Commentary on the recent and next monarchy I

15 10 2016

Assuming that the monarchy continues in one form or another, there’s some interesting commentary sparked by the king’s death. (The end of the monarchy following the 9th reign has been a prophesy heard previously – clicking the link downloads a PDF considered illegal in Thailand.)

Of course, there’s lots of hagiography too, reporting much that has been said about the king previously. A quick look at any news source in Thailand shows only this kind of reporting. Claims that the king was above politics and a force for stability were criticized years ago, as can be seen in the PDF linked above.

Here is some of the more interesting material currently available:

France 24 has an AFP story that “follows the money,” with a story on “one of the world’s richest monarchies, with a multi-billion-dollar empire spanning property, construction and banks.” One estimate is that the Crown Property Bureau is worth almost $60 billion. PPT would add that each of the royals is individually wealthy and each of them sponges off the taxpayer as well, so this is a fabulously wealthy capitalist conglomerate. If there is a competition for the top spot, then there are plenty of spoils for the winner/s.

The king’s unauthorized biographer Paul Handley has an op-ed at The New York Times. His conclusion is:

This is a bleak backdrop for the end of King Bhumibol’s reign. He was the model of a great king — modest, earnest and selfless, with his attention focused on the neediest. But he has left Thailand, as well as his heir, in the same situation he inherited all those years ago: in the hands of corrupt and shortsighted generals who rule however they want. And those King Bhumibol cared about the most — the Thai people — must suffer the consequences.

We are great fans of The King Never Smiles, but we are not convinced that the modest, earnest, selfless stuff isn’t buying palace propaganda (see the story above). We do agree that Thailand is currently in the “hands of corrupt and shortsighted generals,” we’d just point out that that was not the situation when the late king came to the throne. It was the Democrat Party’s founders, the old princes and other diehard royalists who used the death of the new king’s brother to overthrow a civilian regime. This was the first successful royalist coup.

Over at New Mandala, academic Lee Jones has an article called “The myth of King Bhumibol,” writing of his “weakness” of the king and identifies him as “a divisive and negative force for Thailand’s politics and democracy…”. We agree on the latter points but are not sure about the “weakness.” We think it better to view the monarchy and military as partners in anti-democratic rule.

Also at New Mandala, Nicholas Farrelly has an assessment of the king’s legacy. His view is of the king as a product of palace propaganda and image-making. He concludes: “But in late moments of reflection he [the king] may have regretted that his country became so ill prepared for mature leadership transitions and that his own charisma had been so regularly mobilised against the political wishes of the Thai people.” We doubt he regretted this. He considered Thais as children requiring discipline and direction and he provided it, for a while.

And, in another New Mandala piece, anthropologist Christine Gray writes about talking about monarchy. She writes about the past failures to challenge reporting and scholarship that was too accepting of palace propaganda. She makes an interesting point when she says “it seems tacky to criticise the dead” and then says it is necessary. She’s anticipated a ever stronger line on social media that argues that “now is not the right time for criticism.” It seems it is never the right time to be critical of the monarchy.

Along the same lines, Peter Symonds at WSWS has some useful observations. On not being truthful, he observes:

The king’s death was greeted with a wave of nauseating accolades from heads of state and political leaders around the world. US President Barack Obama issued a statement declaring that Bhumibol was “a tireless champion” for economic development and improved living standards. The UN General Assembly and Security Council stood in silent tribute. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised Bhumibol’s “legacy of commitment to universal values and respect for human rights.”

The international media followed suit, focussing on the outpouring of grief among the king’s supporters. The phrase “revered by the Thai people” appears in article after article, which either gloss over or completely ignore the Thai monarchy’s staggering wealth and its support for the country’s long succession of military coups and abuse of democratic rights.

The tabloids are also at work. The Mirror has been at it and so has the Daily Mail. The New York Post has a story titled “Thailand’s new king is a kooky crop top-wearing playboy.” It reproduces some of the lurid stories about the crown prince – the Post might say clown prince. Srirasmi is mentioned. There’s other critical commentary, including by a former Australian ambassador to Thailand.





Re-ordering the palace

26 09 2016

As we and others have posted over the past couple of years, as the health of the king has gone from bad to worse, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn has been re-arranging palace affairs.

He has changed the command relationships associated with troops assigned to the palace. He got rid of an unwanted consort and her family. Although we cannot be sure, he seems to have been behind several of the efforts to clean away various royal hangers-on, through lese majeste cases.

A recent reshuffle of the royal household suggests that the slow, slow succession continues. The Bangkok Post reports that a “Royal Command has been issued to appoint Chirayu Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya the Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household Bureau.”

Chirayu was previously a Grand Chamberlain and is the head of the Crown Property Bureau.

While the announcement follows the recent death of Lord Chamberlain, Keokhwan Vajarodaya, a couple of the new appointments are getting attention.

The Post states that the “royal command, issued on Sept 23, 2016 and countersigned by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, was published in the Royal Gazette on Sept 25.” Normally it would also be stated that the king signed the command. This may be an oversight at the Post.

It also states that “eight other persons have been appointed to positions in the Royal Household Bureau…”. In fact, as can be seen below (and here), several of them have held these positions for several years. Presumably the order derives in part from the prince’s re-ordering of the palace.

The appointments are:

1. ACM Satitpong Sukvimol to be Grand Chamberlain for policy administration and operations.

From Wikileaks: Separately, Niphon Promphan (Secretary General to the Prime Minister and a close associate of the Crown Prince) told us that he had met on March 2 with the Secretary to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, Air Chief Marshall Satitpong Sukvimol, and had relayed our concern that Bout would receive assistance from the Crown Prince’s office (reftel). Niphon told us that Satitpong denied that he or others in the Crown Prince’s entourage had any association with Bout. Satitpong said he would use his resources to investigate this false claim of ties to the Palace.

2. Lt Col Somchai Kanchanamanee to be Grand Chamberlain for royal residences.

We can’t find any information. Maybe readers can assist?

3. Pol Gen Jumpol Manmai to be Grand Chamberlain for security and special activities.

Jumpol or Chumpol is a former National Intelligence Director when Thaksin Shinawatra was premier.

From Wikileaks: the ongoing dispute over appointment of a new National Police Chief [link added by PPT] and the possible resignation of PM Abhisit’s Secretary General Niphon Promphan, who also works for the Crown Prince. At the Crown Prince’s direction, Niphon opposed Abhisit’s choice, GEN Patheep, in favor of the Crown Prince’s choice, GEN Chumpol Manmai. The inside story on why the Crown Prince wanted Chumpol so much, and risk criticism for intervening in a high level personnel choice against the evident wishes of the PM, is that Chumpol allegedly served as Thaksin’s bag man, personally delivering to the Crown Prince monies skimmed off the proceeds of the lotteries involved in the current court case. While such a story cannot be reported in the Thai media due to Lese Majeste concerns, the Crown Prince-Chumpol connection underscores the sense of lottery critics that Thaksin launched the lottery scheme to create a government slush fund which he could use to fund not only populist schemes like scholarships but also pet projects off the books for personal and political gain, without any accountability.

4. Khwankeo Vajarodaya to be Grand Chamberlain.

Has held this position for several years. His recently deceased brother, Keokhwan, was previously Grand Chamberlain.

5. Narongrid Snidvongs Na Ayuthaya to be Grand Chamberlain.

Has held this position for several years.

6. Jintana Chuensiri to be Grand Chamberlain for finance.

Has held this position for several years.

7. Songkram Supecharoen, M.D., to be Personal Physician to His Majesty the King.

Has held this position for several years.

8. Pol Gen Pongsak Rohitopakarn to be Grand Chamberlain.

Has held this position for several years.





The rich get a bit richer still

8 06 2016

Forbes has released its annual rankings of the rich in 2016. There are a number of stories and a listing of the 50 wealthiest in Thailand (sans the royal family and its Crown Property Bureau).

The Forbes list is compiled, they say, “using shareholding and financial information obtained from the families and individuals, stock exchanges and analysts, the Stock Exchange of Thailand and regulatory agencies.” Forbes also states that “[u]nlike our billionaire rankings, this list encompasses family fortunes, including those shared among extended families of multiple generations. Public fortunes were calculated based on stock prices and exchange rates as of May 20. Private companies were valued based on comparisons with similar companies that are publicly traded.”

PPT has put together the list of the top 10 and compared this with the list for 2015:

Wealth 2016If our calculator and fingers have worked well, the richest 10 are worth $72.7 billion ($67.85 billion a year ago) and the wealthiest 50 are collectively worth $106.445 billion.





$40K royal outhouse unnecessary

23 02 2016

Guess what? According to the The Cambodia Daily, Princess Sirindhorn did not require a royal toilet seat. $40,000 down the toilet, as it were.

According to the report, “Sirin­dhorn flew [by helicopter] from Phnom Penh to Ratanakkiri province and back again on Monday, alighting for a lakeside lunch and the open­ing of a health center on the first day of her three-day visit to the country.”money_down_toilet 2

The report states that at “Yeak Lom Lake in Ban­lung City, where a luxurious outhouse had been constructed at her request” was inspected but went unused.

Deputy provincial governor Nhem Sam Oeun stated: “She did not use the toilet … but she went to see the bathroom…. When she went back to Phnom Penh, they re­moved the modern toilet.”

We had thought that this was only “necessary” if the vast expanse of royal butt was seated on the “throne.” Apparently not.

Built by the Siam Cement Group, firmly lodged in the Crown Property Bureau, the unused toilet remains as an empty building.

Absent its “throne,” the 8-square-meter building might be used for something else. Or it might not.

What did the toilet shy princess do in Ratanakkiri? Reportedly, she “presided over a ribbon-cutting cer­emony for a public health cen­ter in O’Chum district that had been donated by the Thai roy­al fam­ily…”. The “investment” in the toilet and building was 15% of the health center.





Read these

22 02 2016

If you have time, these stories from the past few days, are worth a look:

Thomas Fuller, New York Times correspondent, has been posted back to the United States. He has an excellent final story, trying to sum up some tumultuous years. It has the disgusting quote from the horrid Abhisit Vejjajiva: “Unfortunately, some people died…”. There’s a lot in the story and we will miss his excellent reporting on Thailand and his efforts to explain the monarchy, its wealth and politics to American audiences.

The Guardian on Princess Sirindhorn’s magnificent Cambodian potty room constructed by Siam Cement Group using its shareholder funds, meaning there’s a magic circle – princess-SCG-CPB-princess. Incidently, if you read the story, you will see that PPT was right to suppose that the royal bum exudes some magical quality to the toilet, meaning no mere mortal can use it after her.

Speaking of money down the toilet, Prachatai has a translation of Nidhi Eowsriwong’s article where he asks: What’s the point of having a military? A very good question! When it was originally published at Matichon Online on 13 January 2016 it created quite a stir, with even The Dictator having a hissy fit that anyone should question why Thailand needs a bunch of money-grubbing murderous, thieving and lying thugs operating with state sanction.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn’s Monk Trouble on the politics of the monkhood under the junta and in the red-yellow splits. PPT can’t follow this stuff too closely so we were pleased that someone tried to explain things.





A $40,000 a day derriere

20 02 2016

The Cambodia Daily reports that when the portly Thai Princess Sirindhorn arrives in Cambodia’s Ratanakkiri province for a three-day visit to Cambodia on Monday,” she will enjoy the comfort and privacy of a luxurious freestanding bathroom built for her on the shore of a popular lake at a cost of more than $40,000, officials said…”. Sirindhorn and golden mikes

The “8-square-meter outhouse overlooking Yeak Lom Lake on the outskirts of Banlung City was carried out by the Siam Cement Group (SCG) at the request of the princess and took 19 days” to complete.

For the couple of people who do not know, the Crown Property Bureau is the largest shareholder of SCG and runs the group. International shareholders might question this “donation” that really does polish the royal posterior.

Sirindhorn is nearly always acclaimed at the most “down to earth” of the royals, but clearly her nether regions need special and expensive care.

“This toilet was constructed for the Thai princess’ use. When the princess has finished with it, they will take the toilet equipment back to Thailand, but the princess will leave the building for our community to use…”. Well, SCG will leave it.

We wonder why Cambodians don’t deserve “toilet equipment”? Perhaps the royal butt has special features and leaves something behind that might be exploited. We recall that Kukrit Pramoj once smashed a toilet after the king had seated himself on it for his ablutions.

A Thai involved in the outhouse construction noted that SCG had used “materials are of the very highest quality,” and required the work of one Thai supervisor and “10 Thai laborers who built the structure using only materials imported from Thailand.”

Presumably, for Thai elites, Cambodians are untrustworthy or worse when it comes to royals. Cambodian workers banged up some other, “more modest” bogs for the royal’s usually extensive entourage when they need to empty the pipes.

The report says that the “facilities will almost certainly come in handy” because “Pierre-Yves Clais, the owner of the Terres Rouges Lodge in Banlung City, said his staff had been tasked with organizing a lakeside banquet for Princess Sirindhorn featuring fish amok, fish in butter sauce, foie gras and ‘pancakes done the French way’.”

The report cites Andrew MacGregor Marshall, the author of “A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century,” who described the construction as “an insult to the Cambodian people.” He’s right.





“Reforming” Thailand is killing it

15 12 2015

Deutsche Welle has a depressingly reasonable article about Thailand’s current descent into military-driven disaster. It begins:

Since it seized power last year, the Thai military has been ruling the country without success. While Thailand finds itself increasingly isolated internationally, criticism of any sort is punished with harsh sentences.

The article initially concentrates on the attacks on US ambassador to Thailand, Glyn T. Davies, and “the growing chasm between the two sides [Thailand and the US]…” before moving on to the rash of horrendous and harsh lese majeste charges brought against Thais.

On the investigations of Davies, an “analyst” is cited as saying: “Even Thai diplomats and foreign ministry officials are shocked…”.

Somehow we doubt this. The junta has been promoting attacks on the US, viewing it as somehow conspiring with Thaksin Shinawatra to bring down the monarchy. As bizarre as this sounds, this discourse has been strong among royalist groups on social media.

We do agree that a “probe against the US ambassador would have been unthinkable two or three years ago. And the current police investigation against the US diplomat would be unimaginable without backing from the highest levels of the military leadership…”.

It is true that the junta has a “strong penchant for deepening ties with China.” The explanation is that “[t]here is a faction within the military that benefits hugely from the relationship with Beijing, and it is apparently seeking to sabotage a rapprochement with the US…”. The Dictator is mentioned as promoting ties with Beijing.

Domestically, the pressure on the military is growing. The report points to Corruption Park. It is observed that the “case is particularly sensitive, the expert says, because it strikes at the heart of the military’s legitimacy to rule the country.” This is because the military has identified the corrupt as elected politicians. Now the military “is also mired in graft scandals.”

The report observes that the “military government’s performance since it seized power 19 months ago has been grim.” The “economy is in tatters” and political “polarization in the society hasn’t ebbed…”.

A journalist says “Thailand is frozen in time…”. It is actually worse than this. Thailand is going backwards at a very rapid pace.

According to the report, part of the reason for “standing still” has to do with succession. DW observes that the king and “the royal household remain politically influential, even though the country is officially a constitutional monarchy.” It says that:

The royals exercise their clout, on the one hand, through the Privy Council, the king’s personal advisory board which is composed of former military leaders as well as influential politicians, among others.

On the other hand, there is the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the real estate properties and investments of the Thai monarchy running into billions of dollars.

Another analyst says all of these failures and repression mean that there is “growing discontent among Thais…”. Increased repression may reflect this: “The military is attempting to strengthen its hold on power by spreading fear…”. The DW report suggests that “a return to political normality, and to democracy, is postponed indefinitely.”

The military junta’s “reforms” are leading to repression, royalism and the submerging and squashing of ordinary Thais and their aspirations. The country is a failed state and the only way out is the ousting of this ridiculous and failed regime.