The king’s laundry I

21 05 2017

Thailand’s military dictatorship is expanding its already frantic efforts to create a political landscape cleansed of anything that shows the real king as other than the “official king.” Like slaves and handmaidens of centuries past, the junta is busy laundering the king’s image and cleaning up his own messes.

The laundered image is the often grim, sometimes seemingly bemused man in business suit and more often a military uniform, trailed by a daughter or officials appropriately bowed or slithering.

The only concession to a more real view is that the junta’s version does allow for the now most senior consort to be regularly seen.

His earlier and third wife, Srirasmi, had been thrown into house arrest and her family jailed in late 2015 as the then prince prepared for his reign.

The new, apparently official, number one consort is also often in the military uniform of a general. She was promoted by the king to this position. Her only “qualification” is that she is the king’s consort.

The image the junta launderers don’t want seen is that of the king trailing around his beloved Munich, dressed like fashion moron, sporting mail-order tattoo transfers and accompanied by another of his girlfriends, a legion of servants and a fluffy dog.

PPT doesn’t think fashion is a necessary qualification for being king. After all, that has to do with blood. Yet his “style” says something about the man. His desire to keep this side of his life from his Thai audience is also telling. (We do not believe that the military junta would be so frantic about these images if it wasn’t being pushed by a king known to be erratic, wilful and menacing.)

The seemingly demented efforts a week ago to threaten Facebook may not have been entirely successful, but they are again revealing. The Economist reflects on these bizarre and dangerous efforts to repress for the king:

Thailand has always treated its royals with exaggerated respect, periodically clapping people deemed to have insulted the king behind bars. But some thought the death of the long-reigning King Bhumibol in October and the accession of the less revered Vajiralongkorn might curb the monarchists’ excesses. Instead, it seems to have spurred them on. The military junta that runs the country is enforcing the draconian and anachronistic lèse-majesté law with greater relish than its predecessors.

We are not sure who could have thought that a new king, often secretive and with a reputation for vindictiveness, might have eased up.

Indeed, this king has a long history of lese majeste cases in his name. One of the first cases we wrote about at PPT was of Harry Nicolaides, an Australian who wrote a forgettable novel that included these lines:

From King Rama to the Crown Prince, the nobility was renowned for their romantic entanglements and intrigues. The Crown Prince had many wives “major and minor “with a coterie of concubines for entertainment. One of his recent wives was exiled with her entire family, including a son they conceived together, for an undisclosed indiscretion. He subsequently remarried with another woman and fathered another child. It was rumoured that if the prince fell in love with one of his minor wives and she betrayed him, she and her family would disappear with their name, familial lineage and all vestiges of their existence expunged forever.

Harry was probably writing of second wife, Yuvadhida, but the words could also be applied to the treatment  of Srirasmi.

Those words must have enraged somebody. They earned Harry a sentence of six years  in jail on 19 January 2009 (reduced to three years on pleading guilty). This for defaming the then crown prince now king.

If not in Thailand, where it is illegal, read Nicolaides’ novel here. Note that this scanned version of the book bears the stamp of the National Library of Thailand but should not be downloaded in Thailand.

The Economist continues:

At least 105 people have been detained or are serving prison sentences for lèse-majesté, compared with just five under the elected government the junta overthrew in 2014. Many of them posted critical comments about the royal family on social media; some simply shared or “liked” such comments. Other arrests have been on even pettier grounds. Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a student activist, is on trial for sharing a profile of King Vajiralongkorn published by the BBC’s Thai service. Police have warned that those agitating for his release could themselves face charges. A well-known academic, Sulak Sivaraksa, remains under investigation for several instances of lèse-majesté, including questioning whether a 16th-century battle involving a Thai king really took place.

As we have said, this number of lese majeste cases is too low. Quoting the low number allows the prince-now-king too much latitude. The lese majeste arrests and charges have been swelled by various palace purges by Prince, now King, Vajiralongkorn. Lese majeste has been widely used against those he dislikes. Give him the “credit” he deserves and for this nastiness and vindictiveness.

The Economist mentions the (almost) latest set of six cases (we will post separately on another set of cases):

This month security forces arrested Prawet Prapanukul, a human-rights lawyer best known for defending lèse-majesté suspects. He risks a record 150 years in jail if convicted of all ten counts of lèse-majesté he faces. Several recent sentences for insulting royals have exceeded 50 years; the standard for murder is 15-20 years.

All of this is followed by a banal claim by the newspaper: “Thai kings have a long history of fostering democratic reform…”. There is simply no adequate historical evidence for such a claim. It is a royalist fabrication based on notions of Thai-style democracy that is “democracy with the king as head of state,” exactly what the current junta is promoting: no democracy at all.

That Vajiralongkorn is going to be ruthless and anti-democratic should not be a surprise to anyone. He comes from a long line of anti-democratic kings who have protected privilege by working with the military. The only threat to the continuing of this monarch-military dictators alliance is if the junta gets so ticked off with the king that it decides to do away with him. That possibility seems somewhat remote.

The more likely outcome for the short to medium term is more censorship and ever more maniacal efforts to police the king’s image and wash his dirty laundry.





On Vajiralongkorn

12 04 2017

It is six months since the late king passed and just over four months since the then crown prince acceded the throne. The first of the assessments are appearing on “the reign so far.”

One of these is by Claudio Sopranzetti at Al Jazeera. It may soon be blocked in Thailand.

Essentially, Sopranzetti makes an argument that Vajiralongkorn is a nasty piece of work seeking to ensconce himself and his privilege in ways that are different from the manner in which his father operated. His father was a networker while Vajiralongkorn is a thug.

This is not the potentially “democratic” king envisaged by another observer.

One might think that succession to a throne would see changes made to the royal household. Indeed, there have been such changes in the Thai royal household, but these have been completed in nasty, even vengeful ways.

That Vajiralongkorn is vengeful, thuggish and nasty should not come as a shock to anyone who has watched the royal family over the years. Those characteristics, along with his womanizing and his need for money, defined his life as crown prince. He’s also considered himself a military man, and the “military discipline” he seems to have imposed in the palace matches the vile treatment of recruit to the military.

That members of the elite now fear the erratic new king is to be expected, and if it is only now that they are making hasty contingency plans, then they can only blame themselves for not fully believing the stories they all knew to be true.

Perhaps the most interesting issue is how interventionist King Vajiralongkorn is going to be.

Sopranzetti gets a few things wrong. The lese majeste law was not introduced in 1957; Vajiralongkorn did not spend most of his adult life overseas (depends a bit on the definition of “adult”); he’s wrong that “changes provide the King with complete control over the appointment of a regent in his absence” for the king has long had this control and had it under the earlier version of the new constitution under Article 16. What he has now is the capacity to not appoint a regent when he’s overseas. He’s also wrong to reproduce bits and pieces of palace propaganda as fact.

He is right to say that with the “new constitution Vajiralongkorn will wield more power over the parliament than his father ever did.” However, no one should conclude that the previous reign was not highly interventionist. The previous king was forever meddling, sometimes on his own and often through trusted intermediaries. His relationship with particular military leaders meant that his view always counted.

What is in doubt is exactly how King Vajiralongkorn will intervene. So far, he seems intent on maintaining royal powers. His intervention on the constitution essentially rolled back changes that sought to deal with the end of the last reign and the political fallout from interventionism.

The new king sees no reason for the changes, so it is probably reasonable to assume that his future interventions will be erratic and nasty.





Sarawut indicted on lese majeste

7 01 2017

Prachatai updates the lese majeste case against Sarawut (surname withheld), an optometrist in Chiang Rai, charged with lese majeste before a military court, and accused of defaming then Prince Vajiralongkorn.

On 29 December 2016, Sarawut was indicted in a military court in Chiang Rai Province for lese majeste and computer crimes.

This case began on 21 July 2016.

Sarawut is reported to have been detained since 11 October 2016 and was remanded in custody following his most recent court appearance. He is due in court again on 7 February 2017 for a deposition hearing.





Making up the story for the new king

1 12 2016

Is it just us or does it seem odd to some others that the journalist writing the Bangkok Post’s “Long Live the King” articles lauding the new king is the Post’s military reporter?

In a series of articles, Wassana Nanuam has been purveying palace and junta propaganda about the crown prince-about-to-be-king. It is so santized that we are not sure she’s writing it or just running it out for the junta and/or palace.

In the latest article at the Bangkok Post she “confides” that “Deputy Prime Minister [General] Prawit Wongsuwon yesterday revealed that … Crown Prince … Vajiralongkorn has agreed to become the new [k]ing, pending an official invitation, as admiration and joy from people greeted the news of the start of the process toward a new reign.”

“Joy.” We guess nothing else is permitted to be said.

She bubbles on as if the prince’s past poor behavior is forgotten: “exhilaration and happiness greeted the news of the start of the process leading to the new reign.”

“Exhilaration and happiness.” We guess nothing else is permitted to be said.

Quoting a punter, Wassana states, and this is the way the junta wants it, the alleged “infinite love and support for the late King will be extended to the next King.”

Forget the strange behavior, naked pictures of consorts, extravagance and violence. The aura of the late king, manufactured over decades is going to be magically transferred to the new king. We guess that lese majeste will ensure that.

So it is that this nonsense continues quoting “average” citizens declaring love, faith, respect and unwavering support for the new king.

The junta is desperate to suck up the dead king’s manufactured hegemonic image for the prince as he becomes king.





Updated: NLA acknowledgement of succession

29 11 2016

The Bangkok Post reports that:

The National Legislative Assembly met on Tuesday and acknowledged the accession to the throne by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn as the 10th King of the Chakri Dynasty.prince and suthida

The acknowledgment was in line with Section 23 of the nullified 2007 charter, whose chapter about the monarch remains in effect.

This is what the relevant bit of Article 23 of that constitution states. That constitution was ditched by the 2014 coup and the junta, but maintaining sections related to the king (if that makes any sense):

In the case where the Throne becomes vacant and the King has already appointed His Heir to the Throne under the Palace Law on Succession, B.E. 2467, the Council of Ministers shall notify the President of the National Assembly. The President of the National Assembly shall then convoke the National Assembly for the acknowledgement thereof and shall invite such Heir to ascend the Throne and proclaim such Heir King.

Based on this, we guess that the prince now has to accept, and previously the rumors were that this would be on 1 December. But all of this is so convoluted, so secret and so make-it-up-on-the-go that we are really guessing.

Coronation comes later, after mourning is over. Kings of the past have often waited long periods before being officially and ceremonially crowned.

For the anti-democrat take on this, see the bizarre incantation by the “radicals” now royalists. The prince is already being remade as some kind of upright and gallant king. So the myth-making begins anew.

Update: The Nation has quickly gotten in on the rebranding:

new-king-copy





Be very, very careful

28 11 2016

A reader sent PPT a link to a report by an Australian journalist based in Bangkok and presented at the ABC’s Correspondent’s Report on the weekend. It’s an audio report that comes with this introduction at the website:

The death of Thailand’s revered King last month will be remembered as a turning point in the country’s history.

It’s also a topic that’s difficult to cover as a journalist, given Thailand’s extremely harsh laws against royal defamation.

A new official version of the royal anthem, sung by tens of thousands of Thais outside the palace, is the latest talking point.

Our South-East Asia correspondent, Liam Cochrane, reports from Bangkok.

There’s still some blarney in the report yet it is mainly about lese majeste censorship and self-censorship associated with monarchy, the Crown Property Bureau, the late king and Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. The fear the journalist feels is palpable.





Maintaining authoritarian monarchism

26 11 2016

It may seem odd that “a special event in Bangkok next month to mark the birthday anniversary” for the late king, on his former birthday of 5 December, and described as “huge” is being overseen by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

It seems that the dead king has to be properly handled and managed to be made a series of ceremonies that will accord him the status of figurehead. That’s important for the monarchy, the military dictatorship and also for Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

The aim is to maintain the previous king’s “aura” for the institution of the monarchy in anticipation that the person of the new king is not bringing any of that with him when he takes the throne. Maintaining the aura of the monarchy is important for the military junta as it “protects” the monarchy and manufactures and protects authoritarian Thailand.

Pravit Rojanaphruk, writing in Khaosod, explains some of this:

The reason why the military government is still very vocally vowing to have these two dozen or so people extradited to Thailand has become a performance for the sake of the domestic audience of royalists and ultra-royalists to reinforce the military’s claim to leadership in loving and revering the monarchy.

By vocally pursuing these anti-monarchists, the regime inadvertently contradicted it own oft-repeated claim that all Thais love and revere the monarchy without exception.

Any shade or nuance between those who totally love and revere the monarchy and those who oppose the institution often gets buried in repeated performance of loyalty, however.

These performances are likely to continue as markers of loyalty to the regime and the monarchy and as a means to repress opposition.