Updated: Going for broke

31 03 2021

The regime apparently thinks it is strong enough to go for broke on lese majeste and nail its prime target Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. Given that it was actions against Thanathorn and the Future Forward Party more than a year ago that set off anti-regime protests, this move represents the regime’s victory lap.

ThanathornThanthorn has appeared before police to acknowledged the Article 112 charge filed by the regime.

Now chairman of the Progressive Movement, he “went to Nang Loeng Police Station in Bangkok on Tuesday morning to acknowledge the charge involving his Jan 18 Facebook Live criticising the government’s vaccine procurement plan.”

In speaking with reporters, Thanathorn said “he was confident he had not said anything that tarnished the institution and the clip was his effort to sincerely check the government.” He claims nothing he said contravened the Article 112.

Additionally, he faces “sedition and computer crime charges involving the clip.”

In reality, Thanathorn must be worried, even if the charge is fabricated. But fabricated lese majeste charges have been used to lock up and/or harass several others in the past. Who can forget the ludicrous 112 charge against Thanakorn Siripaiboon in 2015 for allegedly spreading “sarcastic” content via Facebook which was said to have mocked the then king’s dog. Thanakorn finally got off in early 2021, but had endured seven days of interrogation and physical assault at an Army camp and three months in prison.

Thanathorn is the main target of ultra-royalist hatred and fear, and they have been urging the regime to lock him up. They see him as the Svengali behind the anti-regime protesters and rising anti-monarchism, refusing to believe the protesters can think for themselves. The regime sees Thanathorn as a potent political threat. They have threatened and charged him with multiple offenses, disqualified him from parliament, dissolved the political party he formed, and brought charges against his family.

By targeting Thanathorn, the regime seems to believe that it is now positioned to defeat the protesters and to again crush anti-monarchism. But, it is a repression that remains a gamble.

Update: Rabid royalists are joining the regime in going after actress Inthira “Sai” Charoenpura and activist Pakorn Porncheewangkul “over donations they received in support of the protest movement.” They are “facing possible tax and anti-money laundering probes over their acceptance of public donations in support of the Ratsadon protests.” It is anti-democrat Watchara Phetthong, “a former Democrat Party MP,” who has “petitioned the Revenue Department and the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo) asking them to investigate Ms Inthira and fellow activist Pakorn…”.





Mad monarchist at it again

3 02 2021

Nathaporn (clipped from The Nation)

Mad monarchist conspiricist, royalist and lawyer Nathaporn Toprayoonis at it again. It is reported that he has submitted a petition to the Election Commission (EC) to dissolve the Move Forward Partyas he considers the party has engaged in “actions he deems hostile to democracy with the king as head of state.”

Nathaporn had earlier asked the Constitutional Court to dissolve the Future Forward Party with bizarre claims that the party was a secret society associated with the (fictitious) “Illuminati” global conspiracy. That claim was dismissed, but dissolving of Future Forward soon followed on other bogus grounds.

Nathaporn is a former advisor to the Chief Ombudsman and has previously acted as a lawyer for the People’s Alliance for Democracy, the Thai Patriots Network and other right-wing royalist groups.

In his new complaint, Nathaporn reflects the views of the establishment, so we’d guess that his petition might get some traction.

He claimed members of the party “encouraged and supported youth-led protesters by using their positions as MPs to bail them.”He added: “It’s clear the party was in cahoots with the demonstrators…”.

Like other rabid royalists, the party’s stand on Article 112 is considered anti-monarchy. He believes he has “evidence showing the party had breached Sections 45 and 92 of the Political Parties Act, which prohibit a party from promoting or supporting anyone in creating unrest or undermining good morality of people, and to oppose the rule of the country, respectively.”

He revealed that he had also “submitted a petition with the Constitution Court questioning the legitimacy of the party’s role in trying to rewrite the constitution and planned to file a similar complaint with Parliament.”

When the establishment gets monarchy mad, they do mad things.





A junta win

28 12 2020

One of the main aims of the long period of junta rule was to produce rules and manage politics in a manner that wound back the clock to a pre-1997 era of electoral politics.

Their efforts meant that the post-junta regime could finagle a national election “victory” and make use of the junta-appointed Senate to ensure that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha could continue as prime minister. At the same time, the regime had delayed and delayed local elections so that it could ensure that it had measures in place that prevented national election-like “surprises.” Of course, it also used the Army and ISOC to control civilian administration and arranged for the Future Forward Party to be dissolved.

When the post-junta regime got around to local elections, the result provided evidence that the electoral wind back had been successful.

While initial commentary focused on the “failure” of Move Forward. In fact, while the party didn’t win any Provincial Administrative Organization chair positions, its candidates took more then 50 PAO seats and received 2.67 million votes.  This was on a voter turnout of just over 62% – low compared to the national election.

As time has gone on, commentators have become more incisive in assessing the results. Thai Enquirer wrote of a return to old-style politics, with political dynasties controlling local politics. A Bangkok Post editorial also focused on these factors, commenting: “About 40% of the winners of the PAO elections, Thailand’s first local elections in some seven years, are old faces, with the ruling Palang Pracharath Party making a big sweep in more than 20 provinces, followed by Bhumjaithai, almost 10, and Pheu Thai, nine.”

Recently, Peerasit Kamnuansilpa is Dean, College of Local Administration, Khon Kaen University writing at the Bangkok Post, has explained the big picture. He asks: “Are these elections really meaningful?” He concludes: “The net result is business as usual for PAOs, and Thailand will still be the prisoner of a highly centralised local administration.”

Helpfully, Peerasit lists the reasons for the failure of local democracy, all of them focused on junta/post-junta efforts to turn the clock back. He observes that the junta/post-junta has co-opted “local governments to become agents of the central government…”. He explains:

Following the 2014 coup, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), under then-army chief Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha upended a foundation of Thai democracy by issuing an order to suspend local elections. The politically powerful junta then began to co-opt all locally elected politicians and local government officials to become centrally appointed representatives of the central government.

This process began with NCPO’s Order Number 1/2557, in which one prescribed role of the locally elected leaders was to become partners of the military junta in restoring peace and order to the country. This made them complicit in undermining local governments in exchange for being able to legitimately keep their positions for an unspecified period of time without having to undergo the process of competing with other local candidates to secure the consent of the local citizens to allow them to serve. In other words, if they played ball with the junta, they would not need to face elections.

This “co-optation was then delegated to the Interior Ministry. This change obligated the leaders and the executives of all local governments to be accountable to the central government, thus becoming de facto representatives of the central government. Consequently, local leaders then had an allegiance to the powers in the central government.”

His view is that a promising decentralization has been destroyed: “In effect, the central government is — and has been — committed to failure from the beginning, by creating weak local government organisations.”

The people are not fooled and he reports data that “revealed that, when compared to other types of local governments, the PAOs were perceived as less beneficial than all other types of local governments within the surveyed provinces.” PAO level government is a processing terminal for the regime:

… PAO’s primary function has remained: serving as a conduit of budget allocation to be “authorised” by the provincial governor. This budgetary control by the governor is actually a smokescreen for influence by the central government of 76 provincial budgets, accounting for a very large amount of funding.

While yet another decline in Thailand’s democracy can be lamented, the fact remains that this is exactly what the junta wanted when it seized power in 2014.

 





Updated: Confrontation looms

25 11 2020

The use of lese majeste and the multiple threats of arrest today have mounted. The regime has seemingly calculated that the events at police headquarters and the royal family’s PR blitz and its “demonstrated generosity,” that a crackdown on protesters targeting the king and his wealth may not earn them “too much” public derision.

Police and military are preparing for tonight’s rally at the Crown Property Bureau. Razor wire is up and the so-called “royal” exclusion zone established. That the military has been active with helicopters suggests preparations for a confrontation.

Thai PBS reports that “increased helicopter activity, heard over several areas of Bangkok on Monday night,” and “which went on for hours” was described  by Army Chief Gen Narongphan Chitkaewtae as “part of security arrangements for the motorcade of … the King and Queen…”. We fear it is preparations for tonight, especially when he added that while “it is the police’s responsibility to deal with the rally,” the army is prepared to “help” if “there is a request from the police.”

The Free Youth have also upped the anty, publishing this statement:

Meanwhile the regime is doubling down. Neo-fascist member of the Democrat Party coalition party, Deputy Transport Minister Thaworn Senniam declared that the regime arrest Progressive Movement’s Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul for being responsible for the uprising and anti-monarchism.

He “explained”:

“As a Thai citizen and a Democrat MP, I will perform my duty to protect the Nation, the Religion, the Monarchy and the democratic system with the King as the head of state,” said Thavorn, claiming that 90 percent of the Thai population agree with him.

As “evidence” he “showed the media today a video clip of Piyabutr giving a speech at the University of London, on the topic of “Is Thailand in a Deeper State of Crisis?” on June 11th, 2016.” Yes, that’s more than four years ago.

On Thanathorn, Thaworn says that “in several speeches, has stressed the need for reform of the Thai Monarchy, adding that the founding of the Future Forward Party, which was dissolved by the Constitutional Court, was intended to achieve that goal.”

He went on to accuse “Thanathorn and Piyabutr of spending more than eight months brainwashing and inciting hatred of the Monarchy among Thai youth, with the intention of turning the protests into riots and, eventually, civil war.”

In fact, Thaworn is simply reflecting the views of ultra-royalists and rightists who are baying for blood.

It will be a difficult evening as the regime, at this point, seems to have drawn its line in the sand and the rally is likely to test that.

Update: As has happened previously, the anti-government protesters have changed their rally site, reducing the prospect of a clash. The new location is related as the rally will be at the Siam Commercial Bank HQ, with the king being the biggest shareholder in the bank.

We are not sure that the change was to avoid a clash and the inordinate efforts the regime had taken to seal off the area around the CPB, or just a prank to make the regime expend effort and look a bit silly.

The regime has barricaded the area around the CPB, with “[r]olls of razor wire and steel barricades…”, mainly shipping containers stacked end-to-end and two high. These efforts caused huge traffic jams. In addition, “[s]oldiers in plain clothes were seen deployed around the CPB…”.





Updated: Royalist rancor

12 11 2020

The Nation, Bangkok Post, and Thai PBS all report royalist harassment of Progressive Movement and former Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit in Nakhon Si Thammarat. He was in the South, meeting candidates from the Movement campaigning for local elections.

The reporting is pathetically limp, reflecting the fact that the mainstream media knows that the yellow-shirted royalists are being organized by regime, military and palace.

Evidence for this is seen in the way that police were deployed but tended to allow the royalists to threaten and demand:

Police were deployed to maintain order at the site and keep the crowd from entering the compound of a hotel where Mr Thanathorn had booked to stay.

However, the crowd demanded all the vehicles leaving the hotel premises lower their windows. A brief commotion broke out when a white car with heavily tinted windows refused to do so. Police intervened and managed to let the car pass.

Clipped from Nikkei Asian Review

That attack saw royalists “surrounding a car and shouting for Thanathorn to ‘get out of Thailand’. They also accuse Thanathorn of wanting to overthrow the monarchy and ‘sell the country to foreigners’. One protester thrashe[d] the car with a flag.”

Their “demands” reflect debunked claims initially peddled by foreign-funded fake news sites and spread by mad monarchists to their networks.

One report referred to this incident in biased terms, saying that Thanathorn “encountered resistance from pro-Monarchy demonstrators…”. That unethically downplays a rising rightist potential for violence.

Thanathorn said the “protesters who mobbed a car … were acting in the mistaken belief that he was inside. Posting on Facebook, Thanathorn expressed concern for the victims, who he said were ordinary people unrelated to him.”

He added that “the yellow-shirt protesters were living under an illusion that he was the problem, when in fact it was corrupt local politicians who had taken over their lives. They had been lied to and made to believe that those seeking changes for a better of society were planning to overthrow the monarchy…”.

Thanathorn had offered to meet “representatives” of the rabid royalists, “but they declined, insisting that they all wanted to see him, to question him about his position vis-à-vis the [m]onarchy.”

After the incident, he cancelled his other appointments.

A similar incident happened on Tuesday, in Samut Prakan, suggesting that royalists are stalking him.

Update: Here’s some video of the royalists at work:





Military and their (slave) conscripts

10 11 2020

One of the policies that attracted voters to the Future Forward Party was to get rid of military conscription in peacetime.

Rangsiman Rome of the Move Forward Party has revealed that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has dumped the “military conscription bill by refusing to endorse it.”

The bill was meant “to create professional armed forces that are smaller but more efficient. The number of recruits will be lower but they will be trained more intensively.”

Of course, as has been pointed out many times, including at PPT, what the military brass wants is no so much conscripts, but slaves. Not that long ago, Wilat Chantarapitak, a former Democrat Party MP and former advisor to a parliamentary anti-corruption committee, said the conscription system is “riddled with corruption because more than half of the conscripts end up as servants in the houses of senior officers or in military cooperative shops.”

The stories of conscripts being flogged, enslaved and exploited are common and several conscripts die in circumstances that the military almost never satisfactorily investigates or explains. Yet, as the Post notes, “[o]ver the past six years, demand for conscripts by the armed forces was on the rise, from 94,480 in 2013 to 104,734 in 2019.”

And, as soon as Rangsiman revealed The Dictator’s move, it was reported, sadly, that another two conscripts “were found dead in their bases in the Northeast.” In one case, the mother of the deceased stated that “he was pinned to the floor while his hair was cut and hit in the back. Chili and salt were put on his back…”. The other reportedly dies in a military prison.

A feudal institution maintains not just its loyalty to a feudal monarch but to feudal (mal)practices.

 





Law as political weapon

31 10 2020

It was only a few days ago that we posted on the ever pliant Election Commission deciding to file criminal charges against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit for the time when he was with the Future Forward Party. It no coincidence that the regime believes Thanathorn behind the rallies. In addition, its pretty clear he’s being punished for his questioning of the monarch’s use of taxpayer funds and for posing a challenge to the ruling regime and the ruling class.

The regime’s strategy, managed by Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and the odious Wissanu Krea-ngam is to tie the upstart opposition (and student protesters) into legal knots.

The Thai Enquirer reports on yet another regime move against the former Future Forward and now heading up the Progressive Movement.

The former leaders of the dissolved Future Forward Party – Thanathorn, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, and Pannika Wanichhave – been summoned by police “to hear charges of sedition and other alleged crimes…”. As the newspaper puts it, this is “continuing a judicial campaign against people thought to be behind the current pro-democracy protests.”

Summoning the three is a step taken before issuing arrest warrants.

Piyabutr pointed out the bias and yet more bending of the rules for the regime:

“If the police take off their uniforms and think back to their second year in law school, they would know very well that almost every warrant that was issued [is not a real violation of section 116],” Piyabutr said.

“Thailand is unlucky because these police officers have to throw away everything they learned in order to become part of the government’s mechanism and serve the people in power,” he added.

A Bangkok Post picture

That the judicial system is now a tool for repression is now widely acknowledged – we have been saying it for years – with even the Bangkok Post’s opinion page scribbler Thitinan Pongsudhirak writing:

When Thailand’s justice system issues decisions that have political ramifications, fewer people are holding their breath these days because conclusions are increasingly foregone. In fact, when the historical record comes into fuller view, it will be seen that the politicisation of the judiciary has fundamentally undermined Thailand’s fragile democratic development and reinforced authoritarian rule that has been resurgent over the past 15 years.

He adds something else we have been saying for years:

The lesson is that Thailand’s political party system has been deliberately weakened and kept weak to keep established centres of power in the military, monarchy, judiciary, and bureaucracy paramount and decisive. No democracy can take root until voters have an equal say on how they are to be governed without the usurpation and distortion of party dissolutions and power plays behind the scenes.

The point of the junta’s time in power was to ensure that there was 20 years of non-democracy.





Updated: More judicial contortion

27 10 2020

Two legal cases suggest just how hopeless the situation has become under the junta.

The first is a case that is, for many, at he core of the rebellion currently seen in the country. Back in February, the Constitutional Court tied itself in knots by bending laws to order the Future Forward Party dissolved over a loan to the party from Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, conjuring the loan into a gift. It also banned Thanathorn and the members of FFP executive committee from politics from 10 years. It cleared all other pro-regime parties of similar charges.

Now, the ever pliant Election Commission today decided to file criminal charges against Thanathorn. Of course they are. Is it no coincidence that the regime believes Thanathorn behind the rallies. In addition, its pretty clear he’s being punished for his questioning of the monarch’s use of taxpayer funds.

This sounds a bit like pouring gas on a fire. But neither the regime nor the king are particularly thoughtful.

The second story is about the Army’s murder of Chaiyapoom Pasae. The Civil Court has ignored all of the evidence of the Army’s culpability, withholding of evidence and track record of filing the same evidence in two cases, to dismiss a case against the Army. It seems it is far better to side with the Army and believe its “witnesses” than to risk abolishing the impunity the Army enjoys.

Double standards, again and again and again.

Update: Prachatai has a useful report on Chaiyapoom’s case. It details the problems with the evidence and judgement. The courts under the junta and the regime have become a joke.





The Economist on King Vajiralongkorn

16 10 2020

The Economist has a timely briefing on the king. With humble apologies to the publisher for taking it in full, but it is very good and deserves to be read by all. Here it is:

Battle royal
Thailand’s king seeks to bring back absolute monarchy
Maha Vajiralongkorn has provoked something new in Thailand: open criticism of a king

THE MONUMENTS disappear in the dark. In April 2017 it was a small bronze plaque from Bangkok’s Royal Plaza. It marked the spot where, in 1932, revolutionaries proclaimed the end of Thailand’s absolute monarchy. In December 2018 a statue was hauled away. It commemorated the defeat of rebels who attempted a coup against those same revolutionaries. Last month activists installed a plaque in the heart of Bangkok’s royal district to protest against the missing monuments. “The people have expressed the intention that this country belongs to the people, and not the king”, it stated. Within a day it was gone.

The world knows Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn as a playboy who has churned through four wives, lives among lots of women in a German hotel and relishes skimpy crop tops that reveal elaborate temporary tattoos. For Thais, his four-year-old reign has been more sinister.

The king makes elderly advisers crawl before him, shaves the heads of courtiers who displease him and has disowned several of his children. Worse, he has steadily amassed power, taking personal control of “crown property”, assuming direct command of troops and ordering changes to the constitution. He makes no secret of his hankering for the days of absolute monarchy (hence the disappearing monuments). But Thais began to protest in July. Can they prevent the removal not just of plaques, but of constitutional constraints?

On October 14th thousands of protesters marched through central Bangkok to camp outside Government House, where ministers’ offices are located. They also formed human chains to carry away potted plants that blocked the way to the country’s Democracy Monument. Not far away King Vajiralongkorn himself, in the country on a fleeting visit, passed by in a motorcade. Clusters of royalists gathered wearing yellow shirts to show their loyalty to him.

That night a spooked government issued an emergency decree banning gatherings of more than four people and prohibiting reporting on topics that could “harm national security” or “cause panic”. The government warned that protesters who insulted the monarchy would be prosecuted. Several prominent leaders of the protest were arrested the following morning. Yet tensions increased as protests continued in defiance of the decree.

Thailand defines itself as a democracy with the king as head of state. The monarchy is revered. Photographs of royals adorn public buildings and private homes. Father’s Day is celebrated on the previous king’s birthday. Thais hear a royal anthem before films start at the cinema.

Technically King Vajiralongkorn rules as a constitutional monarch. But ancient structures have never entirely disappeared. The king used to sit at the apex of society in a semi-divine role. Defenders of the vestiges of this order have long clashed with those claiming to represent an alternative source of authority: the Thai people.

The conflict helps explain why Thailand has endured 12 coups and 20 constitutions since 1932. Since the 1950s a symbiotic relationship between the army and the palace has bolstered the legitimacy of military regimes. For the past two decades the greatest foe of such elites has been Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist prime minister ousted by the army in 2006. His supporters, known as red shirts, battled their yellow-shirted foes in the streets on several occasions in the years after he lost power.

The generals engineered a coup in 2014. The commander who led it, Prayuth Chan-ocha, remains prime minister. An army-friendly constitution disadvantaged large parties, such as Mr Thaksin’s flagship one, Pheu Thai, in an election last year.

One supposed reason why the army seized power six years ago was to ensure a steady succession between the ninth and tenth monarchs of the Chakri dynasty. King Vajiralongkorn’s path to the throne was not simple. Thailand’s elites took against him while his popular father still lived. King Bhumibol Adulyadej was considered the richest monarch in the world, his wealth outstripping that of oil-endowed Middle Eastern rulers and Europe’s royals with their castles and palaces.

Aristocratic types fretted because the crown prince, as Vajiralongkorn was previously known, caused so many scandals. Even his mother likened him to Don Juan. After leaving his first wife, a princess in her own right, he disowned four of his five children with his second wife, an actress, who eventually fled Thailand. When the relationship ended with his third wife—once filmed almost naked and crouching before her husband with birthday cake—several of her family members went to prison. The prince spent lavishly and indulged in eccentricity, elevating his beloved poodle, Foo Foo, to the rank of “air chief marshal”.

Still, King Vajiralongkorn took over unimpeded after his father’s death. Whereas the father was publicly loved, the son is privately loathed. His coronation last year attracted tiny crowds compared with those at the late king’s funeral rites. Despite his co-operation with army regimes, millions of Thais felt King Bhumibol displayed the virtues expected of a Buddhist monarch.

King Vajiralongkorn does not even live in Thailand. He rules a country of 70m people from more than 5,000 miles away in Germany. One insider bluntly appraises his activities there: “Bike, fuck, eat. He does only those three things.” The German government finds his presence awkward. “We have made it clear that politics concerning Thailand should not be conducted from German soil,” the foreign minister, Heiko Maas, told the Bundestag on October 7th.

Money, money, money

The king’s militaristic harem inspires embarrassing headlines around the world. Just months after his fourth marriage to a former air stewardess last year, he elevated one concubine, a former nurse, to the status of “royal noble consort”. She is the first woman to hold this title since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy.

Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi fell from grace soon after her elevation. She disappeared from view. Then, in September, she was reinstated and declared “untainted”. Chinese netizens have likened Ms Sineenat to a crafty concubine from a popular television series, “Empresses in the Palace”.

In March 2012 permission from the Justice Department was published in the Royal Gazette for a temporary prison. A spartan map appears to show its location as possibly within the grounds of a palace owned by Vajiralongkorn. His bad books are a miserable place to be. Pictures allegedly of Srirasmi Suwadee, once his third wife, appeared in a German newspaper last year. Head shaved and tearful, she was reported as being under house arrest.

Airing such dirty linen in public in Thailand, however, is perilous. The country’s lèse-majesté law allows between three and 15 years in prison for insulting “the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent”. King Vajiralongkorn has instructed the government not to use the law. But this hardly reflects newfound tolerance. Critics instead risk charges for sedition or computer crime, among others. In July one man was sent to a psychiatric hospital for wearing a T-shirt that stated: “I have lost all faith in the institution of monarchy”.

Playboy antics distract from the more sinister feats of the monarch since he came to power. In political, financial and military matters King Vajiralongkorn has gained powers never possessed by his father. His interventions appear part of a larger strategy to push Thailand closer to absolute monarchy once more.

Take his finances. In 2017 he gained full control of the Crown Property Bureau (CPB), which manages royal investments (it was previously run by the ministry of finance). Its holdings are estimated to be worth $40bn. In 2018 the CPB declared that its assets would be considered the king’s personal property. As a result the monarch has stakes in some of Thailand’s corporate titans. He is the largest shareholder in Siam Cement Group, a conglomerate with revenues of almost $14bn in 2019, with a third of its shares. The head of the CPB, long a stalwart in the king’s circles, is a director of Siam Cement Group and of the 113-year-old Siam Commercial Bank, one of Thailand’s biggest, in which the king also has a stake.

In addition to the king’s private means, the Thai state showers the royal family with funds. For the 2021 fiscal year government agencies have drawn up budgets which allocate more than 37bn baht—over $1.1bn—to the monarchy. The Royal Office will receive 9bn baht of that directly. Much of the rest goes to government agencies, the police and the defence ministry for security and for development projects. By comparison, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth cost her taxpayers the equivalent of $87m last year. Precise details on where the money goes are elusive. Huge sums go to pay for royal transport alone (there are many planes and helicopters to maintain).

King Vajiralongkorn’s political interventions are another demonstration of his growing authority. In theory the monarch sits above parties, parliament and politics. But after a referendum in 2016, in which campaigners were banned from opposing the constitution put forward for approval, the monarch demanded changes to the charter. He altered it specifically to make ruling from afar easier.

He meddled even more audaciously ahead of last year’s parliamentary election. Mr Thaksin persuaded the king’s older sister to run as a putative prime ministerial candidate for a party with links to him. But the crown in effect came to the rescue of Mr Thaksin’s military foes. The monarch declared his sister’s ambitions “unconstitutional”. He also stated that royals should stay out of politics—yet the night before the election, he urged Thais to vote for “good people”, which was taken as an endorsement of Mr Prayuth and his allies.

Tomorrow belongs to me

This is just one example of how the palace and the barracks have continued to support each other since King Vajiralongkorn came to the throne. The king has a deep interest in military matters. Trained in an Australian academy, he holds the titles of admiral, field-marshal and air-marshal. The queen is a general and Ms Sineenat a major-general. The king has drawn military forces to his direct command. The Royal Command Guard has been created with some 5,000 soldiers. They are stationed in Bangkok, while other important army units, including an infantry regiment and a cavalry battalion which have facilitated past coups, have been moved out of the city. Overthrowing any government without advance co-ordination with royal troops would prove extremely difficult.

Why has the army permitted such manoeuvres? Defence of the monarchy is one of its central reasons for existing. Both the powerful army commander who retired in September, and his replacement, are deeply loyal to the king. They also rose through the ranks of the King’s Guard, in which Vajiralongkorn himself once served. Mr Prayuth and his closest allies, by contrast, emerged from the Queen’s Guard within the Second Infantry Division.

The prime minister can hardly counter the monarch’s power grabs. He depends on the king’s support for a semblance of legitimacy. Whereas the middle and upper classes of many countries contain democratic champions, those of Thailand “have never needed mass support to advance or protect their interests”, explains James Wise, a former Australian ambassador to Thailand, in his book “Thailand: History, Politics and the Rule of Law”. These conservatives would not stand for an army-linked prime minister rebuffing the royal institution.

Mr Prayuth is also weak: he wrestles even with his allies in the ruling coalition and lacks personal popularity. That hinders his ability to tackle the difficulties Thailand faces. Growth was slowing even before the coronavirus pandemic struck (see chart). Now the central bank expects the economy to contract by more than 8% this year—worse than the crash in the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

Why should I wake up?

A very few opposition politicians have resisted King Vajiralongkorn’s growing control. In October most MPs from the liberal Future Forward Party, founded in 2018, opposed an executive decree in the lower house of parliament. The decree, which passed anyway, facilitated the partial transfer of army units and related budgetary allocations to the Royal Command Guard. Even so, it was the first time that lawmakers had ever opposed a legal procedure linked to the monarchy.

Future Forward no longer exists. Its platform in favour of democratic freedoms and army reform, as well as the popularity of its charismatic leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, made it a threat to the establishment. The outfit grew from nothing to become the country’s third-largest party in parliament in little more than a year. Legal cases against the institution and its leadership started to mount. In November Mr Thanathorn was stripped of his status as an MP. In February the party was dissolved by the constitutional court and its executives banned from politics for a decade. The judges decided that a loan Mr Thanathorn gave the party was an illegal breach of individual-donation limits.

Flash mobs mounted protests, though social-distancing measures soon put an end to them. The lull was temporary. Social media have provided an outlet for audacious criticisms. So widespread was moaning over the traffic jams caused by royal motorcades, for example, that in January the king instructed police not to close entire roads for travelling royals.

Other grumbles could not so easily be sorted. In August, after legal threats from the Thai government, Facebook blocked access from Thailand to a 1m-member group criticising the monarchy. “Requests like this are severe, contravene international-human rights law, and have a chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves,” the firm stated. It is preparing to mount a legal challenge.

Popular anger has moved from screens to streets. Since July protesters have gathered to call for the dissolution of the government, reform of the constitution and an end to the harassment of opposition activists. Students’ demonstrations inspired a wider swathe of Thais to march, too. Their efforts mark an evolution from the feud between red shirts and yellow shirts. New battle lines are over democratic freedoms.

Maybe this time

The boldest protesters have called openly for reform of the monarchy. They object to the king’s financial set-up and his consolidation of military power. Mr Thanathorn has also called for transparency about how state funds are spent on the monarchy.

The situation grew more serious as the protests swelled in size. The great fear is that the bloody treatment of student protesters in the 1970s will be repeated. In 1976 police, army and vigilante groups attacked students after they staged a mock hanging in protest against the killing of two pro-democracy activists. A story spread among royalists that the figure hanged resembled Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. According to official figures, 46 students died and more than 3,000 were arrested.

So far the authorities have arrested a few dozen protest leaders. The government had claimed it wanted to talk to students about their grievances. “Having a peaceful and civil dialogue where we exchange our views is the best approach for moving forward,” said the education minister. However, this week the establishment ran out of patience. If the prime minister cannot bring calm he may be replaced. Any drastic intervention is unlikely, however, without the monarch’s foreknowledge.

But King Vajiralongkorn’s clout has come at a price: open criticism of the monarchy. “The ghost is out of the bottle and you won’t get it back again,” reckons one diplomat in Bangkok. The more brazen the king’s moves towards a more absolute form of rule, the more forceful the criticism. “We are trying to bring the king and monarchy under the constitution,” explains one teenage protester. “We aren’t trying to bring them down.” King Vajiralongkorn’s actions could determine whether Thailand continues to revere royalty, or starts to revile it.





Updated: Army lies

12 10 2020

Army trolls

A few days ago, we posted on Twitter’s revelations that the Royal Thai Army has at least 926 accounts used in “information operations” against anti-government figures and opposition politicians. Naturally enough, the military and its regime responded. And, this bunch of dullards did so only they can.

The Bangkok Post reported that the regime and Army “have slammed Twitter, accusing it of unfairly linking them with nearly 1,000 accounts which the social media giant took down for being propagandist.” Yeah, right. Remember that this is a regime that has jailed hundreds for posts on social media. They claim they can track social media accounts, but, apparently, the company Twitter can’t. Seriously, how stupid are they and how stupid do they think Thais are?

The Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta went on the attack, seeming to acknowledge that the Twitter accounts belonged to the military, but blasting Twitter for not complying with orders issued by the regime’s tame courts “to take down accounts which contained defamatory content against the monarchy.” Some dolt must have told the minister that attack was the best form of defense.

It’s always about the monarchy when these dopes try to repel criticism, reverting to Pavlovian responses.

As it so often does, the Army simply denied it had any “information operations.” How thick are these people? It was only in February that official budget documents revealed such information operations.

To “help” out, deputy army spokeswoman Col Sirichan Ngathong decided to deny by stating something that’s true but irrelevant: “Unidentified user accounts had nothing to do with any official account of the army.” Ah, that’s the point of these operations; they are not meant to be official.

Khaosod reported that the accounts “were using randomized usernames and they had zero to 66 followers. The oldest account was created on May 27, 2014, five days after the coup which brought PM Prayut Chan-o-cha to power, while most of the accounts were created between Nov. 2019 to Feb. 2020.” It added that the majority of the 21,386 tweets by the accounts “promoted the works of the army and praised the monarchy with messages such as ‘Great work!,’ ‘I’m with you,’ and ‘Long live the king’.”

They became particularly active after “the mass shooting in Korat by a disgruntled soldier in February, in which they tried to disassociate the army from the shooter and honored the military’s role in bringing down the shooter.” Many of the messages attacked “opposition politicians, such as Thanathorn Juangruangroongkit and Pannika Wanich, the former executives of the now-disbanded Future Forward Party.”

Khaosod also pointed out that the Army’s cack-handed effort to distance itself from “Twitter’s accusations do not sit well with multiple reports that show army units routinely engaging in online information campaigns aimed at discrediting the opposition and upholding the Royal Family.” Back in 2016, “then-army chief Gen. Chalermchai Sittisart confirmed the force is engaging in information operations to suppress distorted information and create ‘better understanding’ with people on social media.”

In other words, they are liars. Indeed, damned liars.

Update: When they are not lying, they are shutting down stuff. Prachatai reports that its “video of human rights lawyer Anon Nampa in which he addresses monarchy reform is inaccessible…” on YouTube.  A “YouTube spokesperson has stated via email that it is operating in line with a Thai government request.” In other words, YouTube is working hand-in-glove with liars, trolls and dictators. In fact, the regime seldom uses a court order when requesting blocking: “According to the Google Transparency Report … during 2009-2019 the Thai government submitted 964 requests to delete content…. Of the requests, only 62 were endorsed by the Thai courts…”. Shameful that YouTube goes along with such rubbish.