Recalling the 2006 military coup

20 09 2019

The army’s task: coups and repression

19 September was the anniversary of the 2006 military coup. This was the coup that set the path for Thailand’s decline into military-dominated authoritarianism based in ultra-royalist ideology.

Over the past couple of days we didn’t notice a lot of memorializing of the event that illegally removed then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai Party, with tanks on the streets and soldiers decked out in royal yellow.

The military soon hoisted Privy Councilor Gen Surayud Chulanont into the prime ministership.

Anointing the 2006 coup

As we know, the coup did not succeed in its self-assigned task of rooting out the “Thaksin regime,” with Thaksin’s parties having been the most successful over the years that have followed and when the military permitted elections. This is why the 2014 coup was aimed at “putting things right,” through a more thorough political repression and a rigging of the political system for the ruling class. It also unleashed a rabid use of lese majeste to destroy that class’s political opponents.

One effort to recall the 2006 coup was by Ji Ungpakorn. He observes the:

forces behind the 19th September coup were anti-democratic groups in the military and civilian elite, disgruntled business leaders and neo-liberal intellectuals and politicians. The coup was also supported by the monarchy….

2006 coup

And adds:

Most NGOs and large sections of the middle classes also supported the coup. What all these groups had in common was contempt or hatred for the poor. For them, “too much democracy” gave “too much” power to the poor electorate and encouraged governments to “over-spend” on welfare. For them, Thailand is still divided between the “enlightened middle-classes who understand democracy” and the “ignorant rural and urban poor”. In fact, the reverse is the case. It is the poor who understand and are committed to democracy while the so-called middle classes are determined to hang on to their privileges by any means possible.

For a flavor of the times, see reports of the coup by the BBC and The Guardian. For early efforts to understand the 2006 coup, consider Ji’s A Coup for the Rich, Thailand Since the Coup, and Thailand and the “good coup.”

It’s been downhill since 2006: repression, military political domination and ultra-royalism, leading to a form of neo-feudalism in contemporary Thailand.





Updated: Constitutional Court ignores constitution I

11 09 2019

As far as we can tell from breaking news, in among a bunch of technicalities, the Constitutional Court has behaved exactly as expected and said that there’s no constitutional problem with the prime minister and his ministers not swearing an oath as set out in the constitution.

From Ji Ungpakorn’s blog

We could surmise that, like more or less everyone else, the Court is spineless when faced with the king’s neo-feudal moves. But, then, the Court has been hopelessly politicized for years and has repeatedly made decisions that favor Thailand’s ruling class and the monarchy-military alliance.

The irony on this decisions – if we have it right – is that the Constitutional Court has ignored the constitution. Just as a heroin smuggler can be a minister, the constitution no longer matters. As we have long observed, Thailand ruling regime is essentially lawless. When you have a king who can do what he wants, who needs laws?

Update: The Bangkok Post reports on the Court’s decision:

The Constitutional Court on Wednesday threw out a complaint about the failure of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his cabinet ministers to recite the complete oath of office.

The court voted unanimously that it had no authority to consider issues between the administrative branch and the monarchy.

In essence, while so much of the constitution refers to the monarchy, the Constitutional Court now claims to have no authority. Remarkable.

Remarkably feudal.

But what perfect timing! This decision takes the wind out of the opposition’s sails. We guess that is what it was meant to do.





On king and military

5 09 2019

The Economist has an article this week on King Vajiralongkorn’s political rise. We at PPT don’t agree with all of it, but we reproduce it in full as it will likely be banned in hard copy in Thailand and finding it online may be difficult.

For the record, we disagree on the significance of factionalism in the military. Military watchers over emphasize this. Nor do we think the relationship between King Bhumibol and the military was in any way “ambiguous.”

RIGID AND austere, King Chulalongkorn, the fifth monarch of Thailand’s Chakri dynasty, gazes across Bangkok’s Royal Plaza from a gleaming steed. The bronze statue is just one immovable legacy of the Thai monarchy. The mindset of the country’s armed forces is another. The king overhauled them late in the 19th century, founding a military and naval academy, creating a ministry of defence and indelibly associating them with the crown.

Thailand’s generals have seized power 12 times since a revolution brought an end to absolute monarchy in 1932. The most recent coup was in 2014. The general who led it, Prayuth Chan-ocha, has remained prime minister ever since. But his authority over the army he once commanded is fading. Instead it is King Maha Vajiralongkorn who is fast becoming the biggest influence over Thailand’s men and women in uniform.

The armed forces have never really proved themselves in war. Instead they have focused on battling their country’s politicians. Their most fearsome foe was Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they ousted as prime minister in 2006. The feud between his supporters and opponents has tortured Thai politics ever since. But the army appears finally to have bested its enemy, presiding over a rigged election in March that relegated the Thaksinites to a parliamentary minority for the first time since 2001. Politicians backing the army have formed a coalition government led by Mr Prayuth. But the coalition is a rickety one, composed of 18 different parties. That leaves Mr Prayuth ever more dependent on the veneer of legitimacy provided by the king.

The army’s penchant for politics has always been tied to the prestige of the monarchy. “The consent of the governed is less important than the imprimatur of the monarch,” explains Gregory Raymond of the Australian National University. Military regimes bolster their legitimacy by slavish devotion to the crown. A symbiotic relationship between the barracks and the palace has endured since the 1950s, each defending the other’s standing.

Close ties to the royals help the armed forces avoid change. The last coup voided a constitution which had established legislative scrutiny over defence policy. Modest reforms occurred after soldiers killed dozens of democratic protesters in 1992 and again after the Asian financial crisis of 1997. Mr Thaksin managed to reduce the army’s budget and placed allies in senior military posts, but achieved little lasting change. Governments which make serious attempts to clip the army’s wings tend to get ousted, as Mr Thaksin’s was. Even so, a popular new party, Future Forward, wants to reduce the number of generals, end conscription and cut military budgets.

The main impetus for change is coming from the palace itself, however. King Vajiralongkorn, who attended an Australian military academy, served in the army and holds the ranks of field marshal, admiral and air marshal, is obsessed with military titles, training and hierarchy. He expects others to share his passion. The queen, a former flight attendant, has risen through the ranks of his personal guard. Her ascent was not purely a show of grace and favour: she had to complete gruelling training with her men. She now holds the rank of general. His official concubine, a former nurse, was promoted to major-general this year. While crown prince, the king made his pet poodle, since deceased, an air marshal.

Since he came to the throne almost three years ago, the king has increased the clout of the monarchy in various ways, dispensing with a regent when he is abroad and taking direct control over the administration of all crown property. He has also inserted himself into the administration of the army. A new unit, the Royal Command Guard, has been created at his behest. It includes many of his former bodyguards. Its 5,000-odd soldiers will be under the direct command of the monarch and will be stationed in the heart of Bangkok. At the same time, an infantry regiment and a cavalry battalion that were instrumental in past coups have been ordered out of the capital. This will make it much harder for the army to launch coups without securing the support of the king in advance.

King Vajiralongkorn has stoked factionalism, too, weakening the bond between the army and the government that it installed. Mr Prayuth and his deputy prime minister, Prawit Wongsuwan, are both former army chiefs. They rose up through the Queen’s Guard, elite troops from a regiment within the army’s Second Infantry Division. The current army chief, Apirat Kongsompong, belongs to the King’s Guard, a faction nestled instead within the First Infantry Division. The king himself once served in it. General Apirat must retire next year and his most likely successor is also from the King’s Guard.

During the reign of the king’s father, Bhumibol, the relationship between the armed forces and the monarchy was ambiguous. The king’s advisers had a role in the appointment of senior generals, but then again, most of them were former generals themselves. The king never visibly opposed the many coups that took place during his reign, but he did once give a dressing down to a coup leader who had violently suppressed public protests, causing the offending general to resign.

Under King Vajiralongkorn, the ambiguity has diminished. Mr Prayuth has meekly complied with even the most awkward of the king’s demands, agreeing, for instance, to change the text of the new constitution even after Thai voters had signed off on it. The king left the generals squirming by declining to accept the crown for almost two months after his father’s death, in an unexpected show of modesty. “Prayuth’s days are numbered,” predicts Paul Chambers of Naresuan University. And when the inevitable happens and the army next mounts a coup, the king will be in a commanding position.





Constitutionalism and neo-feudalism

3 09 2019

Atiya Achakulwisut has an op-ed of note with the Bangkok Post. It deserves wide consideration because she raises uncomfortable issues that have been avoided by the mainstream media when discussing Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s un/anti-constitutional oath given before the king, as premier and for his ministers. We will mention just a couple of points here, as teasers to encourage readers to read her op-ed if they haven’t done so already.

She comments that Gen Prayuth’s omission of a sentence pledging to uphold the constitution in his oath began “as a gaffe but has taken on a mysterious tone as no explanation has been given.” We don’t think it a “gaffe, but it is the “mystery” that warrants attention. Making the mystery far less mysterious, last week, the king’s support for the premier and his ministers in an ostentatious ceremony. As usual, the king was cavorting in Europe, meaning the ministers bowed and prostrated before a photo of the monarch. But the message from the king was crystal clear, even if Atiya reckons the event added to the “mystery.”

For the feudal lord

She then raises an important issue:

At this point, it is not clear if the failure to utter the complete oath constitutes a breach of the constitution. However, the Office of the Ombudsman believes this to be the case and forwarded a complaint to the Constitution Court.

Moreover, it’s also not clear what implications the incomplete oath will have on the government’s policies and actions if the oath slip is found to be against the constitution.

And then Atiya gets to the point:

It also does not help that the oath-taking controversy concerns the monarchy and a willingness on the PM’s part to abide by the constitution. Both are sensitive issues in Thai politics.

… Although the opposition is set to launch a general debate against the premier about the oath gaffe on Friday, the government is suggesting that the session be conducted behind closed doors as it concerns the monarchy.

She reinforces this point by pointing to an online-arranged effort by some activists to challenge/know “whether it’s against the law not to stand during the royal anthem in theatres…”.

It seems that a backlash against rising neo-feudalism may (re-) emerge.





Kooky king, lese majeste and opponents

30 08 2019

Back in 2016, the New York Post described Vajiralongkorn as a “kooky king.” The same newspaper had another eye-catching headline: “Thailand’s new king is a kooky crop top-wearing playboy.” Of course, such descriptions downplay the fear associated with an erratic, neo-feudal, nasty and grasping king (see here, here, here, here and here, for examples).

The recent exposure of the king’s ardent promotion of his senior concubine has created another round of stories on the king’s eccentricities. One summary is at the Insider is of an “eccentric king.” A similar “playboy king” story is at MEAWW . In a story on the consort photos at Rolling Stone, one academic notes the similarities in the approach to royal publicity used elsewhere in the world, a point PPT made a couple of days ago.

At the same time, however, there are recent stories that show the nastier nature of the monarch. One story comes from exiled anti-royalist dissidents who have staged a rally in Paris to remember the plight of eight missing comrades, believed “disappeared” by the royalist Thai state. The participants included the Faiyen band.

Clipped from AsiaNews

The report states:

At the Paris rally, the musicians played some satirical songs full of political nuances about King Rama X, who succeeded his father in 2016. Other songs targeted Thai generals, who took power five years ago with the blessing of the Royal Palace and have kept it even after disputed elections last March.

It reminds readers that:

Since December 2018, six exiles holding anti-monarchist opinion disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Families assume they are dead and blame Thai special forces for their death.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

And, it adds that two mutilated bodies of exiles have been found while Surachai Danwattananusorn is still missing, believed murdered.

In Thailand, officials have not investigated the murders or the missing. This is usually a sign of some kind of royal involvement in the grisly events.

In another important report, Prachatai summarizes a Thai Lawyers for Human Rights analysis of lese majeste prisoners who remain in jail. The report states that in August 2019:

there are at least 25 people still imprisoned throughout the country on charges under Article 112 in cases related to freedom of expression. This number does not include those charged under Article 112 in cases related to fraud or personal interest.

It must be emphasized that those charged with lese majeste for “fraud” or “personal interest” probably include several who were previously related to the palace and the king’s third wife, Srirasmi, who has been under house arrest since late 2014. The real number of lese majeste prisoners remains unknown. That affirmed, Prachatai’s graphic is worth reproducing:





Denying constitutionalism, affirming neo-feudalism II

27 08 2019

Thailand has reached yet another political crossroads.

The military dictatorship was responsible for the 2017 constitution. The charter as designed by the junta was meant to maintain the junta in power for years to come. Unlike the 1997 constitution, it was never meant to be an imperfect effort to democratize the nation and to give average people a say in governance. The 2017 charter was an exercise in maintaining the power and position of the ruling class.

The king demanded changes to the junta’s constitution – and got them. The changes he wanted shifted power towards the palace.

Self-crowned

But this was not enough. The king wants more. He’s keen to remake Thailand as a neo-feudal political system with him at the pinnacle.

As we posted a week or so ago, the failure of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to say all of the oath required by the constitution is very likely the king’s idea. Under the provisions of his own constitution, Prayuth was meant to say:

I, (name of the declarer), do solemnly declare that I will be loyal to the King and will faithfully perform my duties in the interests of the country and of the people. I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect.

He babbled something along these lines with the struck through words left out. In other words, it is the king that matters, not the constitution.

We guess the king reckons everything went skewiff for the monarchy when a constitution was foisted upon it in 1932.

There’s been controversy over the oath, with parliamentary debate likely and complaints made. Yet, today, the king has made his position crystal clear. As Khaosod reports it:

the King has instructed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his cabinet to hold true to their oath and solve the country’s problems earnestly.

In messages presented to cabinet members in an elaborate ceremony at Government House today, King Vajiralongkorn also expressed moral support for the government and urged it to be strong. The messages were personally signed by … the King.

Prayuth and the cabinet members received copies of the message one by one in front of a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn.

For the feudal lord (clipped from Khaosod)

Yes, that’s right, the king is off in Europe and thinks so little of the constitution and people’s sovereignty, he reckons some certificates for ministers, his expression of support and a portrait of himself will see off the opposition and “his” government will not have to worry too much about the constitution. Rather, the government will serve the king, not the people (or even the whole ruling class).

Meanwhile, it seems the Ombudsman somehow missed the message. As the Bangkok Post reports, that office has sent the oath issue to the Constitutional Court. We guess that court will do as expected and affirm that king and government may ignore the constitution.

That’s the political crossroads. Are Thais now willing, after more than 70 years of royalist preparation, to ditch constitutionalism and return to a modern, reinvented feudalism or neo-feudalism?

This is where all of the political action against electoral democracy of recent years has led. Under the leadership of palace, military and yellow shirts and supporters the question is now how far people are willing to discard their rights and what remains of a ragged political system in favor of an erratic and grasping king and his spineless minions.





Making the neo-feudal royal family

27 08 2019

It is said that the king long ago claimed that his royal family would be more like feudal royal families of the 19th century.

That may apply to the structure of the family – a queen and several concubines, each ranked and perhaps rising to queen as well – but the publicity associated with official senior concubine Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi looks more like a Hello magazine approach to royalty. “Celebrating” neo-feudalism in this manner is likely a means to promote the king’s popularity and to embed neo-feudalism.

So it is that the official tract about her is very … well … royal. The Bangkok Post has it as follows:

The King bestowed the title of Chao Khun Phra Sineenart Pilaskalayanee on Maj Gen Thanpuying Sineenart Wongvajirapakdi on July 28.

Born on Jan 26, 1985, in the northern province of Nan, she received her primary education at Rajapiyorasa Yupparachanusorn School in Nan’s Tha Wang Pha district before completing her secondary education at Thawangphapittayakhom School in the same district.

In 2008, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in nursing science from the Royal Thai Army Nursing College.

She went on to take several military training courses, graduating in jungle warfare in 2015 and a course offered by the army’s Command and General Staff College in 2017. Meanwhile she completed the Special Warfare School’s airborne training programme in 2015 and then the Marine Corps School airborne programme in 2017.

She graduated from the Royal Thai Air Force’s Flying Training School, and also joined the private pilot licence programme at the Jesenwang flying school [maybe this one] in Germany.

She has been serving as His Majesty the King’s bodyguard since 2017.

Presumably his wife – the most recent one – has agreed to this arrangement or must be accepting of it in the neo-feudal palace.

The photos that have been released seem rather more in the Hello style where the new rich and royalty rub shoulders across the pages, mixing the trashy, the feudal and the rich and sometimes a mix of all in the same story. One of the points of Hello-like publications is to make the fabulously rich seem less remote and even less feudal. The Thai-language version of Hello seems to also fit this model while seemingly doing more to emphasize hierarchy.

In making the neo-feudal more acceptable, it is noticed that concubine Sineenat is shown as talented – which royal isn’t? – capable and something of a fit match for the king as athletic, a pilot and a military woman. She is made to appear as a kind of woman copy of the king as they do the same things and dress identically.

Royal Household Bureau via Khaosod

She even fits the scanty clothing model of the king’s perfect woman, which was seen in the lewd video of him and former third wife, Srirasmi and then in the odd skimpy clothing paraded several times in Germany. In the most recent photos, Sineenat is shown as skimpily dressed while piloting a light aircraft.

Clipped from Reuters report

In other photos of her as military woman, she’s uniformed, but we don’t imagine that perfect makeup and diamond earrings are standard for the military.

While a Reuters report states that these were “unusually candid pictures,” but it is clear that the unusual (for the last almost 100 years) is being made usual. Don’t be surprised if Sineenart is promoted to queen.

The point of all of this seems to be to reinforce Thailand’s turn to neo-feudalism in the 10th reign.