Saving Thailand

27 04 2019

PPT doesn’t often read the letters pages of the local newspapers. Just occasionally, though, something comes along worth mentioning, and we thought a contribution to The Nation, from a couple of days ago was pithy. It commented on a suggestion that Thailand needed reconciliation via a “savior” like Desmond Tutu:

If Thailand had come up with a man of the stature of Desmond Tutu (and maybe it already has done), it is quite likely he would have been deemed a communist conspirator set on overthrowing the monarchy and thus found guilty of sedition and thrown in jail. In fact, that may be the best place to start the search: look for critics of dictatorship who have passed through military courts.

When the military is on top XXI

3 05 2018

A theme of our now long series of posts on When the Military is on Top has been the embedding of double standards. One set of rules for the junta and its partners and another for those not connected with the regime or its partners seem never-ending.

The latest example is related to land. Since it seized power the junta has emphasized “illegal” uses of “state” land. We use the inverted commas to mark the fact that some of this land was, several decades ago, allocated to state agencies, institutions and people as part of the military’s counterinsurgency operations.

So when the military becomes involved in expelling owners and smashing down resorts in areas like Khao Khor in Petchabun, one might ask how it is that the Royal Forest Department and the the Internal Security Operations Command co-operate now to “take legal action against all 135 mountainous resorts suspected of encroaching on a land plot in Khao Kho district within three months.”

No doubt some of these resorts are the plaything of the rich, but so much of the land in the area was allocated to farmers who were encouraged into the area after the battles with the communists there in the 1970s. That those farmers sold their land decades later is a reflection of ISOC’s 1970s policies never having recognized the property rights of the villagers it encouraged and even transported to the area.

The mistreatment of land protesters is reflective of similar processes that began decades ago as, also as part of a broad counter-communism policy, the state commodified land, allocated land and titles of various levels of tenure and then saw business people take advantage of this land market.

The Bangkok Post refers to the “temporary detention of land rights activists in Chiang Mai and Lamphun by security authorities [as] disgraceful.” While this is rightly seen as ” intimidation” by “soldiers and policemen were dispatched to deal with the growing disgruntlement of ordinary people who were merely trying to make their voices heard. But using force to shut people up is a barbaric tactic that will only intensify public displeasure against the military rulers,” the roots of the problems of land in the policies of previous military regimes should not be neglected.

The double standards are obvious when the judiciary’s luxury housing construction project in Chiang Mai is considered. Sanitsuda Ekachai makes the all too obvious points in her op-ed. As she says, representatives of the regime and the judiciary have loudly claimed that: “People and the forest can live together in harmony…”. But there are people and there are others.

The people who can live in harmony with forest are “good” people and the rest are the untrustworthy and the unworthy.

Junta learning from China

31 10 2017

Over the years, there have been efforts to suggest that various Thai leaders in politics and the economy have turned to China in part for reasons of ethnic loyalty. Certainly, several Thai leaders have been of Chinese extraction and some Sino-Thai tycoons at CP and the Bangkok Bank (to name just two) have been early and long active in “giving back.”

But what does this mean in practice, especially when China’s economic rise has been noticeable for decades and its political sway has been increasing for some time? And, consider that almost all of Thailand’s wealthiest, including the dead king, were Sino-Thai. Chineseness has seldom been a hot political issue since Phibun’s time and a period when the OSS/CIA were worried about the “overseas Chinese” as a “fifth column” for Chinese communism.

The most recent effort we can recall was by Sondhi Limthongkul, in some accounts claimed to be China-born and the son of a Kuomintang general. Back in the days when the People’s Alliance for Democracy – dominated by Sino-Thais of the Bangkok middle class – declared that they too were loyal to the nation (and the monarchy).

When we look at the current military dictatorship, for some time shunned by the U.S. and by some major countries in Europe, the draw of China became important. While on a well-worn path, where China was already a major trading partner, the significance of China rose substantially for the regime as it sought to arm and boost the economy. But one of the attractions does seem to be, as one academic has it, mutual authoritarianism.

But we don’t think we have ever seen such an enthusiastic embrace as that provided by the junta’s 4th generation Sino-Thai Wissanu Krea-ngam in an interview with the official Xinhua news agency on the day the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China concluded.

Speaking of the amendment to the CPC Constitution that made “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era a new component of the party’s guide for action,” Wissanu was enthusiastic, declaring:

Xi’s thought makes “Chinese characteristics” more prominent, the Thai deputy prime minister said.

He praised China for being very good at accomplishing its goals efficiently as can be proved by the anti-corruption campaign that started five years ago.

He said he believes that the new goals set at the 19th CPC National Congress will be accomplished as before.

“The Chinese set long-term goals and ask people to do it together. That is something we can learn from, as we are also working on a 20-year national strategy to guide the development of Thailand,” Wissanu said.

“It is just magical that we have consistent policies or strategies as China put forward the Belt and Road Initiative. We have Thailand 4.0 and ASEAN … has ASEAN Connectivity,” Wissanu said, adding that China and Thailand can still find a lot of aspects to cooperate in the future.

Maybe he’s just noticing economic opportunities? But those have been evident for decades. Wissanu seems attracted by the Chinese model of marrying authoritarianism with markets. That seems pretty close to the junta’s aims.


History re-made for the dead king

21 10 2017

The monarchy has long had scribblers working in its interest. As the author of a Bangkok Post op-ed says, truthfully, “There is a lot of hagiography and officially enforced views about Thailand’s traditional institutions…”.

This is Thitinan Pongsudhirak, who has, in recent years, become a hagiographer himself. And, this latest outing is gross in its hagiography, smashing history into a royalist shape. Thitinan is no dummy, so his choice to take a hatchet to recent political history is an effort to mislead.

For starters, he claims that the king worked for the 70 years and 126 days. That he stayed around for a long time is worth noting, but suggesting he was hard at work until the end is odd indeed. Clearly, over some of the last decade of his life, the king was unable to do much at all, being ill with the afflictions of old age.

That may be a minor point, but the discussion of the beginning of the reign ignores – deliberately – they key event: the shooting death of King Ananda Mahidol. This event brought Bhumibol to the throne. No one has tried to adequately explain that event. But to ignore it is misleading.

Thitinan says that in “1946, the monarchy was at a low point, whereas military and civilian elites in the emerging new bureaucracy dominated.”

He neglects to note that the monarchy was at the center of these “squabbles.” Royalists used the death o King Ananda to seek to oust the persons the old princes hated and viewed as republicans.

The royalist-anti-royalist struggles of the period need to be mentioned.

Thitinan is right that there was a “symbiotic relationship between the military and the monarchy.” Both sides benefited enormously, with the royal family and the king becoming hugely wealthy as a military dictatorship went on for 16 years. These seem worthy of some consideration, but not in Thitinan’s story.

Remarkably, Thitinan justifies all those years of dictatorship: “The fight against communism during the 1950s-80s necessitated a strong state revolving around the military, monarchy and bureaucracy…”.

His speculation on what Thailand might have looked like in those years “[w]ithout the monarchy” is hypothetical nonsense. His claim that it was that monarchy that “saved” Thailand from communism is just silly speculation that polishes the monarchy’s posterior simply to make it shiny. Military dictatorship, repression, murders of citizens, secret wars, massive U.S. funding seem not to deserve attention.

His hagiography gets really hysterical when Thitinan seems to say that it was the king who was remaking Thailand. It gets worse when  he makes this up: the “late monarch owned no fancy vehicles or other trappings that would have been seen as extravagant and lavish…”.

This is bizarre. The royal garage was stuffed with expensive cars. Maybachs, Mercedes, Rolls Royces and more. The palaces expanded and spend plenty. His family was and is fabulously wealthy and awash with jewelry and luxury accoutrements.The taxpayer has seen several regimes shoveling baht into supporting the royal family’s lifestyle.

Much of the rest of the op-ed repeats this propaganda in ways that is little different from the palace propaganda and hagiography poured out over many decades.

Then Thitinan recognizes that “there were dissenters during the 9th reign. They derived from a competing political narrative that arose from the 1932 overthrow of the absolute monarchy and lost out in power struggles…”. It is noted that “[m]any of them suffered from repression and persecution over the years.” But is was much more than this. Some of them were exiled, many were murdered, but that’s not stated.

The continual rebuffing of calls for democracy and human rights came from the palace and the military.

Thitinan then writes of reconciling the re-emerging 1932 narrative and that of the triumphal royalists. How much chance of that when he and others make up the historical events? How can dissidents reconcile with a make-believe royalist discourse?

Making a cruel point

17 11 2016

student-6oct1The 6 October 1976 massacre was one of the Thai military’s periodic interventions in politics that saw many citizens murdered and arrested.

While the numbers killed total in the 40s for official counts, but perhaps 10 times this in reality.

This massacre was particularly brutal, with civilians being raped, burned alive, lynched, dismembered and tortured. It was conducted by police, military and rightist and royalist gangs that owed allegiance to the palace.

The ruling class cheered the end of a turbulent democracy that they had been unable to totally control.

The monarchy, fearful of communism, unions, students and socialists, thanked those who supported it by murdering and imprisoning those it identified as enemies.

The king spoke to his “subjects” about their duties to support his murderous regime – he had had his man Thanin Kraivixien, appointed premier. This event and the monarchy’s central role was defining of a brief reign of terror under Thanin’s regime, followed by a long period of military and military-backed governments, lasting through until 1988.6-october-1976

The full speech by the then king is reproduced in Prachatai and we reproduce it here, because of its callous support for authoritarianism and rejection of democratic politics.

The speech doesn’t mention these things directly, but everyone knew that the king was supporting those who massacred political opponents:

People of Thailand, thank you for expressing your kindness and cordiality to me, the Queen and all of our children. Thank you for your cooperation and support in all our activities which has given us much encouragement.

The Thai people have clearly expressed their wishes. With this, there is a common understanding and there is an opportunity to work together in order to fulfil our aspirations. Although there may be obstacles or challenges along the way, we can overcome them as long as we sincerely cooperate with one another. However, we should also understand that the country’s overall situation is not so promising.

I strongly wish that all of us could understand and see the reality of the situation in our country.

6-oct-1976Currently our country needs to be improved and developed to the highest level of efficiency so that we can fully optimise the use of resources on our land, as well as wholly benefit from the labour force and wisdom of all Thais. We must utilise them in order to swiftly advance our country and bring about prosperity in all dimensions.

For this purpose, we must urgently execute many development projects and implement them quickly and fruitfully. We cannot delay them for any reason otherwise we will lose out on any potential benefits and in this case it will be damaging.

We can contribute by being strongly determined to uphold the nation’s interest, forego personal interests and refrain from unnecessary disputes.

Those who hold duties and responsibilities must tend to them and successfully fulfil them to the best of their potential and with honesty, with compassion, compromise and goodwill. Our collective work will soon lead to success and a lasting development for our nation.beating_corpse-6-october_1976

I would like to invite the blessings of the Triple Gems and all things sacred to the Thai people to protect you all from danger and misfortune and to bestow upon you good health, inspiration, wisdom and unity, so that you can perform your duties in order to move our country forward while also maintaining our sovereignty and peace for the sake of our well-being and prosperity. I wish you all happiness and success in your endeavours throughout the New Year.

Why is this of interest now? Because the current royalist military junta has decided that every Thai must be reminded of its power for tyranny and repression, in the name of the monarchy. It has chosen to do this with a 9-minute anthem that all Thais will have to listen to and respect into the future. It is also a threat.

On the Phibun threat (1957)

14 03 2013

Andrew MacGregor Marshall has another useful posting including archival material from 1957 at Zen Journalist. In another post we referred to material that showed clear palace involvement in the 1957 coup planning. In this we refer to a document that has the young king explaining his position on Prime Minister Phibun, who had been overthrown by General Sarit Thanarat.

The cable we refer to in this post can be downloaded as a PDF. Much attention will undoubtedly focus on Australian Minister for External Affairs, Sir Richard Casey, who is said to have known the king for some time and sees him as engaging in “baby talk.”


PPT doesn’t know what the relationship between Casey and the king was. However, British Ambassador Richard Whittington tends to agree with Casey’s assessment but does see “some progress” from a shy lad.

Arguably more significant is the king’s comment on Phibun:


This perspective reflects the view of the old princes, his mother and the royalists such as Kukrit and Seni Pramoj. Phibun was hated almost as much as Pridi Phanomyong, and the king was imbibing from the waters of the anti-1932 royalists. Criticisms of Sarit and military regimes appear designed for the foreigners for the palace and royalists were in the political bed with Sarit and the royalist faction in the military.

Also revealing is the anti-communism exhibited by the king and his observations on politics in the northeast (where political opposition was seen as communism) and at Thammasat University, the latter considered to be influenced by Pridi.


These views were to influence much of the king’s and palace’s activism in the years that followed. Conservative kings will certainly worry about communists yet it is the congruence of fears about the northeast, poverty and communism that see U.S. get deeply involved in Thailand and in promoting the monarchy as a bulwark against communism.

Alleged communists and republicans are a feature of the post-1932 period and define much of the palace’s political shenanigans (even in 2010!).

Democracy vs. the monarchy’s ruling class

1 07 2012

PPT enjoyed the Bangkok Post‘s discussion with historian Charnvit Kasetsiri on the 1932 Revolution and contemporary politics. We certainly agree with his observation that:

throughout the past 80 years, conservative forces have retained a lot of their influence, making democracy unstable. It is more like “transient democracy”, not a permanent one as long as citizens’ rights and equality are not achieved concretely.

That situation is not one that has gone uncontested over those eight decades, but it has to be said that it has been the palace, supported by the post-1957 military and the US in the 1960s and 1970s, that has established hegemony. Charnvit points out that:

Initially, Khanarassadorn wanted to adopt the phrase ‘Monarchy under Constitution’, but acceded to King Prachadhiphok’s wish for ‘Constitutional Monarchy’. It was changed after Field Marshall Sarit Thanarat’s … [1957] coup with the emergence of ‘Thai-style democracy’ and ‘Democracy with the Monarch as head of state’. It has been a long struggle….

In his reported comments, Charnvit seems to forget that this has not been an uncontested fight. There have been struggles by the People’s Party remnants, by communists and socialists, by students and workers and farmers. The royalist military has been vicious in its responses, repressing and murdering virtually non-stop during the years since 1957.

The hegemony of the royalist elite has had particular impacts beyond repression and murder. Without mentioning the vast and obscene wealth of the monarchy itself, Charnvit observes that: “Wealth is still concentrated…. If people accept their station in life, the status quo can be maintained.”

Charnvit points out that:

since the time of Field Marshall Sarit, the monarchy has been used as a tool to discredit and destroy political opponents, starting from communism and now the attempt to amend Section 112. Those who advocate change were and are lumped together as disloyal to the monarchy.

The problem is that this old regime is under attack and it is the monarchy that is the “tool to destroy the opposition.”

Charvit is correct to note that “people don’t accept their fate anymore.” Like others, he points out that the “rural poor are not without resources or knowledge and they no longer accept injustice.”

The current political struggles seem to be, as Charnvit has it, between:

the absolute power of the monarch, the so-called “Devaraja” as practised in Ayutthaya and the first half of the Chakri dynasty or the democratic principles espoused by Khanarassadorn who toppled the monarch in 1932.

We do not think that this is the case. Charnvit is essentially speaking of ideology. PPT thinks that the struggle is about the rights and voice that are limited and controlled by a class that rules through violence, threat of violence and its great wealth. The monarchy is not just the ideological hub of the current regime of power but is the country’s largest Sino-Thai conglomerate.

Hence, when Charnvit speaks of the need to “amend the constitution resulting from the 2006 coup … [and] amending the lese majeste law,” he is concentrating on important nodes that are part of a broader struggle. He gets to that struggle when he says the “problem is about inequality…”. He asks, “why can’t political parties solve it?”

The answer, Charnvit said:

politicians are not the people’s representatives – they represent their own social class. The class that Yingluck and Thaksin Shinawatra belongs to is no different from that of Abhisit Vejjajiva or Korn Chatikavanij.

For him, this means that the red shirts must split from Thaksin once they “realise that Thaksin’s group is not theirs.” The link between the masses and Thaksin is not of his own making and has never been entirely stable.

Thaksin has been electorally popular because he provided – probably unintentionally – an  opportunity for people to have some voice. They realized that elections could have an impact. If the backward-looking elite, including Yingluck and Thaksin, can’t maintain that, then they are politically useless and electoral democracy is lost to them as a means of broad political compromise.

Bout, communism and The John Birch Society

23 01 2011

This is a small footnote to the Viktor Bout saga that seemed completed, for a moment, when Russian Viktor Bout was extradited in unusual circumstances to the U.S. See PPT posts here (for the alleged royal connection), here and here. There was also some traffic in the Wikileaks cables.

Bout has appeared in court in the U.S., and this report, from The New American presents the extreme right-wing perspective on the case from The John Birch Society (which pays for the magazine) and claims links to the tea party neo-fascists in America. The interesting aspect of the story is the Cold War rhetoric on communism.

As mentioned above, this is but a footnote, but an interesting one.

Terrorists and Marxist-Leninists

13 06 2010

In an earlier post, PPT mentioned that Thailand’s special envoy to the U.S. would speak at the Asia Society. In that post we expressed some skepticism, noting that the visit was advertised as to “rehabilitate Thailand’s image” following the government’s crackdowns on red shirt demonstrators, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries and hundreds of political prisoners. The regime has also told “Thailand’s friends” that they are expected to do more to “help.”

AFP reports on this visit by Kiat Sittheeamorn, who is said to be seeking U.S. support in the country’s political crisis, discouraging the kingdom’s longtime ally from trying to mediate in the wake of bloody street protests.” If that sound like a double-handed approach, it is. The Abhisit Vejjajiva military-backed regime wants the U.S. to abstain from criticism and support it, despite the government’s authoritarianism.

Abhisit and his military backers throw people in prison under emergency rule, kill protesters and engage in levels of censorship not seen since 1976-77, and hopes the U.S. will ignore this. They just might, as the U.S. has a long record of supporting authoritarian government in Thailand and plenty of other places.

The elite supporters of the Abhisit government were all schooled during the Cold War and so it is not all that surprising to hear Cold War rhetoric return. Envoy Kiat has been “dispatched  to Washington to make the case that so-called Red Shirt protesters who occupied central Bangkok for weeks included armed and Marxist elements.”

Kiat is reported as meeting “with members of Congress and President Barack Obama’s administration on Friday” and said thanks for the advice, but that the Abhisit government has its own plan, inadequately described as a “reconciliation plan.” He reckons that outside interference will only further complicate things.

For PPT, complicating things might be necessary as the Abhisit government’s approach is way too simplistic. You get an idea of the lack of complex thinking when Kiat compares Thaisland’s recent events to those of  the 11 September attacks in the U.S. Oddly, in talking of Thailand’s response then was by the Thaksin Shinawatra government.

And it gets worse because Kiat dissembles: “We always respect the decisions of any government; it’s their right.” That’s a pile of fermented fish. Think Cambodia of late. But the point is to ask for support from “friends” whatever the Abhisit government decides to do.

Kiat comes up with the now usual platitude that “some” Red Shirts had “legitimate grievances,” but that the events of March-May were not a “straight-forward demonstration” because of the other standard line – armed groups – and the recycled Cold War slogan, “Marxist-Leninist ideologists.”

It seems that this line was accepted by “Senator Jim Webb, who heads the Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia, [who] recently visited Thailand and agreed that aspects of the Red Shirts were ‘classic Marxist’.”

What constitutes classic Marxism for Webb? Here’s a statement that would be unworthy of an undergraduate but would be neatly fitted into 1950s McCarthysim: “You had the incitement of people based on poor versus the rich in a country that has made enormous advances over the last 30 years,” Webb said.

Don’t expect anything much that is logical from either the Abhisit dissemblers or from U.S. policymakers. Thailand doesn’t matter all that much and support is easier than having problems.

A U.S. academic who seems to have some influence in policy circles, Catharin Dalpino, who is said to be “director of the Thai studies program at Georgetown University,” but who has a remarkably sparse record on academic work on Thailand,  said the “United States had a stake in Thailand’s stability but needed to exercise restraint. Unlike many other countries since the Cold War, Thailand transitioned to democracy without foreign involvement, she said.”

Maybe Dalpino missed the 2006 coup? Maybe she missed the military’s involvement in the 2008 maneuverings to get Abhisit in place? Maybe she’s missed all the killing and censorship? Or maybe she is a “friend of Thailand” doing the assigned job?

If this AFP report is accurate, the Kiat visit to the U.S. is a farcical propaganda exercise, supported by simplistic – downright stupid – views in the U.S. from Dalpino and Webb.

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