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.

Monarch and missing items

19 01 2019

There are a couple of pieces related to the monarchy that are worth reading this weekend.

The first piece is on missing monuments.

As well as the “missing” royal decree needed for the 2019 election, there’s the “missing” monuments to the 1932 revolution. One is the 1932 revolution plaque. Another is the Laksi monument to the defeat of the 1933 royalist revolt.

In a post at his blog, exiled activist Ji Ungpakorn writes about the latter:

The latest casualty is the Lak-Si Democracy Monument, north of Bangkok, which commemorates the military victory against the Boworadet royalist rebellion one year after the revolution. This monument was removed at night, under the watchful eyes of soldiers, in late December.

He argues and explains that the “history of the crushing of the royalist rebellion shows why the royalists wish to destroy the monument.” His brief history of the popular movement and military actions to defeat the royalists in 1933 is important. He concludes:

Conservatives have constantly tried to cover up and dismiss the history of the 1932 revolution. That is why most Thais probably have never heard of the 1932 plaque or the Lak-Si monument. That is also why the conservatives built the moment of the deposed king Rama 7 in front of the present parliament after the 6th October bloodbath in 1976. It is like building a monument to King George in front of the US Congress!

Ji has earlier written on the plaque’s destruction.

The second piece is by Edoardo Siani in the New York Times. It is about how the “junta has tightened its control while trying to bask in the popularity, mystique and beliefs that surround the monarchy.”

While it is a bit difficult to agree that Vajiralongkorn came to the throne “he inherited a nation in chaos.” By that time, the chaos of political activism of previous years had been replaced by a dull repression and sullen political quiet.

Apart from that, Siani has some useful insights on monarch and military. Noting that the military is likely to remain politically predominant following any “election,” Siani observes:

Still, some measure of change may be in the offing. The army has a new chief, and the Royal Command Guard, which answers directly to the king, is expected to gain in authority. Since acceding to the throne in December 2016, King Rama X has also asserted his own authority, claiming more prerogatives for himself.

Change often implies progress but in this prediction, Siani is predicting regression, even if royalists see something else:

Rama X is said to have picked the dates for his coronation. The ceremony will take place at the same time, in early May, as his father’s coronation in 1950, but will last only three days, not five, as back then. A sign of modesty, perhaps, but above all a statement that the late king’s legacy will be carried on. By the time King Rama X is coronated, Thailand will have exited the dark dusk of the ninth reign. Or so the astrologers say.

PPT’s resident astrologer reckons the signs are of a long political dusk leading to a long, dark night for Thailand’s democrats.

Updated: Rajaprasong and Peterloo

23 11 2018

PPT has been slow in getting to the film Peterloo by Mike Leigh. Obviously enough, it is an epic about the Peterloo massacre, considered “one of the defining moments of its age” as ordinary people demanded parliamentary reform by the electoral law reform:

Constituency boundaries were out of date, and the so-called rotten boroughs had a hugely disproportionate influence on the membership of the Parliament of the United Kingdom compared to the size of their populations.

Representation was not vested in the people but in a few important and wealthy people.

We couldn’t help comparing England’s Peterloo of 1819 and Thailand’s Rajaprasong of 2010 and the rotten system that gave rise to the Peterloo rebellion and the rotten system now in place under the junta’s electoral system. No historical comparison is direct, but a lot of the movie had Thailand resonance.

Update: We just noticed that Ji Ungpakorn also had a post on Peterloo, a matter of a few days before our post here. We only check his blog every week or so, so hadn’t seen this, but it is interesting that we separately had the same thoughts.

Expunging Pridi and 1932

16 11 2018


Readers may be interested in a new article at Southeast Asia Globe. “How Thailand’s ‘Father of Democracy’ is being erased from history” by Paul Millar.

The article, including quotes and comments from Ji Unpakorn  and academic Kevin Hewison, discusses the ongoing activities under the military junta and King Vajiralongkorn to roll back 1932 and to erase memories of that revolution and the reputation of Pridi Phanomyong.

While PPT has posted on this general topic several times (here, here, here and here), this article is well worth consideration.

Updated: Yellow support peeling away

30 01 2018

Arnond Sakworawich, the anti-democratic director of the National Institute of Development Administration’s polling agency, has cause quite a political scene.

The Bangkok Post reports that he was due to resign today after senior administrators at NIDA, a nest of yellow-shirted academics, “bowed to political pressure in suspending the release of a poll on Gen Prawit [Wongsuwan]’s luxury wristwatches.”

He made a statement that his action was in support of “academic freedom” and about “honour.”

We may have missed it, but we can’t recall having seen Arnond defending the “academic freedom” of Ji Ungpakorn or members of Nitirat. In the past, the NIDA poll has managed to be politically-driven.

So his claims about ethics are probably empty, but that’s not the point. That point is another yellow advocate coming out against the junta.

Another Bangkok Post report has Arnond saying: “Although I support the coup and government, if [I see] something isn’t right or just, I don’t have to ‘lick top boot’…”.  Boot licking seems to be a choice for some in the middle classes.

Again, though, the point is the peeling away of yellow support from the military junta.

Updated: Prachatai reports that Arnond has “resigned as Director of the Research Centre of the National Institute of Development Administration, also known as NIDA Poll.” He did not resign from NIDA and declared that he “still supports the junta.”

Further updated: Another cruel lese majeste “conviction”

4 01 2018

Under the military dictatorship lese majeste cases have become increasing bizarre and cruel. Students, journalists, academics, workers, red shirts and many more have been charged and sentenced. In recent months this purge has included juveniles and the aged.

Khaosod reports that Yala’s provincial court “sentenced a blind woman to one and a half years in prison for posting content which it found violated royal defamation laws.” On 4 January 2018, Nurhayati Masoh (rendered as Murhyatee in some reports), 23, an unemployed Thai-Malay Muslim from Yala, was convicted after “agreeing” to plead guilty after being held in prison since November 2016.* She received three years, halved for the guilty plea.

In October 2016 using “a voice-assisted application which reads text out loud to post material from Ji Ungpakorn’s blog.

According to the report, “The court said they are sympathetic to her [because she’s blind] but said the law is the law…”.

Update 1: A Reuters report states that she’s been jailed since November 2017, when the case was filed against her. This information is confused in various reports. The event giving rise to the post on her Facebook page appears to have been the death of the king in October 2016.

A Prachatai report states that the court refused to suspend her sentence because of her impairment, pointing to the “severity of the charge.”

Update 2: Soon after conviction, the Muslim Attorney Center in Yala said it was planning to appeal the verdict on behalf of the convicted woman’s family. The foundation hoped to have the jail time suspended and also planned to seek a royal pardon.

With 6 updates: The king dead

13 10 2016

The Nation reports that the official announcement of the king’s death at about 4 pm Bangkok time is made.Vajiralongkorn

Update 1: Ji Ungpakorn had an obituary ready to go. In what will probably be a bunch of fawning commentary, Ji’s view is important.

Update 2: New York Times obituary.

Update 3: General Prayuth Chan-ocha has stated that Prince Vajiralongkorn will succeed his father, following the law. Parliament will soon meet to confirm this.

Update 4: Here are some more, selected obituaries and other stories: BBC, CNN, Aljazeera, NPR, updated Wikipedia, Straits Times, The Economist, SCMP, USAToday, Reuters, ABC Online, The Washington Post.

Update 5: The Bangkok Post has an editorial that can be read as the royalist vision of the king, reproducing all of the hagiography of years past.

Update 6: Prayuth’s announcement to the nation of the king’s passing (in Thai) is here. The Nation reproduces an AFP “timeline” on the king’s reign. It is quite strange. For example, it leaves readers to imagine that nothing happened between 1950 and 1973 and several other long and important years are missing. It also reproduces the myth that the king “complet[ed]… his studies in Switzerland…”. It leaves out the palace’s role in the 1976 massacre and its pivotal role in the 2006 coup (1997-2009 is missing from the “milestones.”)