As readers will know, the most recent palace-associated lese majeste purge has been murky and baffling for many, PPT included. Because there is so much censorship on the one hand and social media speculation on the other, it has been a guessing game.
Trying to make sense of this, a story at Asia Sentinel – Thailand’s Crown Prince Starts Another Purge – is likely to be big news for several claims it makes. Because of the powerful interests involved, the deaths of several caught up in the events and the lese majeste law, the article is written anonymously, simply tagged “Our Correspondent.”
Because Asia Sentinel is often blocked in Thailand, the story will circulate clandestinely and the military junta will try to prevent it getting out.
Some of the claims and points made deserve consideration. First, a bit like Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s widely read A Kingdom in Crisis, succession is cast in terms of ancient battles, with this opener:
As Thailand’s royal interregnum approaches, the country’s ruling class has been seized by what amounts almost to a reign of terror, with Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn apparently clearing out his enemies in a fashion that goes back to the installation of a long line of Rama kings.
This is scenario one. The article is undoubtedly correct in assessing that The Dictator, “Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha … appears to have accepted Vajiralongkorn as the next king and is seeking to manage the situation the best way he can.” Yet another scenario, not mentioned in the article, is that the military junta and perhaps even some Privy Council members are conducting the purge, cutting the prince off from his networks of support and loot, thus making him dependent on the junta, military and Privy Council (scenario two).
The article does lend some credence to second scenario when it observes that “Vajiralongkorn is so thoroughly detested in royal circles that efforts have been vainly made to sideline him for his associations with Chinese gangsters, his womanizing and his refusal to adhere to royal rules.” However as an unnamed source declares in the Asia Sentinel story, “There is no longer any doubt that the prince will become the king.” If that is so, then controlling his funds and advisers might make sense.
The widespread fear that surrounds the most recent purge is also noted. With the king not having been seen for some time, and rumors that he may have already passed, no one dares speculate for fear of jail or worse.
Describing the “four-times-married” 63 year-old prince as a “wastrel,” he “spends most of his time in Germany although he has made recent periodic trips back to Thailand to seek to rehabilitate his image, most principally through a series of bicycle rides in honor of his ailing parents.”
It is these bike rides that seem to be at the center of the current purge, with “a source in Bangkok” revealing that “the prince has become enraged over allegations that people in his entourage have apparently been profiting from the sale of ‘Bike for Mom’ and ‘Bike for Dad’ souvenir and promotional items.”
While other reports have mentioned CP tycoon Dhanin Chearavanont, this article claims that the purge follows complaints about “Suriyan Sucharitpolwong, better known as Mor Yong, the prince’s soothsayer, allegedly because he went to spirits [and Chang beer] tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, Thailand’s second-richest man, to ask for funds for the Bike for Dad event.” Such “asks” have been common and accepted in the past, so it isn’t clear what has gone on in this case, but “Charoen is said to have complained to Princess Sirindhorn, who told her brother in Germany. That has blown up into a major incident with the arrest of the fortune teller and others. Dozens of army and police officials are believed to be under fire.”
There’s a couple of things here. First, the link between the prince and his sister has sometimes been seen as distant and competitive, and this claim would not support that. Second, the scenario one claim made in the article seems difficult to fit with the terror and vengeance of the arrests and investigations. Sure, the “Prince is said to be trying to whitewash his image ahead of the succession,” but skimming is the norm for those close to the palace. Why get flustered about it now? The story says: “He [the prince] is also said to be outraged that most of the people who have helped run his networks over recent decades have been skimming money from them too.” A source is quoted: “I have no idea why the prince would be so angry about this, because it’s standard for everybody to take their cut. But anyway, the prince is sending a message to everybody — don’t fuck with me ahead of the succession.”
Unless it is scenario two.
The story also directly refers to another social media event that has terrified local media:
In the latest purge, two top police officials have died mysteriously and a third has disappeared. Major General Phisitsak Seniwong Na Ayutthaya, the prince’s main bodyguard, died in mid-October. Local media have been so terrified by the situation that they have hesitated to name Phisitsak in print. His family was told he had committed suicide by hanging himself with his shirt.
As is well-known, Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha, caught up in this latest purge also died while in military custody, with the military junta claiming he committed suicide by hanging himself. In the purge late last year, another police officer died when he fell, committed suicide or was pushed from a hospital window. Another senior police officer associated with the organizing of the biking events has “disappeared” and an army officer has gone into hiding across the border.
These deaths have been the subject of considerable conjecture, with some saying that the two most recent “suicides” are suspicious, not least because:
Sources in Bangkok say both were beaten and tortured. Instead of releasing the bodies to their families, as is the case for most Buddhist deaths to give time for making merit and preparing the bodies for the afterlife, the two were rushed to crematoriums and immediately burned. The gossip in Bangkok is that officials wanted to hide the evidence of torture.
In a final nod to the rumors and speculation, the article states:
“What is interesting [and worrying] is that it’s not just the major players who are being caught up in the purge, even peripheral figures, such as former police spokesman Prawuth [Thawornsiri], are being targeted,” a source said. “The prince is being egged on by his latest wife, who is encouraging this behavior. Presumably, this was a way of saving face and pretending he was not involved in the corruption. In fact, he was fully involved in it, just as he was with Srirasmi’s family’s shenanigans.”
Scenario one or two? Whatever is going on, it is murky, dirty, dangerous and, ultimately, threatening to the regime.