Deep harassment for the monarchy

13 06 2019

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have released a report that must be read in full. “Silent Harassment: Monitoring and Intimidation of Citizens during the Coronation Month” is a brave and important account of how royalism is enforced.

Of course, there are many loyalists and royalists in Thailand, with the most fanatical ever eager to harass, attack and slander. But this is a report of how perceived “opponents” are identified and repressed.

Here, we simply quote some bits of this seminal piece of work on “violations of personal freedom through constant monitoring and intimidation by state authorities … [conducted] in secret throughout the course of the [coronation events” for King Vajiralongkorn.

Authorities involved in harassing included “police, military, and special branch police…”. They “identify” groups categorized as “target groups” or “monitor groups” and “track their movements and restrict their political activities…”.

TLHR reports at least 38 instances “of monitoring and intimidation…”. In addition, activists have also been harassed.

In fact, “the groups of people being monitored during this period were quite diverse, as they had not necessarily previously expressed anything about the monarchy.”

The harassment has included home visits by authorities who ask about travel plans, take photos and are seen by other family members and neighbors. They are:

warned by the authorities not to do anything during the coronation period. Some were threatened by the police and told that if they did not comply, they would be handed over to the military and that the military might “abduct” them. In some cases, if the wanted person was not home the authorities talked to his/her family member instead.

Monitored groups get more regular harassing visits and are tracked and followed. For some “special” individuals, the harassment is continuous and involves family and harassing phone calls often from an officer assigned to trail and monitor. Former Article 112 prisoner Somyos Prueksakasemsuk found his residence monitored around the clock. On 5 May 2019, activist Akechai Hongkangwarn revealed that “police took him to the cinema in order to keep a close watch on him all day.”

All were warned not to do or say anything during the coronation period.

Vigilantes were also at work, on the internet, tracking “people who posted their opinions about the coronation online” and reporting them to the authorities.

Royalist Thailand in 2019 is a dark and fearful place.





Dead-weight lese majeste

21 05 2019

Lese majeste or Article 112 has often been considered as a draconian law. It is. It has been wielded by the current military dictatorship to imprison hundreds. Critics of the regime have been threatened with the law to silence them.

However, less often emphasized is the way the lese majeste law hangs like a millstone around the collective neck of journalists and commentators.

This is why we recommend an an AFP blog post by journalist Sophie Deviller. She has a long account of the ways in which lese majeste directs every aspect of reporting associated with the recent coronation. She also comments on how the secrecy has been significant for the monarchy in maintaining its power.

Thais recognize that the new king is being remade:

… when I tried to bring up the new king’s personality and his escapades, which have been reported by foreign media, she [a Thai journalist] shut down. “This is of no importance,” she told me. “This image is disappearing, in favor of an image of a sacred and powerful king.”

We were, however, stumped by the blog’s final paragraph:

What purpose does it serve for you to constantly criticize your leaders?” she asked me. I had little choice but to answer with the same smile that the Thais use to get out of a delicate or embarrassing situation.

Two points: first, Thai journalists do constantly criticize leaders, although this depends on the political climate. It is only the monarch and royal family that are spared, and that’s the role of lese majeste; second, a journalist should be able to explain that one purpose of the media is to hold leaders to account.





On stealing the election XIV

10 05 2019

It is not just PPT saying that the junta has stolen the 2019 election, aided and abetted by the Election Commission and other no-longer-independent agencies. Here the Bangkok Post and The Economist:

The Bangkok Post has an editorial that calls the EC’s party-list allocation a “hijacking”:

Whether it is driven by a political agenda or incompetence, the Election Commission’s (EC) decision on Wednesday to award one party-list MP seat to 11 pro-junta, small parties, whose popular vote total should not have made them eligible for one, seems like a hijacking of the seats which should have gone to other parties.

The EC, whose commissioners are appointed by the military regime’s lawmakers, based its decision on a bizarre and widely criticised calculation formula.

The move, however, has political implications as it could change the face of the new government from an anti-junta alliance to the pro-regime camp. This decision is legally, politically and ethically wrong.

Thailand adopted the new mixed member proportional representation system for the March 24 general election.

Under this system, 350 MPs are elected from so-called “first past the post” voting. They only need to obtain more votes in their constituency than anyone else to win.

Then, another batch of 150 party-list seats is distributed to parties based on the proportion of their popular vote total.

The constitution’s Section 91 and the election law for MPs’ Section 128 clearly outline the way to set a minimum threshold of popular votes that a party should have for a listed candidate to earn a party-list seat.

Based on the popular vote results of the last polls, the threshold should be set at roughly 71,000 votes.

Under this rule, the parties from the anti-junta alliance should have won a small majority in the Lower House if they were granted all the party-list seats they were entitled to. They should be able to claim the right to form a coalition government.

But the EC has discarded such a possibility. It has opted for a different formula by simply granting one party-list seat to each of the 11 small parties even though their nationwide popular vote failed to reach the threshold of 71,000 votes.

Some of them gained even less than half of the threshold. Early reports suggest the parties are likely to align themselves with the pro-regime bloc.

The EC has failed to incorporate proportionality and fairness in the party-list seat distribution.

It has instead taken a risky step which could constitute malfeasance on its part. Many affected parties have lambasted its decision and have vowed to take legal action against it.

The EC’s announcement took place on the same day that the Constitutional Court delivered a verdict which ruled that Section 128 of the election law does not contradict Section 91 of the constitution.

Some interpreted the ruling as giving the EC the green light for its controversial calculation formula. This interpretation is wrong. The ruling does not specify anything about the calculation.

The laws stipulate the threshold for a good reason. That is to prevent party fragmentation and small splinter parties from gaining representation they don’t deserve. It is a universal principle adopted by other countries whose election systems are similar to Thailand’s.

For example, Germany’s election law stipulates that a party either needs to reach a 5% electoral threshold in party-list voting or they must have three constituency members elected if it is to enter parliament.

The EC’s decision may help the pro-junta political camp gain more seats and win the right to form a government, potentially led by its prime ministerial candidate, incumbent Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha. But it has distorted the principle of the law.

And The Economist:

THAIS DO NOT see that much of their king, who spends most of his time in Germany. But for three days starting on May 4th he was on near-constant display for a long and lavish series of ceremonies surrounding his coronation….

The first substantial moments of the new reign came just days later, when the Election Commission released the final results of an election that took place in March. Palang Pracharat, a party created to support the military junta that came to power in a coup in 2014, battled Pheu Thai, which is loyal to Thaskin Shinawatra, a former prime minister who has feuded with the generals since an earlier coup, in 2006. The junta rigged the system in its favour, banning all political activity until a few months before the election, disbanding a second party linked to Mr Thaksin and awarding itself the power to appoint all 250 members of the upper house. Nonetheless, shortly after the vote, a coalition of seven opposition parties, including Pheu Thai and Future Forward, which is popular with young voters, announced they had won a slim majority in the 500-seat lower house.

That is not what the results unveiled this week show. The … biggest blow to the opposition came in the form of tweaks to the formula whereby the commission allocates the 150 seats awarded on a proportional basis. The result was to reduce the tally of the big parties and hand seats to a plethora of tiny ones. This change appeared to breach the commission’s own rules and the election law, but a court found the new maths constitutionally permissible just hours before the party-list results appeared. Entirely coincidentally, the changes reduced the opposition alliance to a minority of 245 seats.

Chaos awaits, as 27 different parties now hold seats in the lower house. A weak, pro-military coalition looks the most likely outcome. The junta will soon present a list of senators to the king for approval. The two houses will then vote in a joint sitting to select a prime minister. The incumbent, Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup in 2014, had seemed determined to stay on. Bangkok is rife with rumours, however, that the king might promote the selection of a less divisive figure, perhaps from the Privy Council, which is packed with soldiers and technocrats. Either way, the notion that the government ushered into power by the election will have any democratic legitimacy—always a doubtful proposition—now looks entirely forlorn.

As if to underline the point, the authorities have set about persecuting Future Forward and its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, with a gusto typically reserved for supporters of Mr Thaksin.

The Economist then tees off against the king:

The king has alienated his subjects not only by his absence, but also by his personal cruelty and insistence on sycophantic protocol. It was not just the elephants and courtiers who were forced to prostrate themselves: days before the coronation the palace released images of the king getting married for the fourth time, in which his new wife, a former stewardess, grovelled before the unsmiling groom. He has disowned children and locked up relatives of one of her predecessors. Only a small share of Thais bothered to wear yellow, the royal colour, as requested during the coronation ceremonies. Thousands of civil servants had to be bussed in to swell the attendant crowds, which were much sparser than at the cremation of his father, who was far more popular.

Yet King Vajiralongkorn apparently feels secure enough to meddle in political matters. Before the election he intervened, quite hypocritically, to prevent his older sister from getting involved in politics. The courts and the Election Commission followed his instructions slavishly, even though they lacked any clear legal underpinning. Just before polling day he told Thais to vote for “good people”; just after it he stripped Mr Thaksin of several military awards. The risk of royal displeasure seems to have deterred neutral parties from joining the opposition coalition in the lower house. That is no coincidence: a weak coalition would be in no position to stand up to the king. That an election that was supposed to restore Thailand to democracy will instead bolster its preening monarch is a crowning irony.





On monarchy’s futures

7 05 2019

A week or so ago The Economist had a long article on monarchies. Some aspects of it have relevance for Thailand as coronation has been used to promote Vajiralongkorn’s reputation and position.

It notes that monarchy are both fragile and regressive:

If monarchy did not exist, nobody would invent it today. Its legitimacy stems from ancient ritual and childish stories, not from a system based on reason and intended to achieve good governance. It transfers power through a mechanism which promotes congenital defects rather than intelligence. It is sexist, classist, racist and designed specifically to prevent diversity, equality and personal merit from creeping into its inbred ranks.

Self-crowned

No one can miss the significance of this for Vajiralongkorn, with the fate of the male line after him in doubt, clouded by “congenital defects” and exiled sons.

Other threats for Thailand’s monarchy lie in its relationship with military dictatorships and Vajiralongkorn’s efforts to increase the monarch’s power. As the article notes, one reason monarchies have survived “is that most of the surviving monarchs are virtually powerless, and the less power a monarchy has, the less anybody bothers to try to get rid of it.”

Vajiralongkorn “is open in his hunger for power.” That should worry monarchists. The Economist also notes the palace’s symbiotic relationship with the military as a problem for the monarchy.

Vajiralongkorn’s craving of power may well be creating a threat for the monarchy’s future. The article states: “Succession is a dangerous moment for a monarchy, and many observers wonder whether Thailand’s will survive the current transition.”

While the so-called contrasts between Vajiralongkorn and his father are overdone, the new king is always going to look different and unlike his father, he doesn’t have the time to create a fully-fledged image that masks his real actions. His behavior is often startling for those used to Bhumibol’s behinf-the-scenes manipulations:

The new monarch, who lives in Germany, barely spends any time in his realm, let alone inspecting rural projects. He has a string of abandoned children and dumped consorts around the world. He made a poodle [Fu Fu] an Air Chief Marshal. His escapades inspire disdain; his rule, fear. Strict lèse majesté laws promise three to 15 years in prison for those critical of the royals.

While noting that Bhumibol was as much a military supporter as his son, and he “discouraged efforts to fix a broken political system prone to deadlock…”,  Vajiralongkorn’s recent political “interventions damage the monarchy’s standing further. The result could be turmoil as the military regime clings to power.”

If there is political “turmoil,” it is highly likely that the monarch will be openly engaged. The article concludes that monarchy:

often throws up candidates too stupid, too corrupt or too arrogant to do such a difficult job. The surprising survival of monarchies is in part a tribute to the nous of the old guard, who have understood the need to subsume their interests into those of the institution. If some of the new bloods fail to learn that lesson, the monarchy may resume its decline.





Monarchy, Bahrain and a refugee

7 05 2019

Paul Sanderson at The Sydney Morning Herald has a long article on coronation. But it is not the shallow accounts that mark discussion of the monarchy mainly because Sanderson has a unique hook for the story:an account of why “refugee and footballer Hakeem al-Araibi was imprisoned for more than two months on a Bahraini Interpol red notice that should never have been issued…”.

From The Guardian

We won’t recount the quite useful discussion of the rise to power of the current king, but will briefly deal with the al-Araibi story as it interweaves with the death of Vajiralongkorn’s father in October 2016. Vajiralongkorn didn’t take the throne for about six weeks, although that is not what the “record of reign” now says.

Sanderson states:

Stories of what happened in the weeks and months that followed Bhumibol’s death are only now emerging, whispered quietly by government officials and senior diplomats who fear that speaking openly will transgress the world’s strictest lese-majeste laws.

He says “what they say could provide at least a partial explanation” of al-Araibi detention and asks: “Was it related to the new Thai king’s endeavours to consolidate his political and financial power?”

Regular readers may recall that monarchy was mentioned in our first post on al-Araibi’s detention, although there was no information on exactly what was going on at the time that gave special focus to this unfortunate man’s detention.

Sanderson is more specific, asking “what role did a $1.6 billion commercial deal between the royal houses of Bahrain and Thailand play?”

Noting Vajiralongkorn’s various grasping land property deals in Thailand, Sanderson observes that it was when “the old king was in a coma, that his heir negotiated a deal with the royal family of Bahrain that would earn him nearly $1.6 billion.” The deal saw “Thailand’s Crown Property Bureau sold a 60 per cent stake in the Kempinski Hotels Group for €1 billion to the Bahraini royal family.”

PPT earlier posted on the opaque deals that gave Kempinski to the CPB.

As Wikipedia has it, “Effective 16 February 2017, the two existing shareholders of Kempinski AG formalized previous plans for an equity transfer between them. The majority shares of Kempinski AG shall be held by the existing Bahraini shareholder while the shareholder from Thailand will now own a minority.”

This deal was more than a year before the footballer was snared at Bangkok’s main airport, but the business dealing between the two royal houses remains and Vajiralongkorn’s purse was swelled substantially by the deal.

This may help explain al-Araibi’s 76-day detention. As Sanderson states, “one of the biggest mysteries was why the south-east Asian kingdom persisted with the case to refoul him long after a wrongly issued Interpol red notice was revoked.”

Obviously, the Bahrain monarchy wanted him. But what was Thailand doing?

Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs only spoke in code. The country, it said, “finds itself in the middle of a case involving two countries competing for Mr Hakeem’s custody”. The ministry repeatedly stressed the case could not be dropped once it had started.

Thai Immigration Police chief Surachate Hakparn was a little clearer. He said the order to keep Araibi in detention came from “above”. He has since been removed from his post. Rumours abound that he offended the king in another matter.

Academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a former diplomat, puts it this way:

It’s not just about feeling Thailand owes Bahrain…. This is beyond skin deep because it’s between two royal families. The Thai king is in the process of wanting to be respected by other royal families. Being a diplomat in Thailand, the number one priority is not about maintaining good relationships. The number one priority is about making sure you serve the royal family…. This royal family travels. Fifty per cent of our operation [in the Foreign Ministry] is about the monarchy, we have to serve the monarchy before anything else.

Kempinski remains a private company and little public information is available. However, published data continues to list two Thai members of its supervisory board are from royal agencies.

Other relations between royals in each country are topics of speculation. It is stated that “a senior Bahraini royal was in Thailand in the days after Araibi’s arrest.” It remains unclear how the relationships between countries and between royal houses has been impacted by al-Araibi’s case.





On coronation IV

6 05 2019

Some of the reporting, including comments by various academic observers, has been pretty bland, suggesting considerable fear and self-censorship at work. There are times when it might be better not to comment at all.

Even so, there’s been some stories worth reading. Here’s a selection:

RTE, 2 May: “Thai king marries consort in unexpected ceremony

Reuters, 2 May: “Thailand’s New Queen: Flight Attendant to Bodyguard to Royalty

Daily Times, 3 May: “Powerful, rich and shrouded in secrecy: Thailand’s King Rama X

The Economist, 4 May: “King Vajiralongkorn of Thailand is crowned

Los Angeles Times, 4 May: “Thailand crowns its king in a gilded spectacle rarely seen in the modern era

ABC, 4 May: “Thailand’s King Vajiralongkorn crowned

DW, 4 May: “Thailand crowns King Maha Vajiralongkorn

France 24, 4 May: “Vajiralongkorn: From jet-set playboy to king of Thailand

Al Jazeera, 4 May: “Thailand’s King Vajiralongkorn crowned as divine monarch

AFP, 5 May: “Thailand’s monarchy has survived major upheavals and a turbulent domestic political scene

AFP, 5 May: “Cabin crew, bodyguard, Thai queen: Suthida’s meteoric rise

AMM, 5 May: “EXCLUSIVE—Leaked documents show that the Thai military is bringing more than 110,000 people to Bangkok on Sunday to boost the size of the crowd at King Vajiralongkorn’s coronation procession.”

Brinkwire, 5 May: “Queen Suthida Of Thailand Facts: New Monarch Was Once A Flight Attendant





On coronation III

5 05 2019

So the king has crowned himself and the newspapers and local media are full of concocted stories and news about the him and his many “achievements.” Nothing critical, nothing really truthful and no body count.

A couple of days ago we mentioned Srirasmi’s ousting from the palace when the prince tired of her and how nasty and vicious it was. We added that she was in imposed seclusion and that several members of her family have served jail terms.

The German newspaper Bild has taken up her situation and has released some photos that confirm rumors that have been around for more than a year, that have her under house arrest and treated so badly that it is almost unimaginable. Yet, as some have said, she’s lucky to be alive, and we guess her former spouse thinks that way as well. The Bild story is behind a paywall.There’s also a short Facebook post by the newspaper which states:

Thailand has a new king – and this one is unceremoniously himself as part of a solemn ceremony in the great palace of the capital of Bangkok. As magnificent as the coronation was, the stories of the disgraced ex-wife: Srirasmi … is supposed to be under house arrest. What this one should look like, show these pictures.

Thanks to Andrew MacGreogor Marshall at his Facebook page, we have some of the photos of her torment.

Her house is made as unpleasant as possible. And, she’s not permitted to use an indoor bathroom.

The sign tells her she has to now learn the meaning of “sufficiency.” It seems the king can even channel his father to increase her torment.