Kings and lese majeste

20 08 2017

In another interesting op-ed at the Bangkok Post, Alan Dawson comments on lese majeste. This is always a difficult topic in royalist Thailand.

On Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, Dawson considers, as we do, that his case is a “fit-up.” He says that:

Clearly, as the 3,000 people who weren’t charged [for sharing the BBC Thai story that got Pai charged] show, there’s more than a little bit of Beria in all this — the dreadful Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin’s secret police hatchetman who bragged: “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.”

He continues with “[a]nother example of that unique aroma of extra-careful selection” on lese majeste:

Patnaree Chankij, a 41-year-old domestic worker, wrote “ja” (yeah) in response to a Facebook post that kicked off a social media discussion about the monarchy. After police refused to charge her, the military prosecutor lovingly culled Ms Patnaree from among dozens of posters on that thread to face lese majeste charges.

There are those so blind that they actually deny that the motherly Ms Patnaree was selected from all the other candidates because she is literally the mother of Sirawit “Ja New” Serithiwat. Ja New, referred to by Bangkok junta supporters as a “pain in the extreme lower back area”, is an unrepentant coup opponent.

The fit-up:

Two events occurred. Ja New refused to take military advice to stop protesting against the coup. Ms Patnaree, his mother, was chosen for arrest, detention and prosecution on lese majeste charges for “yeah”.

Dawson concludes this comparison saying: “You can claim publicly these two acts are unrelated, so long as you enjoy people pointing at you and laughing uproariously.”

We get the point. Yet lese majeste is hardly a laughing matter even if the gyrations of its exponents are comical and extreme.

Like others who write on lese majeste and express some criticism of the law, Dawson also quotes the late king on lese majeste. He argues that the dead king “spoke several times in public against the lese majeste law.”

We are not convinced. The quotes that Dawson uses, like all the others who use it, are from the almost unintelligible and rambling 2005 birthday speech.

Yes, the king appeared to say that lese majeste was a bother, and also claimed that “the king” had never used it. But read the whole thing and read it in context and it is clear that the dead king was not advocating an end to the law or even its revision. He was criticizing Thaksin Shinawatra and complaining about the “trouble” caused for the king most especially when foreigners are charged with lese majeste.

(Recall that Thaksin’s government had caused an international kerfuffle when the Far Eastern Economic Review reported on alleged financial and business dealings between then Prince Vajiralongkorn and Thaksin, and used lese majeste.)

At the same time, we also know that that king’s offices have engaged in lese majeste cases, appealing sentences considered too light and even making complaints. So the dead king was embellishing the truth.

Then Dawson gets to the current king:

… the King has shown his feelings about Section 112 and about the government’s obsession with it. In the very first set of details given before last December’s royal pardons, His Majesty’s announcement stated specifically that prisoners imprisoned for lese majeste would be eligible. It was a slap against the junta’s fixation.

The general prime minister says His Majesty has clearly stated that he wants no one, ever, to be punished for lese majeste. That wasn’t the shock. The shock was the junta leader’s reaction. Which was to state that Section 112 exists to protect the monarchy.

The monarch does not want protection to extend, ever, to punishment. The military regime will continue to push for maximum punishment anyway.

This is buffalo manure.

The use of lese majeste against the king’s former wife Srirasmi, her family and associates is well known. So has been the use of lese majeste charges against unfortunates who have fallen out with the new king.

Succession planning

17 04 2014

In recent times there has been some debate about the nature of the decade-old political crisis in Thailand amongst commentators on social media. Some argue that the crisis is all about royal succession and a contest over that. Others argue that the crisis is better understood as a long-term political and historical struggle over the nature of Thailand’s politics that goes beyond the succession issue.

PPT, with its interest in lese majeste and monarchy, is naturally interested in all of the rumors and discussion about succession. That said, we also see the anxiety surrounding succession as just one, albeit very important, indicator of the the deep social roots of the current crisis.Prince and friend

Certainly, as we noted a couple of months ago, there does seem to be some succession planning underway. That account reported of the transfer of a “unit of elite soldiers, the Royal Security Command,” to “the authority of the Defence Ministry in its administrative streamlining of protective duties for the royal family.”

As we briefly noted a while ago, Matichon has reported a Government Gazette announcement of a consolidation of troops to Prince Vajiralongkorn’s personal command. Google Translate does a reasonable job of this announcement that shows the Prince preparing for the bigger role. More interestingly, the prince now has command of some seven regiments that are said to be providing protection for the aged king and queen. The presumed political position of the prince was also noted in our earlier post.

This news of the Gazette announcement has caused some interest. On Facebook, succession-in-chief protagonist Andrew MacGregor Marshall has taken the opportunity to refer to the prince’s role in the 6 October 1976 massacre and coup, with attention drawn to a British cable that uses rumor and talk from Australia to indicate that the prince’s return to Thailand was coincidental with those horrendous events.Prince 1976 - Copy

PPT doubts that this memorandum should be taken too seriously. At the time, the British, Americans and Australians all seemed to want to downplay the significance of the events around Thammasat University and the deep political involvement of the monarchy in mobilizing rabid royalists against those seen as enemies of the throne. Those countries, like the king in Thailand, were deeply disturbed by events in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, and wanted to shore up Thailand as the bastion of anti-communism on the mainland of Southeast Asia.

The imagery of the prince was well-used by rightists in justifying their attack on the students as “protecting” the monarchy. As noted in the cable, the prince had indeed returned suddenly from a brief stint with the Australian SAS in Perth, just prior to the coup. After the coup, the prince and his younger sisters gave their support to the rightists.

But back to the succession “crisis.” If there is such a crisis, it has been a very long one. Back in 1981, the Far Eastern Economic Review alluded to a kind of competition between the prince and Sirindhorn.


The “crisis” was also a part of another FEER article in 1988, this time by none other than the princeling Sukhumphand Paribatra. His article is available for download at PPT’s Lese Majeste and the Monarchy page, identified at present with a “new” label. In that piece, which was produced after a bunch of anti-prince leaflets were circulated (also available at that PPT page), expressed the concerns. The beginning of the article explains “apprehension” regarding succession.Apprehension At the time of writing, Sukhumbhand was concerned that civilian politics was weak and in crisis and he was seeing that this opened the way for a military intervention.

Later, the article states:

Given the monarchy’s role in Thailand’s political and economic development, as well as its place in the hearts and minds of the populace, any uncertainty regarding the future of the monarch inevitably causes a great deal of apprehension. Doubts continue to be expressed, mostly in private but now increasingly in the open, about the crown prince’s capacity to evoke the kind of intense political loyalty from the people and the major domestic political power groupings that his father is able to do. Doubts also persist as to whether the crown prince can match his father’s subtle and mediatory role in politics.

Some of this is blarney, but the point is that the speculation about the prince and succession has been around for a very long time. We would have thought that if there was serious disputation regarding succession that there had been plenty of opportunities for some kind of intervention to move the prince aside or out of the picture.

In any case, it seems that Vajiralongkorn is doing his due diligence on succession, preparing for the day when he gets the crown.



Thaksin, Cambodia and Thai politics

8 12 2009

Well-known analysts Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker have a piece in the Far Eastern Economic Review (posted 4 December 2009: “Thaksin’s Cambodian Gambit”) this month. In the article, Pasuk and Baker try to place Thaksin Shinawatra’s Cambodia visit into its Thai political context. In PPT’s view, the article is a bit confusing because it lumps a bunch of recent events into a longer-term analysis of political futures while avoiding the role of the monarchy and its politics. That said, Thailand’s politics remains a quagmire.

As a footnote, this is the final issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review, which has been appearing for 63 years. It has been a great source of information and debate through those years.

PPT highlight some interesting selections related to Thaksin’s appointment as adviser to the Cambodian government, his visit to Cambodia and the fall-out in Thailand.

Strikingly, the reactions to Mr. Thaksin’s Cambodian gambit among the press and political commentators were painted in a palette of only black and white. The anti-Thaksin camp howled that he was guilty of treason for assisting an enemy country, and also guilty of lèse majesté for remarks about the royal succession in an interview with The Times. Thaksin boosters portrayed the visit to Cambodia as a brilliant maneuver by the fugitive former prime minister to regain prominence. In reality, these events are shrouded in murky shades of grey. But few want to see it that way.

The Yellow Shirts lost support … and lost momentum…. [There was] speculation that establishment patrons had decided the movement had outlived its usefulness…. Mr. Thaksin’s Cambodian trip has revived the Yellow movement’s fortunes….

The simple slogans of the rallies—”Defend the Monarchy” [PAD] or “Defend Democracy” [red shirts]—are façades beneath which lie more complex and murky issues.Mr. Thaksin’s motivations seem to be an intricate blend of politics, face and money. He continues to command widespread mass support, and claims to feel a responsibility toward this following. Being ousted by a military coup and demonized by right-wing extremists have cast him as a hero of popular democracy, whether he deserves that cachet or not….

The authors then claim the “rhythms of [Thaksin’s] recent actions from exile are tied to the fate of his family assets.” They postulate that “the Cambodia gambit and the showdown rallies arose exactly as the Supreme Court moved toward judgment on this case.” Exactly as the court moved towards is a curious construction for that would make almost any action related to the court verdict. Indeed, the authors admit that a verdict is unlikely before January.

However, they do point to something else going on: deal-making behind the scenes and jockeying for position. As they noted, Thaksin representatives are “rumored to be in contact with powerful figures to negotiate a compromise.” They say little more but might have also speculated about press discussion of an attempt to get the U.S. involved in negotiating a deal.

The author’s claims that the Cambodian deal might have boosted the Democrat Party and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva would now seem to be a little too rash a judgment as the polls have dipped back against the government and Abhisit, while the opposition seems to be regaining ground with some  fancy footwork in Cambodia.

While the Democrats promise clean government and Mr. Abhisit talks about reform, human rights and similar topics, the government has reverted to a familiar model of military influence and business intrigue…. The party is freighted with a history of aligning itself with military, monarchy and bureaucracy, and being unresponsive to popular demands. Even now, the media campaigns showcasing their achievements come across as a patronizing…. Sustaining nationalist-inspired support by prolonging the diplomatic spat with Cambodia will be difficult, damaging and dangerous.

They conclude by looking at what is likely to be a long drawn-out struggle:

The social realities underlying political division are more complex than often portrayed. The gap between rich and poor is much wider in Thailand than in countries of comparable economic achievement, and Mr. Thaksin made the poor feel that politics might result in betterment for them. But the division is not a simple issue of poor against rich. Resentment at the great inequalities of power are also a factor. Mr. Thaksin and the Red Shirts draw support not only from the poor but from many businessmen who resent bureaucratic power and corruption, a rising provincial middle class which resents the excessive domination of Bangkok and pro-democracy activists who oppose the resurgent power of the military and the strident conservatism of the Yellows.

Thaksin as monarchist

22 03 2009

PPT missed this interview from quite a few days ago. Thaksin swears his loyalty (again) to the monarchy. The Far Eastern Economic Review (March 2009) has a headline that doesn’t entirely match the discussion – “Thaksin’s Plea to King and Country” – but is worth viewing, along with the transcript (“Excerpts from Dubai Interview With Thaksin Shinawatra”) and the story (“The Taming of Thaksin?”).

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