The “justice” system

14 12 2017

We at PPT have long posted on the injustices, illegal actions and double standards of the justice system. Usually our posts on this topic have to do with the manipulation of the lese majeste law for political ends. Sometimes we have posted on the other “legal” means that the junta has used to jail and silence those it considers political opponents,  or “dangerous” for the “reputation” of the military.

In this post, however, we look at the unexplained treatment of a suspect charged with “participation in premeditated murder, attempted murder and fatal bombing” that resulted in the death of 20 and injuries for 120 at the Erawan Shrine in 2015.

These charges did not prevent the “Bangkok Military Court on Wednesday released Wanna Suasan, the Thai suspect in the 2015 Erawan Shrine bombing, on bail of 1 million baht on the condition she remains in the country” and doesn’t tamper with evidence or witnesses.

This is is stark contrast to lese majeste cases where almost no one gets bail from the courts. Clearly, in the justice system, being accused of insulting a royal, a dead king, a dead king’s dog or a historical royal figure counts for far more than premeditated murder and terrorism. The justice system operates as a feudal institution.

As an important aside, recall that one of the reasons for the EU capitulation on Thailand was this:

The Council notes the decision of the Thai military leadership to phase out the practice of prosecuting civilians before military courts for a number of offences since 12 September 2016, including for offences against internal security and lèse majesté offences. The Council urges the Thai authorities not to prosecute civilians before military courts including for lèse majesté offences committed before 12 September 2016.

Naturally enough, the junta can simply ignore human rights issues and continues to use military courts. The “out” for the EU seems to be the date it notes.

On Constitution Day

10 12 2017

Constitution Day remains a holiday, but most of the meaning of the event has been drained away by palace propaganda aided and abetted by decades of royalist governments.

Pravit Rojanaphruk at Khaosod asks: “what’s really left to really celebrate?” It is a good question.

Eight and a half decades after the 1932 revolt put the “constitutional” into constitutional monarchy, the kingdom has seen too many charters discarded. The current one is No. 20. Divide that by 85 years, you get an average lifespan for Thai constitutions of just slightly over four years.

An average car is more durable. A typical refrigerator is going to get more use.

He argues that almost no one in Thailand “a strong attachment to the Thai constitution.”

That’s only partly true. There are those who have an attachment to the first 1932 constitution. That is the one that represented the spirit of 1932 before the royalists began rolling it back and replacing people’s sovereignty with royalism.

Of course, there’s no reason to celebrate the junta’s 2017 Constitution. This document is the spirit of military despotism, paternalism and anti-democracy. We at PPT would celebrate this military charter cast into history’s dustbin, along with the aged flunkies who crafted it.

One Bangkok Post story that caught our attention for Constitution Day concerns a group of political activists who “will petition the Constitutional Court to lift one of the junta’s orders on the grounds that it is an outright violation of the constitution.”

Violating constitutions is pretty much stock-in-trade for the junta.

The Democracy Restoration Group of the New Democracy Movement, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights and “representatives of people affected by NCPO Order No.3/2558 announced the move at Thammasat University on Saturday.”

That order “bans freedom of assembly and empowers soldiers to summon any person to testify and to detain people for up to seven days, among others.”

The activists seem determined to keep the pressure on the junta for its illegal rule.

And then there was another Bangkok Post story – indeed, an editorial – that seemed to fit Constitution Day for its gentle push-back on the royal re-acquisition of the old zoo, consolidating royal property and privatizing it.

It begins with what seems like a justification for the new zoo which is expected to begin construction around 2019. But then it carefully changes tack, referring to “a few concerns about the new site.” Distance, entrance fees,  lack of public transport. It then gets really interesting:

One key question remains about the future of the old Dusit Zoo after the relocation is completed….

But the [zoo] agency should be aware that any decision on the future of the zoo should be based on the history of the place.

Acknowledging that history, the Post calls for the old zoo to become “a botanical garden or a park for public use.”

That’s a rare call in a neo-feudal military dictatorship.

Military and monarchy as Siamese twins

10 12 2017

The Asia Times has another long commentary on Thailand’s political predicament by Shawn Crispin. There’s some interesting bits and pieces.

For one thing, it is stated that in “the lead-up to the cremation of … King Bhumibol …, authorities rounded up 42 suspects at check points around the royal ceremony…”. Further,

Rights groups and diplomats monitoring the arrests say the detained suspects likely face prosecution on national security-related charges for threatening the ceremony, including under the penal code’s harsh lese majeste provision that shields the royal family from defamation, insult and threat.

It is interesting that Crispin credits The Dictator “for steering a smooth succession from Bhumibol to Vajiralongkorn, a delicate transition many feared could spark instability.” To be honest, we think the “delicate transition” was a bit of a beat up.

The next royal big deal, he says, is “Vajiralongkorn’s formal coronation, now seen as astrologically auspicious to be held in March…”.

Crispin asks “how stable is the transition from royal old to new, and how serious is the threat posed by anti-monarchists supposedly lurking in the shadows?”

He notes that Vajiralongkorn “has set a tone for his reign in moves that diplomats and analysts say shows his intent to shake-up royal institutions in terms of personnel, protocol and operations.”

That’s somewhat bland for what he’s doing, which is erasing all notion of popular sovereignty in favor of a monarchy that is independent of all checks and balances introduced after 1932.

Crispin says that the “Royal Household Bureau has also openly targeted those found to have abused their palace positions or association for personal gain.”

That’s somewhat bland for what somewhat bland for what’s happened. Rather, the new king has been purging the palace and appointing his trusted allies.

One interesting observation is that “[c]hampions of the new reign say the housecleaning is overdue and that ill-deeds grew in the latter years of Bhumibol’s reign when he was hospitalized for ill-health.”

That’s what might be expected, but it is one of the first statements of the fact that the new reign is embedding in a manner that is essentially neo-feudal and that shifts political and economic power to the palace.

The notion that the new palace will “challenge the big business families that have long leveraged royal connections to corner sectors of the economy, a commercial domination that has grown since the 2014 coup” seems to come out of nowhere, but it is known that the king maintains relations with several Sino-Thai tycoons.

It isn’t clear to us that Vajiralongkorn taking “full control of the Crown Property Bureau …[and] the board of the palace’s Royal Project Foundation,” seems like him establishing his dominance and lining his pockets rather than a challenge to the big tycoons.

Crispin is correct to note that the military junta has “unquestioningly” done the palace’s bidding, but adds a note:

Thailand’s military and monarchy have long had a symbiotic relationship, with the former sworn to the protection of the latter, but the new emerging balance between the two powerful institutions is still being determined under Vajiralongkorn’s young new reign.

Both General Prayuth Chan-ocha and the king are self-centered and erratic, leading to concerns that the two may clash.

Crispin is also on the money when he notes that the king is asserting authority of Bangkok-based military units, He refers to the “absorption of military combat units, including the First Region Command’s First Infantry Division, a top-fighting force, into the king’s personal guard.”

That division “was recently moved from the military’s main command in Bangkok to Vajiralongkorn’s secondary Tawee Wattana palace on the capital’s outskirts, with certain soldiers transferred upcountry.”

On the transition to an “elected” government, Crispin observes the junta’s reluctance and suggests that “anti-monarchy elements remain bent on undermining the royal institution…” may be a “reason” for further “election” delays. at a still uncertain juncture of the succession.

He reckons that there are 1,000 lese majeste complaints “still under police investigation…”. That’s a whole lot of anti-monarchists and a whole lot of justification for ongoing military repression.

For the moment, the junta and the king remain joined as Siamese twins in neo-feudal repression.

Minting the new king

7 12 2017

For an unspecified reason, the Thai Treasury Department has threatened social media users, demanding that they “not to share footage of the new coins being minted to replace those currently in circulation.”

Apparently, the design of the Rama X coins, set to replace the Rama IX versions, “is supposed to be a state secret and has yet to be approved for release by the cabinet…”. Odd, as most countries do show planned designs well ahead of circulation.

But this is neo-feudal Thailand, where astrology, the king’s whims and black magic and the secrecy of the military dictatorship, along with the fears associated with offending an erratic and obsessive–compulsive king, make such simple things a matter of state and secrecy. Presumably, sharing the video could constitute lese majeste!

The new design was shown ever so briefly in a video about a French mint that makes the coins.


Military orders, bizarre futures

20 11 2017

Anyone who has watched American movies will be familiar with the “high and tight,” which is a military version of the crew cut and short back and sides. As Wikipedia explains, it “is a very short hairstyle most commonly worn by men in the armed forces of the United States. It is also popular with law enforcement officers and other public safety personnel.” Regulations demand certain styles.

The Thai military and police have tended to follow this “model,” with new recruits often getting a tight buzz cut that looks like the haircut demanded of male school students.

For some reason, those in high positions in Thailand seem to think that a regimental hair cut imposes discipline. It is also part of the hierarchy of control.

It is also a throwback to feudal haircuts.

So who wants a feudal restoration and feudal discipline? The king, of course.

Khaosod reports that the army and the police have been ordered “all soldiers to wear the same haircut as members of … the King’s personal bodyguards.” The style is the “904 cut,” which “involves shaving the sides and back of the head, leaving just a smack of hair on the top.”

The police have received similar orders.

The leadership of the military and the police have mumbled that this new style is about establishing order and discipline.

For a king who believes in extreme discipline, such orders would not seem out of place. At the same time, in having these orders observed, he is establishing a degree of control over almost half a million soldiers and police.

But there’s more: “The new regulations coincided with the introduction of a novel form of salute imposed upon the army by King Vajiralongkorn. Soldiers are now required to heave out their chests and jerk their heads after performing a typical hand salute.”

This is a quite bizarre, as can be seen in a Khaosod video. As far as we can tell, this is an “innovation.”

Bizarre discipline, feudal haircuts and imposing discipline from the palace. The king is remarkably interventionist, and if supported by the military junta in getting his way, Thailand is in for a rocky ride at the hands of a bizarre king.

Cremation controversy

28 10 2017

In an earlier post, PPT mentioned that the live broadcast of the funeral, which dragged on all day and night, concluded by not showing the cremation at about 10 pm. We wondered why the live stream did not advise viewers that it would not be shown. We added that the telecast repeatedly had a caption that the cremation would be at 10 p.m.

It seems there is now considerable controversy and mystery about the decision to black out the cremation.

Khaosod has a detailed report that begins by recounting the disappointment and shock that the cremation was blacked out. The thousands of mourners “believed the actual cremation would be broadcast live as it had been done in previous funerals for other royal family members. But that broadcast never came, and no announcement would be made until much later.”

The report adds that even officials at the cremation were nonplussed.

Then came the “competing explanations” about “why people were not allowed to witness the cremation…”.

The report states that the “official televised broadcast schedule did not note the 10pm cremation.” We know that is wrong, although we were watching a livestream on YouTube, but it was the official version. As we noted above, the time of the cremation came up in captions several times.

So we can be pretty sure that the broadcasters did not know they were not going to show the cremation until quite late.

The reports states:

Reporters were told the live broadcast would run all night, and that public performances marking the end of the mourning period would be suspended during the actual cremation. At 9pm, a Khaosod English reporter at the official press center was told the ceremony would definitely be televised….

At 10pm, people were still sitting quietly in front of the screen [at Ratchadamnoen] getting ready for … [the cremation]. Many meditated. But the screens kept looping a documentary about King Bhumibol’s works. At one point, it cut to show live orchestra performing in the Sanam Luang.

When the time arrived, audience members watching from home saw the coverage cut and replaced with a message: “Royal Cremation of His Majesty King Bhumibol. Everyone is advised to turn toward the Meru Mas and pay their highest respects.”

Those on Ratchadamnoen Avenue saw nothing except the continuing performances and assumed the ritual was delayed.

At about “11pm, a royal fire was lit at the replica crematorium on Ratchadamnoen Avenue to burn sandalwood flowers.” This seems to have been seen by many as the cremation. Khaosod says:

By that time, the crowd was confused and reluctant to leave. No official announcement was made. Some decided to leave, while others refused and chose to stay.

A Khaosod reporter states that:

… a palace media liaison [official] informed some reporters at about 10pm, when the cremation was scheduled to begin, that it would not be televised because the king’s successor, His Majesty the King Rama X, had deigned it a “private affair.”

The junta announced at “11:16 pm that … the broadcast and ceremony had ended and coverage would resume in the morning,” with no other explanation.

Ten minutes later, smoke emerged from the top of crematorium, and that was when more people were convinced, despite being so close to where it happened, they had already missed the time they had waited a lifetime to experience.

Online, some speculated that it might have been for sake of privacy of the king’s wife, Queen Sirikit, who has been ailing and out of the public eye for several years.

We can be pretty sure that we’ll never know the real reason for the public cremation becoming private. Some things may never be discussed in neo-feudal Thailand.

All that money and the Crown Property Bureau

28 07 2017

No one who has decided that monarchy matters in Thailand will be happy about the headline recently at the ASEAN Economist: “Clown king nears crisis point.”

Taylor McDonald’s piece uses material from Andrew MacGregor Marshall, now described as a “veteran observer of the Thai monarchy,” and apparently drawn from a recent BBC interview. Marshall, who previously argued that there was a succession crisis in Thailand, is cited in this report as declaring that “the situation was becoming increasingly unsustainable.” He is quoted as believing that as “details of the king’s lifestyle spread, the kingdom was approaching a ‘crisis point’…”.

We are not sure that there is any more crisis now than over the last decade or so, although Marshall’s account of the king’s cruelty, womanizing and his grab for power while re-feudalizing the palace are all undoubted, we have yet to see “crisis.” Some speculate that the crisis comes after the previous king is cremated.The article makes this point:

How much longer Thailand’s inflexible generals will tolerate Vajiralongkorn as their head of state will have to be seen. He will no doubt go down, along with the Emperor Caligula, as a key case study used by republicans arguing against constitutional monarchy.

While we may hope that this king gets the boot, the fact is that the deep political change needed in Thailand – an end to the monarchy – remains unlikely. That’s our speculation.

But to the point of this post. What caught PPT’s attention in the article were comments about the Crown Property Bureau.

The article states: “A close aide of Thailand’s King … Vajiralongkorn was this month named head of the agency which manages the monarchy’s vast holdings after legal changes giving the king total control of the Crown Property Bureau.”

About a week or so ago, secretly considered changes to the law governing the CPB were announced, giving the king absolute command over it. That change, the article notes, mean it is no longer possible for royalist regimes to claim the CPB is not the king’s but held “in trust for the nation.”

The CPB website continues to allow the download of a chapter on crown property in the palace-approved book King Bhumibol Adulyadej. A Life’s Work, which begins the chapter this way:

Since 1936, the law has made a clear distinction between property that belongs to the king as a person and that which belongs to the crown as an institution. The Crown Property Bureau (CPB) exists to manage the property of the crown. This property does not belong to the king in his private capacity, but to the monarchy as an institution which continues from reign to reign. This rather special category of property arose when an absolute monarchy, under which the king was lord over his realm and everything in it, both people and property, evolved into a constitutional monarchy that exists within a vibrant globalised economy.

By legal definition, the CPB is a juristic person. It is not part of the palace administration, nor is it a government agency, nor is it a private firm. It is a unique institution. It is also a rather mysterious institution.

The distinction between crown and person is now removed by the changes made by the military junta, responding to the king’s demand.

A later part of the chapter is about The Crown Property Act of 1948 which:

… reconstituted the CPB as a juristic person, independent of government and not placed under any ministry. The minister of finance remained as the ex-officio chairman of the CPB board. Other board members were to be appointed by the king. One of these would hold the post of director-general of the CPB and have full executive power.

That was also changed a couple of weeks ago. Now the king has control of the CPB. As the article states, this change “removes any pretence that the assets are for anything other than the private use of the eccentric king.”

Air Chief Marshal Satitpong Sukvimol is now the “chair the bureau, a role which was previously held by the finance minister.” The report states that “Satitpong is Vajiralongkorn’s long-serving private secretary and was put in charge of the king’s private property in January.” The linking of the king’s private property and that of the crown, long a fiction in reality but maintained in law, is now gone, giving Vajiralongkorn control over a vast economic empire. PPT estimates that the CPB controls assets of about $55-60 billion and his personal property is likely to be at least another $10 billion.

The changes at the CPB go further, with the king putting other trusted favorites on its board. The table below shows the board before and after the change. THe sources are the 2016 Annual Report by the CPB (it can be downloaded) and the Thai version of the CPB’s webpage on the Board of Directors:

As can be seen, those added are all former or current military and police officers, all of whom have been close to the prince-now-king and have seen promotions under his new reign.

We can return to Marshall’s comments. He says that the king “seems determined to reassert the rule of monarchy and he doesn’t want all these rules and regulations … he wants everyone to know that he controls the money…”. He’s got that. He also notes that the “king is notoriously spendthrift.” That’s true and he now has a huge pile of loot to use.

We recall that the monarchy and state were almost bankrupted when King Vajiravudh governed through cronies and was spendthrift. It remains to be seen whether Vajiralongkorn will cause the same level of disquiet that was seen under Vajiravudh and which inexorably led to the 1932 Revolution.