Updated: Coronation arrests

2 05 2019

This story is less exciting than the headline might suggest.

The Bangkok Post reports on one more of those raids the Immigration authorities call “foreigner round-ups.” There were quite a few of these racist round-ups under the missing but apparently still living Big Joke. This particular round-up was in “20 provinces in the Northeast during the past five days.”

Pol Maj Gen Natthawat Karndee, chief of Immigration Division 4, “said authorities have stepped up measures to prevent foreigners entering the country illegally and who may cause trouble ahead of His Majesty the King’s coronation ceremony.”

Of those 478 arrested, “335 entered the country illegally, nine overstayed their visas, 16 were working without permission, 116 had committed other offences, and two were wanted on arrest warrants.”

Pol Maj Gen Natthawat added that “86 foreigners suspected of posing security risks had been denied entry into the country at immigration checkpoints…”.

Can it be true that about 560 foreigners posed a threat to the coronation? Of course not, but that’s what’s reported.

Update: A story has emerged on Big Joke. While no one involved has said why he was suddenly taken into custody and sacked, he has been “given the first assignment for his civilian life — giving advice to the Prime Minister’s Office on how to improve public service.” Really? In any case, it isn’t clear he showed up for the job. The excuse is that he is meant to meet Patcharaporn Intreyonk, “but she was busy with the preparations for coronation ceremonies.”

The coronation seems a great cover for all manner of things.

Coronation spending

1 05 2019

According to Reuters, the state’s official and announced budget – taxpayer funds – for the coronation is $31 million. But the true cost is likely to be several times this as various agencies are required to purchase stuff, ordering tens of thousands of officials to line the procession route, and all of the “advertising” for the king and what a great man he has already been in his 66 years. The latter is the manufacturing of image.

As an example of the massive cost, AFP reports on a small town mayor who spent “$6,400 and a 12-hour drive … to pick up the shrine and towering portrait of Thailand’s king which will stand in the centre of town — a small part of a massive palace publicity campaign for this weekend’s coronation.”

The mayor said: “Every government office across the country will do the same…”. Even villages are urged to have displays of loyalty.

Celebrating? Worrying?

The portraits of King Vajiralongkorn are now ubiquitous. Some of the images are large, “some several-metres high, and decorations are mandatory at every state office ahead of his three-day coronation…”.

The report states that the “most elaborate set-ups include the gilded-framed portrait, a large pedestal, flags, cone-shaped “pan phum” floral tributes and bunting in various shades of yellow…”. These can cost several thousand dollars.

As expected, roads throughout Thailand are “now flanked by the projection of royal power, intended to reflect the country’s devotion, loyalty and respect to the monarch.”

No questions can be asked about that devotion, loyalty and respect. As the report observes, “[c]ritics of the monarchy are rarely heard inside the country…”.

Because Vajiralongkorn is less known than his father was and because he “spends much of his time abroad,” the state makes the new king’s image ubiquitous and it “has slowly seeped into everyday life — on buildings, banknotes and stamps…”. And, of course, he now has his own “story” that is repeated again and again at the movies, in newspapers and on television.

Protecting the monarchy II

30 04 2019

A couple of days ago PPT posted on a person slapped with a four-year prison term without suspension for illegally selling coronation pins. At the time, we mentioned that this prison term was one that might have been given to lese majeste victim (if they are lucky enough to get a “light” sentence) or someone charged with sedition.

As it has turned out, the possible sentence for the “crime” of selling fake coronation brooches is actually more than for lese majeste!!

We found another  report, where the Prime Minister’s Office has warned both “manufacturers and sellers of fake coronation brooches that they could be jailed for up to 20 years and fined up to 400,000 baht.”

The report states that the junta has assigned the Prime Minister’s Office to “produce and sell the coronation brooches to the general public. All proceeds from the sales will go to His Majesty the King’s charities.”

The junta has urged “the public to wear the coronation brooches from April to July this year,” and claims that demand is high.

Protecting monarchy I

28 04 2019

PPT noticed a brief few lines in a report yesterday that deserves some attention. The Bangkok Post, reporting preparations for the expensive, taxpayer-funded coronation, stated this:

… the Prime Minister’s Office has warned against illegal production and distribution of commemorative pins for the coronation ceremonies.

Sompas Nilapund, deputy permanent secretary for the Prime Minister’s Office, said authorities are coming up with measures to prevent illegal distribution after an offender was given a four-year prison term without suspension for illegally selling the pins.

The “protection” of monarchy does work in strange ways.

No indication of the law used is given, but the prison term is one that is usually given out to lese majeste victims (if they are lucky to get a “light” sentence) or someone charged with sedition. So who is being protected? Who has been “awarded” the right to make such paraphernalia? And, who gets the profits?

Updated: Media self-censorship

24 04 2019

It is well-known that self-censorship is an absolute must for mainstream media in Thailand when reporting anything related to the monarchy and royals.

So it is that both The Nation and the Bangkok Post avoid the royal aspects of a weird event at the Rajaprasong intersection yesterday.

Clipped from social media

Clad in a yellow shirt, a man jumped out of an elaborately decorated Mercedes sedan with a large knife and a bag of snakes. Watched by thousands, he was said to have killed some of the snakes and to have cut himself (video here).

If that wasn’t strange enough, the car was heavily decorated with portraits and designs all related to King Vajiralongkorn.

Neither newspaper saw fit to report this royal link and neither reproduced photos showing that royal decorations on the vehicle, although the Post did include links to other sources that included such images.

While the man might have been crazed, the connections between coronation, blood sacrifice and the particular location chosen – the site of the red shirt massacre in 2010 – are not considered. The royal portraits and decorations are deliberately expunged  from the reporting to make the reports essentially faked news but not fake news.

Nor have these media suggested links to PAD demonstrations of the past

The media is crippled by royalist repression and self-censorship.

Update: The Bangkok Post produced another story that again failed to come up with any mention of the royal connections in the story. It even managed to find links that had photos with none of the royal stuff that was in the portraits he displayed or the writing on the car. Bravely, in this context, Khaosod reported that real estate businessman Ganeshpisnuthep Jakphopmahadecha, 42, “placed portraits of King Vajiralongkorn on his vehicle.”

Bonkers he might be, but our guess is that the location, the iconography and the mans history suggest he thought he was doing some purifying before the coronation.

Watching the republicans

15 04 2019

The military and its junta have apparently been maintaining close surveillance of republicans, or at least those they think and/or guess are republicans. Perhaps it has something to do with the coronation, which has seen increasing efforts to “cleanse” the reign of opponents.

Prachatai reports that on 2 April, “plainclothes officers also arrested Thoedsak (last name withheld), another defendant in the Thai Federation case. Officers presented him with an arrest warrant and took him in a van from Phuket while he was working as a private chauffeur.”

The Thai Federation case is linked to republicans in exile, some of whom were murdered (see links in out first paragraph above).

This was followed by what looks remarkably like another Keystone Cops effort.

Prachatai cites Thai Lawyers for Human Rights on a police pursuit and arrest of a “56-year-old civil servant on suspicion of involvement in the Thai Federation movement.” Identified only as Rani, the 56 year-old civil servant was arrested at Sukhothai Thammathirat University where she was attending her son’s graduation. She was:

arrested at 14.10 on Thursday (11 April) and charged under Article 209 of the Criminal Code for being a member of a secret society and under Article 116, the sedition law, for ‘expressing to the public by words, writing, or any other means, anything which is not an act within the purpose of the Constitution or for expressing an honest opinion or criticism in order to cause the people to transgress the law of the country’.

She has denied all charges and was released on bail on 13 April.

It is reported that “Rani was among a number of citizens under continuous surveillance.”

Rani’s political harassment seems to result from her wearing of a black t-shirt on 5 December 2018, the birthday of the most recently deceased king. She wore it to a mall. The shirt had no Thai Federation logo.

Presumably some observant and nervous royalist ratted her out to the cops and some five “plainclothes police officers came to speak to her and asked her to go with them, but she refused…”. She demanded to see and photograph officers’ ID cards.

Later, pictures appeared on YouTube and two days later, soldiers and police tried to search Rani’s house. She refused. Now she’s arrested and charged.

“Cleansing” is becoming a theme for the new reign, whether it is symbols of the anti-royalist past, palace officials, wives or those identified as opponents.

Updated: Nothing seems to change

19 02 2019

The reporting over the last few days seems to suggest little has changed in over a decade of military coups, elected governments illegally thrown out, scores of deaths and mass street demonstrations.

In observing this, we are leaving aside the continuing speculation regarding Thaksin Shinawatra’s failed bid to make a (semi-) royal fruitcake a prime minister. Those guesses range on a spectrum from the events were out of the box to ordinary, that they weakened the king or made him stronger, that the king knew what was going on or he didn’t, and even resurrect some perspectives from the 1950s to try to explain various scenarios. And there’s still the misleading view that Thailand is somewhere on a road to democracy. And that’s all from the same source in several articles.

But back to the nothing-much-changes idea.

First, we see The Dictator showing himself for his Palang Pracharath Party and the party using his picture on campaign posters while he remains deeply engaged in all kinds of state activities, spending and so on.

Meanwhile, his former boss, brother-in-arms and Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paochinda has “defended his [now] boss … by insisting that junta leader-cum-Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha should not step down before the royal coronation takes place in two months.”

Here the point being made to the electorate is that only The Dictator and the military can be “trusted” as loyalists. It was the anti-democrats of the People’s Alliance fro Democracy that proclaimed loyalty as a political issue of the era by donning royal yellow.

Second, to make the point about loyalty, none other than anti-democrat Suthep Thaugsuban is quoted as declaring that only a vote for his party (and pro-junta parties) “can prevent Thaksin Shinawatra from returning to power through its proxy parties…”. That’s a refrain widely heard from the anti-democrats for over a decade. And, Suthep appears to be admitting the electoral strength of the pro-Thaksin parties, something seen in every election from 2000 to 2011, when elections were free and fair.

Suthep’s claims that the anti-democrats could keep Thaksin’s “proxies” out saw him drawing on the experience of the repressive actions of the junta in forcing through its 2016 constitution draft in a “referendum.” Perhaps he expects/hopes for similar cheating in the junta’s “election.”

And third, Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong, who himself wielded war weapons against red shirt protesters in 2010, and who refuses to rule out another coup, has again declared that he will not be controlled by “evil” politicians.

After the military budget increasing 24% under the junta, the notion that it might be cut by an elected government prompted the evil but loyal Gen Apirat to order the “ultra-rightist song ‘Nak Phaendin’ [Scum of the land] to be aired every day on 160 Army radio stations across the country…”. This anti-communist song from the 1970s – another period when the military murdered hundreds in the name of the monarchy – was to be played twice a day. It was also to be played at the Ministry of Defense and and in all Army barracks:

The Army chief reasoned [PPT thinks that word is incorrect] earlier that the anthem broadcast was aimed at encouraging everyone to be aware of their duties and responsibilities towards the country.

The “duties” he means are to protect the monarchy and murder opponents of the military-monarchy alliance.

He was supported by Deputy Dictator, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who supported the notion that politicians are “eveil” and deserve death at the hands of murderous loyalists. He said: “Listen to the song that the Army chief mentioned. Listen to it.”

Apirat partially revoked the order later, with the song continuing to be broadcast inside the Army Command at noon. As former Thammasat rector and historian Charnvit Kasetsiri expressed it,

Other than calling for a return to absolute monarchy, they’re now rehearsing ‘Scum of the Earth,’ too? History will repeat itself if we don’t learn from it. And where will that path take us? Better or worse?

It leaves Thailand in its ultra-conservative, ultra-royalist time warp.

Clearly, the Army commander and the Defense Minister are campaigning against pro-Thaksin parties and for The Dictator and the party of the rightists, Palang Pracharat.

That’s not new. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, then head of the Army, demanded that voters reject Thaksin parties in 2011. However, this time, the threat is louder, nastier and very, very threatening.

Nothing much changes.

Update: PPT noticed that the Election Commission has issued a warning that “posting text, sharing or commenting on messages that defame political candidates violates the Computer Crime Act.” So how will the EC respond to Gen Apirat’s condemnation of Puea Thai and other pro-Thaksin parties as “scum” and actively campaigning against them? As a puppet agency our guess is that it will do nothing.

Fallout from Ubolratana move

11 02 2019

If Thaksin Shinawatra really did “mastermind” the nomination of former Princess Ubolratana as prime ministerial candidate for the Thai Raksa Chart Party, then it goes down as a major failure, equivalent, perhaps, to the great amnesty fiasco that Yingluck’s government briefly “masterminded.”

Why anyone in the Thaksin camp thought this was a good idea is anyone’s guess. Most guesses are that somehow Thaksin and crew thought the king was on board. They seemed to think that on amnesty too. But even if this was the case, having a member of the royal family as a prime minister in a neo-absolutist regime is crippled (anti)democratic thinking.

The fallout is beginning to be seen.

For one, the monarch’s word – “command” – is now considered law:

Citing the King’s royal command issued late on Friday, the Election Commission (EC) did not include Princess Ubolratana’s name among prime ministerial candidates announced yesterday

It is shameful that a legal body does not or could not cite law in making its decision.

Even if one considers royalist Thitinan Pongsudhirak’s lame defense of the monarch and his announcement as “a reminder and a reflection more than an instruction,” the impact and interpretation in Thailand marks his interpretation as hopelessly flawed.

The Bangkok Post reports that “EC secretary-general Pol Col Jarunvith Phumma said that the EC’s announcement of prime ministerial candidates was final and there are no legal channels for parties to appeal the decision.”

Announcement=command=law. The balance in Thailand’s politics has moved even more into the palace. If that’s Thailand’s “new balance,” it is royally lopsided. Recall that coronation trumps election.

Second, the EC is investigating Thai Raksa Chart. The party’s executive is resigning in order to try and avoid dissolution.

If the party is dissolved, it is still unclear whether they can switch parties, but it could end up that all the pro-Thaksin parties, who many pundits considered the front runners in the election may be in a situation where they cannot compete in sufficient seats to garner the largest number of seats in the lower house.

The Post states that “the party may be dissolved and its executives could be banned from voting and running in elections for a minimum of 10 years, or even life…”.

If the party tries “to keep their MP candidates in the race with the party prepared to seek a royal pardon over its selection of the princess,” it is further consolidating royal control over politics.

Meanwhile, the move has unleashed the ultra-royalist and anti-Thaksin anti-democrats.

Third, with all the attention to Thai Raksa Chart, the junta’s devil party escapes the scrutiny it should be under.

There will be further fallout.

Monarch and missing items

19 01 2019

There are a couple of pieces related to the monarchy that are worth reading this weekend.

The first piece is on missing monuments.

As well as the “missing” royal decree needed for the 2019 election, there’s the “missing” monuments to the 1932 revolution. One is the 1932 revolution plaque. Another is the Laksi monument to the defeat of the 1933 royalist revolt.

In a post at his blog, exiled activist Ji Ungpakorn writes about the latter:

The latest casualty is the Lak-Si Democracy Monument, north of Bangkok, which commemorates the military victory against the Boworadet royalist rebellion one year after the revolution. This monument was removed at night, under the watchful eyes of soldiers, in late December.

He argues and explains that the “history of the crushing of the royalist rebellion shows why the royalists wish to destroy the monument.” His brief history of the popular movement and military actions to defeat the royalists in 1933 is important. He concludes:

Conservatives have constantly tried to cover up and dismiss the history of the 1932 revolution. That is why most Thais probably have never heard of the 1932 plaque or the Lak-Si monument. That is also why the conservatives built the moment of the deposed king Rama 7 in front of the present parliament after the 6th October bloodbath in 1976. It is like building a monument to King George in front of the US Congress!

Ji has earlier written on the plaque’s destruction.

The second piece is by Edoardo Siani in the New York Times. It is about how the “junta has tightened its control while trying to bask in the popularity, mystique and beliefs that surround the monarchy.”

While it is a bit difficult to agree that Vajiralongkorn came to the throne “he inherited a nation in chaos.” By that time, the chaos of political activism of previous years had been replaced by a dull repression and sullen political quiet.

Apart from that, Siani has some useful insights on monarch and military. Noting that the military is likely to remain politically predominant following any “election,” Siani observes:

Still, some measure of change may be in the offing. The army has a new chief, and the Royal Command Guard, which answers directly to the king, is expected to gain in authority. Since acceding to the throne in December 2016, King Rama X has also asserted his own authority, claiming more prerogatives for himself.

Change often implies progress but in this prediction, Siani is predicting regression, even if royalists see something else:

Rama X is said to have picked the dates for his coronation. The ceremony will take place at the same time, in early May, as his father’s coronation in 1950, but will last only three days, not five, as back then. A sign of modesty, perhaps, but above all a statement that the late king’s legacy will be carried on. By the time King Rama X is coronated, Thailand will have exited the dark dusk of the ninth reign. Or so the astrologers say.

PPT’s resident astrologer reckons the signs are of a long political dusk leading to a long, dark night for Thailand’s democrats.

Guessing game

17 01 2019

The guessing game about the junta’s “election” continues, although The Nation reports that The Dictator has finally actually stated that the 24 February date is off. Now everyone and his buffalo knew this, but Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been reluctant to say it, fearing the palace and/or loss of face.

Then he babbled before stating something potentially rather significant. The babble was this: “We’re going towards full democracy.” That’s buffalo manure. For an analysis of why this is buffalo manure, see the op-ed by Zachary Abuza a couple of days ago.

The Dictator then said: “There will be an election no matter what…. [The election date] will be changed but still it will be by May 9.” We are interested in the “no matter what” bit. We are guessing that there’s pressure to delay everything until after the coronation. At the same time, with no royal decree, the junta seems to be grasping at rice straw and defining the constitution in a manner that gives it the most possible time in scheduling a rigged election.

Another report has Gen Prayuth declaring: “There will be an election before coronation…. We have to organize both things together, but we must give time to the coronation preparation first…”. Royalism trumps elections, even a rigged election.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post is reporting on a quiet arm wrestle between the Election Commission, the junta and the palace.

Before writing more, though, we have a response to a reader who asks whether it is the king or the junta holding things up. That reader wonders if a royal decree has been signed but that it is being withheld from publication in the Royal Gazette. Like everyone else outside the upper reaches of the dictatorship and the palace, we don’t know. However, it would seem that withholding the decree would both damage the junta and would amount to an act of lese majeste. So our guess is that the delaying is in the palace and that the junta’s bosses are fuming but hamstrung by their own royalism.

Back at the EC, it is reported that it “is highly likely to select March 10 as the election date as it has agreed that the 150-day deadline for the general election to be completed as set by the charter should include the poll results endorsement.” Of course, that would seem to contradict The Dictator’s assessment, so there’s a tussle going on, with the EC trying to get some clarity.

Another version, reportedly from a senior EC official talking to Reuters, is: “There are now two possible dates … March 10 or March 24…”.

EC secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma stated that EC “commissioners had agreed that the completion of the election process mentioned in the charter must include the poll results endorsement. This is the first time the EC has spelt out its stance on the issue.” It’s likely putting the EC in conflict with The Dictator.

Jarungvith, however, reconfirmed that “while the EC is authorised to set the poll date, the government is responsible for announcing the election. The EC is required to set the date within five days of the decree being published in the Royal Gazette.”

There’s no decree, so the arm wrestle continues.

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