Updated: A royalist’s royalist

26 08 2016

If you are a royalist, after the near-dead king, your favorite figure must be General Prem Tinsulanonda. The aged general and president of the Privy Council has turned 96 and, according to a remarkably syrupy article in the Bangkok Post, remains remarkably important for the current military junta.

Some commentators argue that the grand old man has been pushed aside by the regime, yet it is clear that the regime continues to provide the prim and interfering “boss” with the attention and supplication that Prem craves.

For over 30 years, Prem has been at the center of Thailand’s politics, and this has reflected his long alliance with the palace. Prem returned palace support by doing more for the political and economic domination of the monarchy than any premier since General Sarit Thanarat.

Since his appointment by the king as a privy councilor, Prem has also been at the center of palace politics. Palace politics under him became intimately aligned and interconnected with national politics.

The Post states that “[n]early three decades after he left office, the country’s 16th prime minister remains as powerful and commands a great deal of clout among the ruling generals and other military top brass.”

The brass, as almost all of them have done for decades, showed up to provide birthday wishes to Prem “at his leafy Si Sao Thewes residence.” (As we have said several times in the past, “his residence” actually belongs to the state and Prem “resides” at the taxpayers expense, despite the fact that he has become quite wealthy.)

Prem held the premiership for almost 8.5 years. These were not years of political stability. He retained power through frequent cabinet reshuffles, with the support of military-appointed senates, neglecting parliament and politicians and, most significantly, the palace’s backing.

The Post suggests that Prem “stepped down as prime minister” but this neglects the bitter struggle that took place, with Prem refusing to budge and with opponents threatening to reveal his “private life.” Eventually, the campaign for an elected premier won out. Prem has been bitter about this ever since; he detests elected politicians.

His bitterness was somewhat reduced by the fact that “[d]ays after his political retirement, he was appointed by … the King as a member of the Privy Council.”

According to the Post, Prem is “recognised as working closely with the monarchy and following an important mission to protect the revered [sic.] institution.”

Prem is known for his capacity for “eliminating disloyal subordinates and disrespectful foes.” Respect is something that makes Prem feel special. He feels he deserves to be considered special and important.

The Post suggests that those who put him offside include General Suchinda Kraprayoon and his group of Class 5 graduates from the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy. They apparently sidelined Prem. Class 5 lost.

The other big loser is Thaksin Shinawatra. Prem came to hate Thaksin who he felt paid him insufficient respect and “crossed” him and the palace. Thaksin lost.

The military regime troops to Prem’s taxpayer-funded home three times a year and “offer[s] … good wishes and receive Gen Prem’s blessings.” As the Post also adds, the “Burapha Payak (Tigers of the East) and Queen’s Guard military units, which are known to play an influential role in the armed forces, also have to beat a path to the Si Sao Thewes residence, which has become a symbol of power.”

As expected, Prem has consistently provided the public support the regime requires from the palace. As the Post observes, “[t]his is a crucial time when the Burapha Payak and the Si Sao Thewes residence must stand united to weather possible political turbulence.” The alliance seems set to have a general become unlelected premier when an election is held, and Prem appears to support this.

Prem made it clear that he fully backs Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s leadership. He stated:

I trust the prime minister and that all of you can work for the country, with royalty [the monarchy] and make sacrifices….

No matter how big or small the difficulties are, I ask the prime minister to feel at ease that the armed forces and people will give encouragement to the prime minister.

He said he has always told others about how important it was that Gen Prayut and his comrades had to step in during this turbulent time.

I told “Tu” [Gen Prayut’s nickname] that old soldiers like us will do all we can to help Tu achieve the great mission for the country….

Sounds like Prem’s “vote” is in.

Royalists will listen.

Update: As a mark of the royal house’s appreciation of Prem’s loyalty and political works for it, he was given a special merit-making ceremony, “sponsored” by the king and queen. As these two are very ill and barely able to express anything, the show of respect for loyalty comes from the other members of the royal family and Privy Council. The report states that the “ceremony was held at Wat Rajabopit with Royal representatives, and some high ranking public and private officials also attending.” It was “Privy Councillor General Surayud Chulanont, who represented Their Majesties, and Air Chief Marshal Kasem Yoosuk, chief of HRH the Crown Prince’s Private Secretary’s Office, represented HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, also appeared at the ceremony to give Gen Prem bouquets and best wishes.”





Remembering Meechai’s previous work

1 11 2015

Back on 15 May 1994, the Bangkok Post had a Sunday Perspective column regarding the constitutional developments during the time following the 1991 military coup that removed the elected government led by Chatichai Choonhavan.

Titled “A Fledgling Democratic Process at a Standstill,” (no hyperlinks available) it discusses the lack of progress on a new constitution following the May 1992 uprising against General Suchinda Kraprayoon and “other NPKC leaders, known collectively as Class 5 graduates of the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, who intended to dominate Thai politics indefinitely.” The column continues:

MeechaiThe junta leaders appointed a committee headed by Meechai Ruchupan and Osoth Kosin to draft two constitutions with provisions for them to perpetuate and share political power with
their allies.

The 1991 constitutional draft was made the law of the land amid across-the-board protests….

“Should the Constitution be found imperfect or undesirable, it can be amended later, junta sources said. [as they said in 2007 as well]

The result of that constitutional process led by Meechai was the May 1992 uprising and massacre of civilians.

Following the May Uprising, there was more debate, and with Anand Punyarachun again an appointed premier, Meechai got into the act again, as a senator:

Senator Meechai Ruchupan, an expert in constitutional law, wasted no time proposing drafts he claimed to be democratic.

Although Meechai may be well-intentioned, the inquisitive media and the general public think otherwise.

The Meechai constitutional drafts were found to be the 1974 charter with some minor alterations. For example Article 169 reads:

“0n administrative affairs, the Cabinet members are individually accountable to the House of Representatives in matters pertaining to ministerial performance; However, they are held collectively accountable in matters pertaining to Cabinet policy.”

Compared to Senator Meechai’s proposed amendment:

“In administrative affairs, Cabinet members are to abide by dictates of the Constitution. They are to follow the guidelines as stated in Article 108. They are individually accountable to the
House of Representatives in ministerial matters and collectively accountable in matters pertaining to the general Cabinet policy.”

Naturally in a politics where royalists were seeking to dominate, Meechai’s regressive and anti-democratic proposals got support, in terms that seem very familiar today:

Senator Sompob [Hotrakit], lauding Sen Meechai’s initiative, said the proposed draft would prevent parliamentary dictatorship….

How was this to be engineered? Again, familiar territory. One proposal was for appointed senators:

… proposals were made for senators to come from diversified professions with the Royal appointments countersigned by either the chairman of the Privy Councillors or the Prime
Minister.

At the time, a Democrat Party MP Preecha Suwannathat, said to be “a legal expert who graduated from Thammasat University in the same class as Senator Meechai” stated that “Senator Meechai goes back in time, invoking the obsolete 1968 constitution which allowed permanent officials to become actively involved in politics…”.  That charter was a military document drawn up by a regime that had, by that time, dictated for a decade, and would stay until 1973.

And so it went on. Readers will get the picture. Essentially, the proposals being concocted by Meechai and his hand-picked Constitution Drafting Committee are but the most recent in a long line of proposals, several of them coming from Meechai himself, to embed a constitution for the ruling elite based in the military-monarchy alliance. The difference this time is that Thailand’s constitutional future is in the hands of a military junta that is more determined to get its way.





Money for royals

3 10 2015

Not that long ago, a New York Times story had it that the taxpayer under the military dictatorship was forking out $540 million on promoting and protecting the monarchy, massively increased from the already enormous $350 million of 2013. That’s in addition to any deals done with individual royals, the Crown Property Bureau and any additional funds that are allocated after the budget is drawn up.

In other words, the monarchy and individual royals do very nicely indeed, leeching off the taxpayer and the state.

What we did not realize is that these privileged, wealthy and pampered royals also draw salaries from the ridiculous ceremonial positions they hold. Yes, we know they charge students for the “honor” of a diploma being handed to them and that posterior polishers throw money at them, but we hadn’t known that they get paid for being generals, admiral and air chief marshals.

In a Khaosod report it is stated that Princess Sirindhorn, who has just “left her teaching post at the Chulalomklao Royal Military Academy, has been paid a salary of 26 million baht over 35 years. Sirindhorn and golden mikes

Khaosod is able to report this because the academy director, General Charnchai Yotsundhorn waxed grateful that the stupendously royal employee had decided to give the salary back. Not immediately, but on an installment plan, beginning with 7 million baht as a first installment.

Charnchai was “infinitely grateful to Her Royal Highness…”, but failed to explain why she took the salary for 35 years and why she can’t give it all back now.

Khaosod states that the “monarchy has a close relationship with the military, with prominent members of the Royal Family holding military ranks or posts in the armed forces.” This caused us to wonder if all the other royals with ceremonial ranks were pocketing taxpayer tips? We guess they are: king, queen, prince and several princesses perhaps. We wonder if the recently departed poodle Fu Fu, which had rank in the military, was also paid a salary?





A tale of two princesses

22 09 2013

A report in an Illinois newspaper explains that Thailand’s Princess Sirindhorn has received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree from Northern Illinois University. NIU is home to the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

The Center’s long history is peppered with interesting government connections during the period when the United States was most active in Southeast Asia, with one report stating that the Department of Defense and the Advanced Research Projects Agency claiming at least one NIU professors: “We had Dr. Ladd Thomas, Northern Illinois University.” Such connections may seem ancient now, but they are well remembered in DeKalb and Bangkok.

The story doesn’t explain why NIU has given this honorary doctorate. However, the DeKalb Daily Chronicle says: “She was chosen for the degree in the spring because of her humanitarian efforts and worldwide prominence as a scholar…”. PPT has been unable to establish any particular scholarship that has earned any academic reputation for the princess outside Thailand, where royal posterior polishing is required. Google Scholar lists just 4 or 5 citations and these are to opening ceremony speeches.

Her “academic” activity seems to revolve around teaching history to cadets at the  Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy where one task she performs is linking military and monarchy in its extra-constitutional tryst that began in 1957.

Former CSEAS director Clark Neher is probably closer to the mark when he is quoted as saying: “By awarding an honorary doctor to Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindhorn, we shine a light on Her Royal Highness and the enduring relationship between her country and our institution…”. The award is about the long-standing relationship between the U.S. government and the royal family and palace.

Interestingly, Sirindhorn’s visit gets some attention in a NIU Center PDF newsletter. While only a couple of pictures are reproduced, we thought them worth reproducing here:

NIU 1It seems odd to us that there is no really academic work on display in the NIU Library. Our old eyes can’t see, for example, The King Never Smiles (ภาษาไทย), A Coup for the Rich (downloads a PDF) or Saying the Unsayable. Of course, if a university is to dole out honorary degrees to royals there must be self-censorship at work. This is all about illusion, although it is also delusion.

Meanwhile, when delusion is mentioned, PPT notes that the entertainment media has been busily “reporting” on the reality-challenged music princess Rihanna in Thailand. She is reported to have attended bizarre sex shows, caressed elephants  and then declared herself “Empress.” We are not sure if this delusional self-promotion relates to elephants or something else. Seriously, though, even music princesses should be aware that this self-proclamation is potentially dangerous in a country where “protecting the monarchy” can land an “empress” in jail for 15 years on lese majeste.





Abhisit sacked from the military

22 12 2012

The Bangkok Post reports that the “Defence Ministry has dismissed opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva from military service.” An investigation panel claimed that fraudulent documents had been used in 1987. The order means Abhisit position as a lecturer at Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy is retrospectively revoked from 1987.

The Ministry is taking no further action at this point as “Abhisit has filed a petition with the Administrative Court on the issue, the ministry will not act further until the judge hands down a ruling…”.

Abhisit’s parliamentary status is under threat by this decision.





Army, Abhisit and confusing the truth

26 07 2012

A few days ago The Nation reported that the:

Defence Ministry has found that a falsified military document was used when opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva applied to serve as a lecturer at the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy.

In its letter to the Office of the Auditor-General, the ministry said discrepancies were found between the Sor Dor 9 conscription document used in Abhisit’s application for the military job and the records at the Conscription Registrar’s Office.

That seems pretty clear and straight forward. The story relates to claims from several years ago that keep coming up, alleging that Abhisit skipped his military duties due to study or similar excuse.

The report was added that: “The ministry said Abhisit should not have been eligible for exemption from military service because he was not studying at the time.” It was added that the “Judge Advocate General’s Department has been instructed to gather more evidence regarding the matter.”

Now The Nation reports the case in a different way, citing Army boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha who has said that the only way to re-open the Abhisit case is for people outside the military to come up with “fresh evidence.” That sounds very much like a cover-up.

Supporting each other?

Prayuth said that the results of a 1999 investigation to the ministry. He stated that”the Army did not have any additional documents or evidence to change its decision to close the case involving Abhisit,” which was to exonerate him.

The Army boss also warned critics like Jatuporn Promphan that “their attempts to sway the judicial decision might lead to a charge of contempt” and warned state media about being “used as the mouthpiece for Jatuporn.” Still sounds like a cover-up.

Puea Thai MP and red shirt Korkaew Pikulthong called on the Army to release documentation from 1999. He added that when Abhisit was “at the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy to evade conscription duty,” he “took a leave of absence for 200 days in a year at the job…”.

Will the Army allow the truth to be seen? If they are not covering up, then there should be no reason not to grant Korkaew his request.





Wikileaks: Prem’s coup politics

5 11 2011

In a cable leaked by Wikileaks dated 18 July 2006, signed by counselor Alex Arvizu, the focus is Privy Council president General Prem Tinsulanonda’s high-profile speech at the Chulachomklao Military Academy on July 14. A couple of questions arise: why has it taken 4 days to report the speech (we assume there were other cables that Wikileaks couldn’t get) and why is Ambassador Ralph Boyce silent? On the latter, there may be a host a reasons but looking at other cables, we guess he was away.

This comment is on one of the most profound and game-setting actions of the political crisis of 2006. While the Embassy has previously made all kinds of politically-biased judgements in almost every other cable we have read, this one is simply reported; that is, of course, a bias in itself.

The cable states that Prem has “struck back at PM Thaksin Shinawatra on July 14 in a speech to military cadets.” The cable goes on to refer to Prem’s speech as “bold” and his appearance in military uniform as a “high-profile visit to the Chulachomklao Military Academy…. with former Army Chiefs Chawalit Yongchaiyudh, [PPT: and fellow Privy Council member] Surayud Chulanont, Oud Buengbon and Pongthem Thespratheep alongside him…”.

This is the speech where Prem demanded that soldiers be loyal to the king, not the government:

in horse racing, horse owners hire jockeys to ride the horses. The jockeys do not own the horses. They just ride them. A government is like a jockey. It supervises soldiers, but the real owners are the country and the King … the government comes and goes.

The cable states that this was “only the first in a series of lectures he [Prem] plans to give to cadets and soldiers over the next few weeks, to “raise awareness.” The Embassy makes no comment on this even while the media saw these moves as coup preparations.

By this time it is clear that the Embassy is saddled up with Prem and the palace and is either hoping that the pressure is too great for Thaksin or views a coup as a viable option.