The king’s trip

10 03 2015

Sometimes we wonder who is reading PPT. Occasionally it seems like the military dictatorship’s cyber sleuths read and report for we see little things in the media that almost seem like responses. We are sure we are wrong and misinterpreting.

Yet just a few days ago we commented, when confirming that Thailand is in the hands of mad monarchists, we mentioned that the rabid use of lese majeste for political purposes was partly about shoring up a declining monarchy. We added: Because the king hasn’t been seen for a considerable time and is rumored to be gravely ill and/or non compos mentis, the prince is preparing to take over, the military dictatorship has established a royalist dark age.

As if by magic, the media has shown the king being wheeled around on one of his infrequent excursions out of the hospital where he has spent several years being treated for, well, old age.

Reuters reports that the king was wheeled out to be shown one of his own projects at Chitralada palace. The video associated with the visit does not indicate the king responding to anything much.

An interpretation of Suthep’s plans

2 12 2013

The Voice of Russia Radio website has this:

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban is the former head of the Thai Democratic Party, who stands behind the massive anti-government rallies that have been holding Bangkok in their grip for days. His announcement was broadcast live by five national TV channels.

Mr. Thaugsuban promised to wipe out every single trace of the Shinawatra administration in the country’s economy and politics and create a new democratic order, which would be “sanctified by the holy patronage of the monarchy.”

Experts say that not only did the opposition chief contrast capitalism with democracy, but he also violated the Royal office’s order that prohibits mentioning the monarchy in political rhetoric.

We doubt he would have done this without some sense of being able to do it, with the support of palace and military.

Moving royals and tanks

3 08 2013

In a recent post, PPT pointed to some real royal news. This was the sudden move of the essentially invalid king and queen to their Hua Hin palace, where the king had previously spent considerable time. We noted that the question is: why move them now? And we speculated on one possible answer, observing that whenever there are important political events, the king has emerged from hospital in concert with political events. This means that the present move must inevitably be considered as somehow related to political events.

In that post, we also speculated on “movements” noted in the press, associated with political machinations.

Since then, there have been plenty stories about the move by the king and queen, most of them the usual syrupy nonsense associated with reporting the aged monarch. However, one in particular caught our attention, at the Wall Street Journal blog.

The report hails the king as “Thailand’s highly respected monarch” and notes that the decamping to Hua Hin is to a place “where they spent most of their time before being hospitalized.” This is only true for the king who had previously avoided Chitralada Palace, causing many a rumor.

The report continues to observe that “[t]elevised news reports showed hundreds of Thais” and noting that “tens of thousands of people were expected to turn out” in Hua Hin. Officials always play a significant role in exhorting people to come out, sending school children and officials to form “crowds.”

The report spouts all of the usual treacle about the king being “a major force to maintain stability in the divisive country that has been going through political violence and changes,” and conveniently forgetting the divisive role the monarchy has long played in politics since 1932, continually undermining civilian governments.

At least the report does note that:

The king’s departure from Bangkok preceded a planned protest in capital Bangkok that has prompted the Thai government to invoke a special security act, which gives extra measures to security forces should violence erupt.

And it does admit that:

… the subject [the king’s ill health] is deemed sensitive and not publicly discussed, for fear that such discussion would violate the country’s strict lèse majesté law that prohibits debate and discussion deemed insulting to the monarchy. Violation to the law can result in a maximum of 15 years in prison. Internet users were arrested in 2009 for posting comments on the internet citing that the king’s health was causing a drop in the value of Thailand main index. They were charged with endangering national security by spreading false rumors about the king’s health under the country’s computers crime act.

Making the link to politics even more explicit, a report at Khaosod: explains that the sudden and large movement of tanks and other armored vehicles in Bangkok “… is not a preparation for a coup d’état…”. The report adds:

2006 coup

2006 coup

As anti-government protests were set to take place in Bangkok and fears about possible unrest returned to the capital city, many are whispering that the military might take advantage of the situation and put an end to the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, similar to what happened to her brother Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra in September 2006.

The rumours cited any unusual or unexplained development as evidence of looming coup, including the trip of His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen from Bangkok′s Siriraj Hospital, where they had been receiving treatments for their illnesses, to their seaside palace in Hua Hin District, Prachuap Khiri Khan province.

… The rumours suggest that “imminent incident” in Bangkok had convinced the monarchs to leave the capital city for the time being. However, many citizens dismissed the rumour as far-fetched fantasy.

PPT isn’t convinced that there is a fantasy. However, even if there was nothing in a series of events that look remarkably like some kind of preparation for upcoming political struggles, it has to be asked why the Army even keeps so many tanks and armored vehicles in the capital city? One answer is that these tanks are not for territorial defense but are required for political actions.

Fumbling on Forbes

22 02 2012

About a month ago, Forbes published an update on the Crown Property Bureau. PPT commented on that article here. The Thai government, in the form of Arjaree Sriratanaban, Minister-Counselor at the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington D.C., has replied. That reply is reproduced below, with PPT’s comments included:

Dear Editor,

With reference to Mr. Simon Montlake’s 20 January 2012 article “In Thailand, A Rare Peek At His Majesty’s Balance Sheet,” I wish to stress the following points:

First, the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) was established under the Royal Assets Structuring Act of 1936, 1941 and 1948, which separate the royal assets into three categories, namely “His Majesty’s personal assets”, “crown property” and “public property.”  The Act also provides the legal framework for clearly differentiating the three categories of the royal assets.  It, for instance, states that the crown property and public property are eligible for tax exemption whereas His Majesty’s personal assets are not.

While the above it, as far as we are aware, is accurate, as far as it goes. The implication is that the king has no personal control over the CPB. Of course, this implied separation is simply a misrepresentation of the real situation. As has been shown previously, the king has great personal control. The best account of this is here.

Secondly, according to the Act, a Crown Property Board was set up, to be chaired by ex officio by the Finance Minister.  The Board is responsible for the overall supervision of the activities of the CPB, whose status has been elevated to a juristic person since 1948.  The CPB is responsible for protecting and managing the royal assets and property as well as supporting other activities for the benefits of Thai subjects and society based on sufficiency principle and in a sustainable manner.

Again, the implication is to suggest that there is no royal control over the CPB. That is dismissed in the last link above. Importantly, the notion that the CPB works for the “benefits of Thai subjects and society based in sufficiency principle” is a new invention.  As we recently noted, the sufficiency economy notion was largely an invention in 1997.

Thirdly, with regard to the estimation of the Thai monarch’s net wealth at more than $30 billion, there is still a lack of clear methodology or explanation on how Forbes has come to this conclusion.  Forbes seems to once again include assets belonging to the CPB, which are held in trust for the nation, into its calculation of the King’s personal wealth.  Meanwhile, a report “The World’s richest 200” of the Sunday Times on 29 May 2011 seems to recognize this inaccuracy. In that report, the first three wealthiest royals/heads of states are from other countries.

This claim is based on the implied denials in the first two points, which are disingenuous, and on a nonsensical failure to note the source for the new Forbes calculation of $37 billion. The Forbes article was based entirely on the (limited) new information or revised calculations released in the semi-official King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life’s Work: Thailand’s Monarchy in Perspective. The data there came from the CPB itself.

Lastly, in contrast to an ultra-rich image that Forbes has tried to portray of the Thai monarch, anyone who knows Thailand and has driven by Chitralada Palace in Bangkok can clearly see the agricultural research station His Majesty has built upon the palace grounds.  The laboratory serves as an incubator for ideas of over 4,000 Royal Development Projects in communities throughout the country.  His Majesty’s palace is probably the only monarch’s residence in the world to be adorned with demonstration rice fields, fish ponds, a cattle barn, a rice mill and several small factories.

This claim has been made previously. Mentioning Chitralada palace where only a small proportion of land is given over to such activities, most of them dating to the 1960s is a red herring. As far as PPT knows, when he was premier, General Prem Tinsulanonda, now president of the privy council, took almost all of the royal projects onto the state budget. In addition, there are now many royal palaces, used by various members of the royal family.

I hope you will publish this letter in order to provide your readers with a more comprehensive and fact-based perspective on Thailand and its monarchy.

Well, it was, but for anyone knowing anything about the monarchy, the fumbling and fudging is all too clear. If there were a real separation between personal royal wealth and the CPB, perhaps then there might really be some transparent information on both. We don’t think the monarchy would be willing to tell the world just how fabulously wealthy it really is.

Protecting the government and palace

16 02 2010

The Abhisit Vejjajiva government seems to have been searching for “incidents” that allow it to increase the role of the military in security before the upcoming Thaksin Shinawatra assets case. They have been trumpeting their claim that there will be violence for a considerable time (see Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya’s statements to diplomats) and have had a string of minor or possibly even manufactured events, including claims of cars getting “too close” to the prime minister’s motorcade. Try driving near Abhisit’s house from Sukhumvit, and all vehicles are “too close.”

Now with the grenade explosion for which the damage is seen (unlike the claimed attack on army HQ) and a bomb found somewhere close to the Supreme Court – reports differ – they seem to have found what they needed and, according to the Bangkok Post (16 February 2010) the military has been deployed in Bangkok. It is reported that “[l]ast night, police and soldiers established checkpoints and organised patrols in inner Bangkok.” Even with light Chinese New Year traffic, in parts of Bangkok the traffic came to a standstill last night.

In addition, the Post states that “[s]cores of checkpoints were set up in sensitive parts of the city last night and special police patrols were launched after the country’s top security officials met urgently yesterday to review the weekend’s incidents.” In the provinces, “security authorities were ordered to step up measures to maintain law and order as more rallies to support ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra were expected.”

The government claims that “intelligence reports from security agencies continued to play up fears of unrest at strategic places.” These reports were mentioned previously when the Internal Security Act was invoked. Each time they were inaccurate.

Prime Minister Abhisit seemed somewhat agitated when he made the claim that “many important locations could be attacked ahead of the day of the verdict.” Where? Apparently soldiers have been deployed “at checkpoints to guard some locations in the inner city including the home of Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda, Government House, the parliament, the courtyard of Wat Benchamabophit at the Marble Temple, Chitralada Palace, the Supreme Court and the Foreign Ministry…”.

While earlier the government made it clear that it wanted to prevent protesters getting to Bangkok, now they claim, disingenuously, that: “The mobilisation of authorities to operate checkpoints is not meant to prevent rallies but is aimed at preventing ill-intentioned people from creating unrest…”.

The red shirt leadership has claimed they will not officially rally on the day of the Thaksin asset case decision.

PPT continues to view the situation as a political tinderbox, with considerable provocations and several parties and groups in the mix and their intentions remain opaque. Misinformation is being fired in all directions. It is a very worrying situation that could easily deteriorate.

Updating ISA and medical scam

15 10 2009

There has been a spate of interesting reports today on a range of subjects. In this post PPT updates two stories we have been following, the repeated use of the Internal Security Act and the corruption allegations involving the government’s stimulus package.

Internal Security Act overkill: In a recent post PPT asked why it was that the Internal Security Act was being used in Bangkok for a red shirt rally. We pointed out some inconsistencies. Now we are told that the Democrat Party-led government is deploying 18,000 security force personnel in Bangkok and a similar number in Hua Hin, where the ASEAN summit is located ( Bangkok Post, 15 October 2009: “Massive summit force gets nod”).

An earlier report in the Bangkok Post states that Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban,” who is in charge of security affairs, was assigned to be director of the Bangkok peace-keeping command.” He said” 6,000 police, 10,000 soldiers and 2,000 civilian volunteers will be deployed … from Oct 15 to Oct 25 in the wake of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)’s plan to rally on Oct 17 and hold a no-confidence debate against the government outside parliament.”

“Civilian volunteers”? PPT wonders who this might be? Right-wing vigilantes  or something less threatening?

Suthep stated that “Attention will be given specially to Government House, parliament and Chitrlada Palace.”

That’s a total of 36,000 security personnel mobilized. Even leaving aside the questions of human rights and intimidation, this is clearly way, way more than would be reasonable for controlling a rally that the government estimates will be “about 10,000 people.”

The Post says this is to “ensure peace and order.” The government is not expecting the planned rally to be violent. So why this huge number of police and military? Is the government wasting money or does it have “intelligence reports”? Why are 2 security personnel required for each expected demonstrator?

PPT has no answers that we haven’t given before.However, this kind of mobilization is suspiciously large. If we were being really cynical and conspiratorial, we’d be tempted to link to an earlier post.

Corruption in MOPH procurement: The Nation (15 October 2009: “Witthaya’s new committee to study medical equipment scam”) reports that Public Health Minister Witthaya Kaewparadai has “decided to set up a new independent committee with members from outside the ministry, to probe irregularities in the procurement of medical equipment under the Bt86-billion Thai Khemkhaeng package.”

Witthaya said he “decided to set up the new independent committee after being criticised over an announcement yesterday – by the ministry’s fact finding committee led by Dr Seri Hongyok – that some senior health officials had been involved in the scandal.”

PPT wonders why an independent committee has taken so long to be established? We also observe that new committee will be led by former Bangkok senator and one-time but short-term police chief, Police General Pratin Santiprabhob. He was a leading anti-Thaksin critic prior to the coup and was a PAD supporter.  Stacking the committee, perhaps?

The Rural Doctors Society’s has expressed some reservations on this appointment and “questioned whether his relationship with the Democrat Party would influence his approach to the investigation.” It also criticized “the ministry’s announcement on October 13, revealing that a retired senior health official and senior health official were involved in the scandal, was not fair as politicians were also involved in the purchase irregularities.”

Pratin of course dismisses any allegation against him and potential favoritism. Yes, he “accepted he knew people among the Democrats as well as in other political parties.” He said: “Don’t question me about my work before you see the results of the investigation…”.

Sounds like a cover-up is planned.

The royal context of the political crisis

14 04 2009

Andrew Walker and Nicholas Farrelly of the Australian National University and of New Mandala have produced a useful and insightful article in the Australian online magazine Inside Story (14 April 2009: “Thailand’s royal sub-plot”).

The article provides essential context for the current political crisis in Thailand, beginning: “When Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva launched his crackdown on red-shirt protesters on Sunday night, one of his first acts was to post army units around Chitralada Palace, the Bangkok residence of Thailand’s king. It was a routine security measure but, in the current climate, it was an act rich in symbolism.” The article discusses the lifting of the veil on royal politics, academic discussion of the political role of the monarchy, lesè majesté, and discusses why army generals and privy councilors Prem Tinsulanond and Surayud Chulanont are important political actors, and more.

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