Grasping and interfering monarchs

9 02 2021

The interfering tendencies of King Vajiralongkorn and his father before him is well-known. Despite efforts to portray themselves as real constitutional monarchs, neither is or was. Vajiralongkorn has been most obvious in his interference with government, being like a bull in a china shop, demanding all kinds of constitutional, legal and military advantage.

But most monarchs tend to be secretive, wealthy and interfering. Two major reports in The Guardian, looking at the Queen of England, make this clear. The reports are worth reading for anyone interested in reform of Thailand’s monarchy.

Revealed: Queen lobbied for change in law to hide her private wealth” is an account of how “royal prerogative” was used to prevent the people of the UK from knowing how wealthy their royal family was. The queen claimed it had something to do with “embarrassment,” but what she wanted was to hide her huge wealth. The intervention with ministries, departments, and ministers was extensive, and governments colluded in maintaining secrecy. A second report “How Queen’s consent raises questions over UK democracy” asks how these interventions challenge Britain’s democracy.

Obviously, things aren’t exactly the same in Thailand, but the two stories have important resonances.





Substantive reform

30 09 2020

Building on years of struggle by other activists and exiles, the great success of the student-led movement has been in initiating a discussion on the monarchy. A couple of recent reports highlight this.

Rangsiman Rome is no longer a student, but he was one of those students who stood up to the junta after the 2014 coup. Those demonstrating now draw inspiration from the opposition Move Forward MP.

Thai PBS reports he has proposed a “new deal” between “the people and the monarchy” to make Thailand becomes a “real democratic constitutional monarchy.” This, he says, requires “a new Constitution, written by an elected charter drafting assembly.”

In speaking of the monarchy, he’s observed: “What’s happening does not benefit ordinary people. They know these things would not happen if the monarchy was truly constitutional…”.

He wants “public scrutiny” of the monarchy with it being “supervised by an elected government body, like any other organisation under the Constitution.” He wants the people to be soverign and the monarchy to “stand … alongside democracy…”.

During his speech, conservative, royalist junta party MPs sought to silence him, to no avail.

Debate is also on the agenda outside parliament. Prachatai reports about a panel discussion on 15 September at the Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, Thammasat University titled: “If politics were good, how would we discuss the monarchy”?

The report observes that “[a]ddressing the issue of the monarchy straightforwardly is a very rare sight in this country, especially after the 2014 coup when prosecution of critics of the monarchy intensified.”

Read the report of the discussion and marvel at how far the students have moved Thailand’s politics.





Thinking 112

23 09 2020

Royalist and other conservatives are pressing back against the demonstrators demanding reforms to the monarchy.

In the face of the unprecedented demands, an unusually even-tempered regime seems have caused great concern for some of the “protectors” of the monarchy.

According to Thai Enquirer, they are now “stepp[ing] up a pressure campaign to force the Prayut Chan-ocha government to take action against student protesters…”.

One of the first to file police complaints was the old yellow shirt/no colour/etc. royalist Tul Sitthisomwong, accusing the protesters of “defaming the monarchy.”

The report states that Tul’s is “likely to be the first of many charges filed against the rally organizers…”. Other royalists are pressuring the government to take action. One government MP is cited:

There are many in these groups and official organizations that feel that a line has been crossed and the government cannot stand idly by and watch a sacred institution be desecrated… There are people who are very respected in society who have asked us to take action….

These royalists want lese majeste to be used to shut the protesters down, arguing that “other criminal charges … of sedition and computer crimes laws” have not worked.

Another royalist, former Action Coalition for Thailand Party politician Sonthiya Sawasdee, has filed a police complaint against actress Intira “Sai” Charoenpura, who has funded aspects of the rallies.

In the latest legal backlash against those who organized the Sanam Luang protest, veteran actress  was targeted for allegedly fundraising donations and providing food at the rally site.

A police spokesman has said “the authorities will press all the relevant charges against the leaders and supporters of last weekend’s protest, including the lese majeste offense…”.

A return to the use of Article 112 is likely to raise the political temperature quite considerably.





Erasing the monarchy’s legal boundaries

15 01 2020

In a real constitutional monarchy, the monarch does not get (publicly) involved the day-to-day affairs of government. Thailand is not a real constitutional monarchy. Increasingly, King Vajiralongkorn is deeply involved in the regular affairs that are usually considered the work of government.

As far as PPT can discern, his interventions (and those in his name) are extra-constitutional.

Torsak

The most recent example of this is reported by Khaosod.

The Ratchawallop Police Retainers, King’s Guards 904, a commando unit attached to the king and answering to him, are involving themselves in an ongoing manhunt for a man who robbed a gold store and killed three in the process.

The cold-blooded murders, the manhunt and social media speculation that the murderer appeared to be military-trained, have made the investigation big news.

Perhaps it’s the publicity potential or maybe it is just the interventionist nature of the current monarch, but this maneuver into civilian affairs is bizarre and revealing.

Deputy commander of the Central Investigation Bureau Maj. Gen. Torsak Sukvimol, who was last reported to be head 1600-strong unit, visited the Ratchawallop Police Retainers, King’s Guards 904 to give “his moral support for the unit to swiftly identify and locate the robber…”.

Maj Gen Torsak is well-connected. He is reported to be the “younger brother of the King’s highly trusted Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol (secretary to the Crown Prince, Director-General of the Crown Property Bureau and the Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household Bureau).” Sathitpong is arguably the most powerful non-royal in the palace.

The king’s own police force was previously reported as being a special tactical unit of elite bodyguards “responsible for a variety of high-profile tasks, from providing security to the [r]oyal [f]amily to training local police in VIP protection.” Nowhere can we find any role for it in investigating everyday crimes.

Even so, Maj. Gen. Torsak “ordered the Ratchawallop Police Retainers to join the manhunt for the unidentified gunman on Jan. 10. The police unit was instructed to assist local police in the operation, and closely monitor the progress.”

It seems to us that King Vajiralongkorn is making any notion of constitutional monarchy untenable. This seems congruent with his power and land grabs and his erasure of the democratic and anti-monarchy beginnings of the constitutional monarchy.





With two updates: Can the king’s fake emergency be questioned?

17 10 2019

Not that long ago, the king, approved by The Dictator, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, issued a decree that transferred the 1st and 11th Infantry Regiments to the palace for the king’s personal use.

As we said at the time, in neo-feudal Thailand, this is perhaps no longer remarkable. However, the proclamation’s claim to constitutionality by citing Section 172 of the junta’s constitution was a surprise. That section states:

For the purpose of maintaining national or public safety or national economic security, or averting public calamity, the King may issue an Emergency Decree which shall have force as an Act.

The issuance of an Emergency Decree under paragraph one shall be made only when the Council of Ministers is of the opinion that it is an emergency of necessity and urgency which is unavoidable.

In the subsequent sitting of the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers shall submit the Emergency Decree to the National Assembly for its consideration without delay….

Of course, the declaration is fake. There was and is no emergency. Perhaps that’s why Gen Apirat Kongsompong decided to make a furious and deranged speech that pretended a threat existed. Indeed, a threat to the monarchy from the parliamentary opposition! To be sure, that is buffalo manure, but the Army boss seems to have had an (invented) “emergency” in mind.

In a self-censored story, Khaosod reports that the “emergency” decree is due to go to parliament today. It is the Prayuth government that has “to defend its emergency decree…” in parliament.

The report states that the parliamentary session “will focus mostly on whether the government’s decision to enact the law unilaterally without going through the usual parliamentary channel was appropriate, and not the merits of the transfer itself.”

In neo-feudal Thailand, questioning the grasping and gorging by the king is off limits. This is not because of law, but because of fear of the king’s vindictiveness and the enormous power he already wields.

The report mentions brave democracy activist Arnon Nampha who:

urged the opposition to vote down the decree because there was no real emergency that warrants its bypassing of parliament. He also said severing the army’s chain of command over the two units would lead to legal complications.

He added:

Members of the Parliament must have the courage to stand up and prevent the risks of expanding royal power, in order to protect the principle of democracy with the King as head of state.

It seems highly unlikely that opposition parliamentarians will show the same strength of spine:

But there are signs that the opposition will not put up much of a fight due to the sensitive nature of the Royal Decree. Major parties are expected to pose no challenge….

The only sensitive thing is that it involves the king. In neo-feudal Thailand, questioning the king is no longer possible and is potentially dangerous. The king’s fake emergency cannot be questioned.

Update 1: In the end, it was only the majority of the Future Forward Party that showed that it supports constitutionalism – yes, even the junta’s flawed constitution – and the notion of a proper and lawful constitutional monarchy. The rest of the parliament fell into support of absolutism or were spineless. But even FFP could not take a stand against a grasping and ever more powerful neo-feudal monarch, arguing “that use of an executive decree for a “non-urgent” matter showed a problem of the cabinet misusing its power in violation of the constitution.” In fact, this is about the king and his demands of the military-backed regime.

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul is correct that “the executive decree violated Section 172 of the constitution, which says executive decrees should be used for urgent issues. He said the executive decree did not reflect any urgency.” The regime and the palace are now likely to seek to destroy him.

The monarchist jellybacks like Deputy Defence Minister Gen Chaichan Changmongkol and Democrat MP Pirapan Salirathavibhaga declared “that passage of the executive decree was important and urgent.” They couldn’t say why. As reported, “The government insisted there was an unspecified “emergency” that required the bill to be passed immediately.”

Other opposition parties, including the Puea Thai Party – now a pretty hopeless bunch – joined the jellybacks.

The erratic king was perhaps expressing his anger at his divine will being questioned by “postponing” his royal boating display scheduled for next week.

Update 2: Reuters has more on the “Democrat” Party’s Pirapan. In defending the indefensible, Pirapan began with the usual mad monarchist trope: “Thailand is a unique kingdom…”. THe point of this banality is to assert that Thailand’s monarchy is somehow allowed to do anything it wants and that its crimes and misdemeanors cannot be criticized and the monarch, no matter how mad, stupid or infirm, cannot be questioned. He then stated: “The monarchy is a representation of national security so in the Kingdom of Thailand, we could not separate national security from the monarchy…”. Of course, this statement reflects all kinds of laws established by military juntas and their puppets, but is entirely beside the point. The point is about the constitutional monarchy, the constitution and the false “emergency.” Of course, the Democrat Party has a long history of supporting the restoration of powers lost by the absolute monarchy decades ago. Indeed, that’s been its reason for existing.





Updated: 1931 moves closer

10 10 2019

A defining feature of recent royalism and especially of this king’s (still short) reign has been the rolling back of limits on the monarchy’s “prestige.” That has meant expunging the changes that made for a constitutional monarchy. It is clear to PPT that King Vajiralongkorn wants his reign to mark a return to the monarch’s economic and political power prior to the 1932 revolution.

The king has made it clear that he hates the limits on his power. He has demanded and got changes to the junta’s constitution – the changes made in secret – and taken full personal control of the monarchy’s treasure and made the Crown Property Bureau his own, expunging even the minor limits on what he could do with his property and huge wealth. Those limits were imposed after 1932 (and watered down under his father).

The king has grabbed land that he reckons belongs to his royal family and that was “lost” after 1932. New laws in 2018 gave the king enormous power to grab land.

The king has vastly expanded his political power by taking control of large police and Army units – up to regiment size – for his and his family’s “protection.” Most recently, this has involved the illegal use of emergency powers in the constitution.

At the same time, the obsessive–compulsive king has promoted retro-fashion that favors pre-1932 uniforms, haircuts and attire. Personally, he has promoted royal polygamy.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Why are we recounting all of this? One reason is because the king has, with the support of the military junta and now supported by the post-junta military-backed government, he’s gotten away with all of this with barely a peep of dissent. (Of course, dissenters are threatened, jailed, disappeared, tortured and murdered.)

Under this king there’s also been a concerted effort to expunge the symbols of 1932. It wasn’t that long ago that a monument to the defeat of the royalist restorationist rebellion in 1933.

Known as the Boworadej Rebellion, it was led by Prince Boworadej and supported by the anti-democratic King Prajadhipok.

The king, probably reflecting the influence of his grandmother’s and his mother’s family’s hatred of the 1932 People’s Party revolution, the king has demanded that the military adopt symbols of the pre-1932 royal family.

The most recent effort has involved the Army’s celebration of leaders of that rebellion – a coup – who engaged in treason and mutiny.

It is reported that:

two halls in the army’s museum are named after royalist rebels who attempted to overthrow an elected government eight decades ago.

Clipped from Khaosod

Prince Bovoradej and Phraya Si Sitthisongkhram, who led the 1933 failed revolt, now grace the two rooms at the Royal Thai Army headquarters’ newly renovated museum, which honors illustrious figures in army history. The rooms were inaugurated today by none other than Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and army chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong.

The Army “said the naming was meant to honor the two men for their loyalty to the monarchy…”.

The Army has tried to downplay this move, but no one should be fooled. This is yet another nail in the coffin of the constitutional monarchy as the king pushes for a neo-feudal political arrangement.

A democracy activist, Abhisit Sapnaphapan wrote:

“This is a declaration that even though they did not succeed that day … their legacies are being continued today…. Welcome to the old regime of absolute monarchy.”

Another observed: “Thai people united and brought down Bovoradej’s revolt to defend their constitution, yet Tuu [Gen Prayuth] is naming a meeting room after Bovoradej…”.

It is late 2019 but 1931 seems just around the corner.

Update: Readers might find an interview with Pridi Phanomyong from 1977 of some interest. It has emerged from behind a paywall, here.





Denying constitutionalism, affirming neo-feudalism I

21 08 2019

“Modern” Thailand is looking increasingly like a neo-feudal kingdom. We know that the moniker “Kingdom” has become increasingly common as a kind of affirmation that Thailand has a monarchy. but that has usually meant a constitutional monarchy.

In the previous reign, the monarchy was steadily moved to a position of greater ideological, economic and political power and influence. In the current reign, which began under the military junta, more changes have been made that have further empowered the monarchy, including land grabs, new laws and constitutional changes.

Many of these changes have been enshrined in laws made in secret session by the junta’s appointed and puppet National Legislative Assembly. Others have a dubious legal basis in palace announcements (which the Constitutional Court has interpreted, in one case, as law).

Neo-feudalism enshrined

There’s also been the secretive destruction of symbols of the 1932 revolution. Such historical vandalism has been rightly interpreted as “announcements” of neo-feudalism.

The most recent “announcement” of neo-feudalism was Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s “solemn declaration before the King” legally meant to be made under Section 161 of the junta’s constitution. That section states:

Before taking office, a Minister must make a solemn declaration before the King in the following words: “I, (name of the declarer), do solemnly declare that I will be loyal to the King and will faithfully perform my duties in the interests of the country and of the people. I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect.”

As everyone knows, Gen Prayuth read a different declaration:

I, (name of the declarer), do solemnly declare that I will be loyal to the King and will faithfully perform my duties in the interests of the country and of the people. I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect.

Just for interest, a (random) look at other constitutions – here, the 1974 version – showed no difference in the required oath:

As far as we are aware, that oath has never previously been denied (at least when constitutions have been in place).

So, despite denials, this oath to the king rather than (also) to the constitution, is highly significant.

It is also clear that, if they can get away with it, Gen Prayuth and his regime (and the palace) are seeking to make the discussion of the unconstitutional oath go away, with no rectification and no winding back of this act of embedding neo-feudalism.

The Bangkok Post reports an opposition demanded parliamentary debate on the neo-feudal oath “will likely occur next month…”. This announcement came from the government’s Deputy Parliament President Supachai Phosu. It is said that it is “up to Parliament President [and member of the government coalition] Chuan Leekpai to fix a date for the debate, which will proceed without a vote.”

Whether it happens is open to debate. What is clear is that the parliament’s bosses are trying to delay and quieten things so that Gen Prayuth, his regime and the palace can get away with unconstitutional actions and the further embedding of neo-feudalism.

Meanwhile Gen Prayuth said “he is too preoccupied with work to explain” his actions.

Gen Prayuth made his oath ashe and the king intended. They seem confident that they can break the most basic law. As it was under the junta, Thailand remains essentially under a lawless regime.





Pessimism or optimism?

16 01 2019

Pessimism and optimism are measured in different ways when it comes to politics, depending on where one is standing.

Surasak Glahan at the Bangkok Post joins the pessimists:

Cambodia had a “fake” national ballot in June. Bangladesh held a “farcical poll” blighted by intimidation late last month. Thailand is worse. It can’t event hold a general election as planned.

It is now two weeks since the royal decree “allowing” an election date to be selected was supposed to emerge from the palace. Notions of a constitutional monarchy seem a thing of the past.

If the notion that the “palace, bureaucratic and military elites” won’t be able to “consolidate their hold on power through the establishment of a semi-authoritarian regime,” sounds like a good outcome of a delayed election, then academic Prajak Kongkiarti’s piece at New Mandala is worth a read.

His conclusion is another glass half-full, half-empty proposition:

elections are only the beginning of a new round of struggles to set the terms of a political order that has yet to settle. It will be difficult for the NCPO to establish a robust authoritarian regime, but nor will Thailand transition to a stable, democratic system.

Less optimistic is the increasingly threatening behavior of Army chief and current palace favorite Gen Apirat Kongsompong.

He’s both warned those campaigning for an election date to be set and ordered his troops to “monitor” political parties as they campaign.

On demands for an election, Gen Apirat warned activists: “you should also draw the line on your own actions and don’t step over that line…”. He said he would “deploy security forces to maintain peace and order during the rally” by activists planned for Friday.

No one seems to know if a royal decree will emerge and it is the lack of the decree that causes pessimism on an “election.”





Election (probably) delayed III

5 01 2019

The Bangkok Post states that this is the “timeline set out at a joint meeting between the National Council for Peace and Order and [some] political parties on Dec 7 last year”:

  • Jan 2: Government announces royal decree for election to be held. Parties officially start campaigns. (This did not happen)
  • Jan 4: EC [Election Commission] announces the election date, number of MPs, constituencies and MP application locations.
  • Jan 14-18: MP applications take place. Parties release names of their prime ministerial candidates.
  • Jan 25: Qualified party-list and constituency MP candidates announced
  • Feb 4-16: Overseas voting held
  • Feb 17: Advanced voting held
  • Feb 24: General election held
  • April 25: Last day official voting results must be announced (not less than 95%)
  • May 9: Parliament convenes. Prime minister elected, cabinet formed, existing cabinet and NCPO relieved of duty, new government delivers policy statement within 15 days

In response to the military junta’s plan to delay the election without taking responsibility for the delay, the EC says “it will set the election date only after the government formally issues the royal decree on elections.”

The royal decree, scheduled for 2 January, is still not out.

Wissanu Krea-ngam said “the government had asked the EC to reconsider the election date by taking into account the royal ceremony.” He means coronation.

Shawn Crispin at Asia Times states:

The government was expected to issue a royal decree on January 2 that would have effectively made the February 24 date official, but hesitated when the royal palace announced on New Year’s Day that the coronation would be staged between May 4-6.

Like PPT, Crispin tends to blame the junta for yet another delay, seeing this as an outcome of fear that its devil party, Palang Pracharath, will not do well enough in a poll:

… one military insider with connections at the Internal Security Operation Command, a military spy agency, claims its polling has consistently showed, including as recently as two months ago, that Peua Thai will resoundingly win any free and fair election.

Not that a junta election can be free or fair.

But if the coronation really is a problem, why does the commentary not criticize the monarch for choosing a date that screws up elections?Why can’t the “constitutional monarch” be told to change the date of his coronation?

Well, we know why. It is because not a word of criticism or direction is permitted.

But really, the king has had plenty of time to choose a date and he and his Royal Household Bureau have known the proposed election schedule for a while, having had the draft royal decree on the election in hand for some time.

So why choose a date that screws all that up?

The answer might be that his astrologers just couldn’t find another auspicious date. But that seems as unlikely. Or it could be that he is working with the junta to delay the “election.”

Whatever the reason, this shamozzle of choosing of a date and announcing it just one day before the royal decree on the election was due tells us quite a lot about the king and his reign.

The king is egotistical. He’s chosen a coronation date that suits him and he cares little for anything or anyone else, least of all the Thai people. Of course, he’d think he’s the center of the Thai universe. That’s what he’s been told by  royalists and his family since for decades.

It also tells us that he cares little for constitutions and constitutional constraints on the monarchy. His aggrandizement of himself as monarch, as explained by The Economist, points to this.

So if the EC is growing something that might look a little like a spine, it must face down junta and monarch. That seems unlikely.





Junta “democracy”

26 11 2018

A short story at the regime’s official “news” bureau is ostensibly about the junta’s mud map being on track, despite repeated changes to that “map” over more than four years of military dictatorship.

What we found more interesting were The Dictator’s musings on “democracy.”

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha let it be known that “the people [should]… be aware that true democracy is to ensure peace in society, maintain public benefits, and protect the nation, religion, and monarchy.”  The Dictator was also claimed to have said that

… some people might have understood democracy is a limitless state where anyone can do anything freely, but the truth remains all actions must stay within limits of the law, with acceptance to the majority and respects to the minority, and not using any group of people as tools to perpetrate conflicts or violence.

Clearly, he’s defining Thai-style democracy, eschewing notions of representation, free and fair elections, constitutionalism including a truly constitutional monarchy, basic freedoms (assembly, speech, etc.) and a depoliticized military.