictators begin to talk of morals.

What can we make of the deputy chairman of the junta General Prajin Junthong telling “education officials” that they need “increase focus on religions in their teaching curriculum”?

Rather like a historical clutch of military and royalist commentators, the general reckons that education is about shaping the lower classes to ruling class ideology. A tepid subaltern class and a strong moral ideology have long served the rich and powerful. Of course, the rich and powerful are not held to this same moral ideology; its just about political control. But it’s also a double standard.

General Prajin declares that education can be dangerous: “Having only education to increase one’s knowledge, ability and talent is not enough…. Because they may use that knowledge in a wrong way and take advantage of other people…”. It is the lack of “religion” in education leads to immorality and corruption.

By “religion,” we can assume that the general means Buddhism, but we can assume that he means particular state-authorized or junta-sanctioned Buddhism. (Certainly not that Wat Dhammakaya stuff!) We can assume this because the general goes on to babble that “schools should also teach their students to appreciate ‘Thainess’.”

“Thainess” and “religion” have little to do with “morals.” For the junta, they mean order and stability, not to say political docility. And, naturally enough, the junta is not bound by “religion” or “morality.” It prefers nepotism, corruption, torture, commissions and unusual wealth.

Double standards? Yep. The junta didn’t invent double standards but has made them stark. In doing so, the junta has seriously undermined justice and the rule of law.





The junta, the temple, tycoons and Thaksin

19 05 2017

The Bangkok Post has had a series of stories on Anant Asavabhokhin, one of Thailand’s richest, and his daughter Alisa, and allegations and charges related to alleged money laundering involving Wat Dhammakaya.

Read this  first. Then these: Amlo freezes Alisa’s land assets, Anant faces money laundering charge and LH founder surprised by summons.

Then  read this: Embezzlement-temple scandal ensnares property titan.

Then recall that Anant is widely considered to be one of the few big businessmen who stuck with Thaksin Shinawatra. Unequal Thailand: Aspects of Income, Wealth and Power, edited by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker shows on pages 150-1 that Anant remained a supporter.

Also recall that Anant is a Wat Dhammakaya supporter.

Back when the military ran its 2014 coup, General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s regime summoned or temporarily detained “more than 500 individuals since the coup, the current junta has not just picked off members of erstwhile ruling Puea Thai party and its ‘red shirt’ supporters.”

At the time, it “also identified luminaries in the Thai business world linked to Thaksin, like Mr Anant Asavabhokhin, chairman of Land and Houses, one of the country’s biggest developers. It showed a keen awareness of the possible support for the Thaksin network.”





Nothing changed II

7 04 2017

And how’s that promised “election” coming along?

The Nation reports that “Deputy Prime Minister [Deputy Dictator] and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan said the controls [on political parties] might stay in place because the country’s political situation has not yet settled down.”

There’s a novel idea: “elections” without parties or their campaigning. Maybe voting can be done with blindfolds on and throwing darts at a giant target with “junta” written on it.

Prawit reflected that: “Things are still not alright now. We want more time and we want all the parties to help. Do not make trouble or it will be more difficult for us to make a decision…”.

We wonder if he’s thinking about that tiny but convenient bomb? Or perhaps that “assassination plot” for which no substantive evidence has been produced? Or the rusty bunch of weapons “seized” from red shirts that became a sparkling bunch of newer weapons after the military had the “suspects” and “evidence” for a while? Or maybe Wat Dhammakaya, although that all seems back to “junta normal.”

Prawit declared: “I’m responsible for security issues. I need time to work on this and everyone should cooperate with us too…. It’s not going to work if things are stirred up like this.”

Translated that means the junta will decided when to hold its “election” and who will “win.” That’s the way it has been since the coup.





The Ko Tee trifecta

24 03 2017

In one of our earlier posts on the military junta’s marvelous story about a mammoth plot to accumulate war weapons, assassinate The Dictator using a sniper rifle and cause a rebellion based on Wat Dhammakaya, we had three predictions.

First, that Ko Tee or Wuthipong Kachathamakul was claimed to be involved in the “plot” as a way to gain his extradition from Laos. The junta has announced that. Second, we said the men arrested would “confess.” The junta announced that they have “confessed.” We added that the third usual event was a parade of “suspects.”

We now have the trifecta, with the Bangkok Post reporting, with video, that the men have been paraded. But, for the junta, they even get a “bonus” payout because after all this time in military custody, the “suspects” incriminated red shirts and and the Puea Thai Party, and that allowed for the rabid yellow shirt media to also incriminate Thaksin Shinawatra.

For the junta, this seems like a perfect “crime”! They have it all!





BBC on a triple transition

23 03 2017

Jonathan Head’s recent report on Wat Dhammakaya is worth reading. We won’t go through it all and will just post some clips from it. It skillfully weaves a story that ends 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.

Given that, a sect as controversial as Wat Dhammakaya was perhaps bound to be caught up in the turbulence.

 It begins by noting the smoke and mirrors of Thailand’s (in)justice system:

Over the past month what is often cited as the world’s largest Buddhist temple, on the outskirts of Bangkok, has been the scene of an extraordinary stalemate.

Police officers, in rows three deep, blocked the gates to the Wat Dhammakaya temple compound. Around the back, helmeted soldiers guarded alleyways, with some crawling through surrounding rice-fields. It was, they explained, a restricted military zone….

The official reason for this siege was that the elderly abbot, Phra Dhammachayo, was wanted on multiple criminal charges related to a collapsed credit union and police believed he was being hidden inside the temple….

But then, after three weeks, the operation was suddenly called off…. Even now it remains unclear what exactly the police wanted to achieve.

As so often in Thailand, the official explanation is misleading. Allegations of financial malpractice have hung over the temple and its charismatic abbot for decades. They also hang over many other institutions and individuals in Thailand, many of whom are neither investigated nor prosecuted. To be pursued by the state with this much commitment suggests that much larger issues are at stake.

The military dictatorship is said to have several motives for its odd behavior on the temple. One observation is that:

… it should come as no surprise that a military government bent on restoring traditional values, and backed by ultra-conservatives who want to see the Buddhist clergy cleansed of corrupting, modern influences, dislikes Wat Dhammakaya.

Then there’s the weapons “seized” a few days ago.

… the government continues to push its argument that there is something sinister about Wat Dhammakaya.

Last weekend the police showed off a large cache of weapons seized, they said, from the home of a now-exiled dissident. Although many of the weapons were ancient, the police argued that there was a plan to arm the temple’s supporters and even to assassinate top government officials.

One of PPT’s readers, with decades of military service has also pointed out that the cache of weapons was made up of mostly old and some pretty useless guns and accessories. The BBC seems to find the link as wondrous as we do, but points to the junta’s political motives and makes a good point:

Indeed the temple is the largest institution in the country not under the military’s control, and its refusal to hand over its abbot is the most sustained defiance of military rule since the coup.

Then there’s the “triple transition,” with the monarchy going through change as the new king stamps his reign as fundamentally different from his father’s.

Just as the monarchy is seen by Thailand’s [military] rulers as the essential institution holding the country together and legitimising governments, so the monarch’s official role as protector of Buddhism gives each occupant of the throne a unique, sacred stature. Kings preside over the most important Buddhist rituals at the most prestigious temples. The two institutions reinforce each other.

… King Vajirakongkorn’s command to strip the royal monastic titles from Phra Dhammachayo and his de facto replacement as abbot also signals royal support for the government’s move against the temple.

It is an interesting read.