Rabid royalists battle “liberalism”

7 09 2019

This Reuters report has been widely distributed, but deserves attention.

It notes the rise of a rightist ultra-nationalism as those who are insufficiently royalist are attacked as “chung chart” which “translates roughly as ‘nation-hater.’ Here, nation equals monarchy and support for the military and its current political regime.

Opposing that regime, the military or being considered insufficiently royalist means being seen by royalist-rightists “as a threat in a kingdom…”.

Royalist-rightists are identified as “waging an increasing battle against the opposition on social media and in the courts, illustrating the deepening political divide in the southeast Asian nation.”

Sound familiar? It should. Nothing much has changed in this royalist-rightist agitation since recently-released Sondhi Limthongkul and the People’s Alliance for Democracy signed up with the monarchy for ousting Thaksin Shinawatra in 2005. He and PAD were followed by royalist-rightist groups such as the Dhamma Army and Santi Asoke (since 2005), No Colors/Multi Colors (from about 2010), Green Politics Group (since 2007), Thai Patriot Network (since 2008), Siam Samakkhi (since 2011), Network of Citizen Volunteers to Protect the Land (2012), Pitak Siam (2012), Sayam Prachapiwat (2012), the White Mask group, People’s Army Against the Thaksin Regime (2013), the so-called Rubbish Collection Organization (2014), and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (2013-14).

This is just a selection of ultra-rightists, many associated with the military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC). All have been anti-Thaksin. The current lot say:

they are acting in the name of the palace and the army also say they get no direct support from those institutions. Government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat declined comment on the issue and said Thailand is a free country.

We are sure that there are ultra-rightists who act independently in the cause of promoting the world’s wealthiest monarch, a grasping playboy as a symbol of “the nation,” but we doubt that the military and ISOC are uninterested. After all, they’ve manipulated or arranged most of these groups over five decades.

Claims by by Defense Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich that the “military is not behind any groups…. The military does not support anyone engaged in activism outside parliament” are false.

The report claims that “chung chart” was made popular by The Democrat Party’s Warong Dechgitvigrom, who says:

I see this as liberalism that destroys traditions and the monarchy by claiming to be democratic…. We need to fight them through ideology. The New Right is a political ideology.

Akechai. Clipped from TLHR

The ideological fight usually leads to legal actions and violence. Indeed, there was plenty of political violence in the last days of the junta. Think of the repeated attacks on Sirawith Seritiwat and Akechai Hongkangwarn, among others.

As the report notes, “army chief Apirat Kongsompong … has described Thailand as being in a ‘hybrid war’ against enemies of tradition” and the rightist-royalists are working in support of his “war.”

The current targets of rightist-royalist angst and wrath include the Future Forward Party – who Warong considers false democrats and nasty “liberals.” That party also worries Gen Apirat as they are too popular; the military fears popularity that translates into votes.

The report cites former PADista and Democrat Party minister Kasit Primya as saying: “The two sides are becoming more entrenched…”. There might be more than two “sides,” but as far as we can tell, the “sides” have been deeply entrenched since PAD.

So it is that Future Forward and its supporters are painted by ultra-nationalist rightist-royalists as “want[ing] to destroy the Thai system [monarchy] and change it to the Marxist-Socialist system…”.

On social media, hatred of identified opponents is fanned. Such hatred has long proved useful of the military when it mobilizes violence to support military-backed regimes or to destabilize elected governments.





Calling on the military

20 08 2019

It is well understood, almost everywhere, that the current regime is born of and remains a military regime. Sure, that it created a military-backed party has confused some world leaders or allowed them to ignore the martial nature of contemporary Thailand, but Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s regime relies on the military, perhaps as much as it did before it entered this civilian charade.

Turning from being a self-appointed prime minister to one voted on largely by minions the junta appointed to the senate, Gen Prayuth moved to cement his relationship with the military by making himself Minister of Defense. Chairing his first Defense Assembly session, Gen Prayuth:

… urged leaders of the armed forces and related departments to work in unison to support the government’s policies, especially on cooperation with the Ministry of a Digital Economy and Society, the National Security Council, and other agencies, on the enactment of cybersecurity related bills. He called on them to come up with suitable responses to cybersecurity threats in the future.

He also urged the defense agencies and the Internal Security Operations Command to ensure safety, apparently giving ISOC a tourism role. Perhaps this can be considered in line with increased efforts to increase the surveillance of foreigners in the country that ranges from tracking location and SIMs and monitoring the use of funds.

The message is clear: the military and Prayuth’s regime are joined at the hip. That connection means Thailand’s government is looking rather like a surveillance state.





With 3 updates: Constructing the monarch

29 07 2019

As we have pointed out previously, when succession came in 2016, there were some commentators who had been predicting a crisis and an unraveling of the monarchy. Part of the “crisis” had to do with King Vajiralongkorn’s vengeful, thuggish and nasty persona, well known in Thailand. Those characteristics, along with his lust for women and loot, defined his life as crown prince. He was also known to think of himself a military man and imposed “military discipline” on those around him.

Self-crowned

There was no crisis, and King Vajiralongkorn has established his reign and palace in a series of moves that were marked by a legalism that saw him establish clear personal ownership of royal wealth, clear out those he distrusted or felt insufficiently supine, and establish greater constitutional powers for the throne.

Many international commentators regularly make the trite observation that the current king does not have the same esteem as his long-serving father. This is obvious, but this seems a way of pointing to the king’s checkered past and odd personality.

But, as this year’s king’s birthday demonstrates, the palace propaganda machine is hard at work, concocting an image for the still new king. For all of his personal foibles and the great fear associated with his erratic and narcissistic behavior, for the palace propaganda machine, nothing much has changed and it uses familiar and tried and true methods.

For example, he is now “our father,” just as his father was, continuing the paternalism that marks monarchy and which is, when required, used politically.

Yesterday, the newspapers were drenched in palace propaganda. In propaganda, that which is false and concocted can become “truth” if repeated often enough. And there’s plenty of that in the invention of Vajiralongkorn’s image. We won’t go through it all as there simply too much.

One example is the creation of the king as “sportsman.” Of course, this links to his father’s image, based on his making and sailing in tiny yachts for a time in the 1960s. Vajiralongkorn, who once played some football with minions and who, late in life, took up cycling. That, as far as the propagandists are concerned, makes the king “majestic in sports.” This concocted story will be repeated year after year and people will come to accept it and perhaps believe it.

The other thing to note in the current flood of propaganda that constructs the monarch is the king as military man. His father took on this persona in the 1960s and 1970s, but he was not military trained. The new king is, and is proud of this.

The propagandists say the king has “specialises in military affairs, thanks to his illustrious military background.” They mangle politics with claims that “Thailand is a democratic country with the King as the head of state and for a large part of the nation’s history, the head of the armed forces as well.”

The politics of this – in a country dominated by military politicians – is emphasized:

Thai soldiers hold His Majesty in high regard and are ready to give up their lives for his cause because there is no higher honour for a Thai soldier than to serve the country, people and the King.

We may be forgetful, but we do not recall these claims being made for his father. In an era of military and military-backed government, an armed forces drawn ever closer to the king means a more interventionist king. It also means that the military and bureaucracy are those at the top of the political heap and are ever more closely intertwined with the throne.

We have previously posted on the Jit Arsa 904 “volunteers” that have been created as a force for the king and to burnish and propagandize his image. A couple of the “tributes” to the king play up this group. Such activities have multiple winners, with the king seen as a great man and the “volunteers” getting reflected merit. But, another of the stories reveals – we don’t recall this in past reporting – that the Jit Arsa scheme is a military operation. It states:

The Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) serves as the coordinator of the project. It has set up a regional coordination centre in each of the four regions: the Central Plains, Northeast, North and South.

Given ISOC’s political role, taking over from the junta, and its history of political destabilization, surveillance, repression and murder for various military regimes and for the military itself, the overt linking to the throne is cause for considerable concern.

Update 1: As if there hadn’t been a succession, the king’s birthday message reflected his father’s mantra of “prosperity” flowing from doing one’s “duty.” The king was only addressing the already prosperous – “royal family members as well as senior officials led by the parliament president, prime minister and the Supreme Court president” – but the message is carefully relayed to the hoi polloi. The report also recounts that the king further elevated his first daughter, changing her royal title from the relatively undistinguished Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendiradebyavati to the breathtaking Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendiradebyavati Krom Luang Ratchasarinee Siripatchara Maha Watchara Ratchathida. Tucked into the end of the report is the news that the king also “granted Maj Gen Thanpuying Sineenart Wongvajirapakdi the title of Chao Khun Phra Sineenart Pilaskalayanee.” That’s his favored consort.

Update 2: The regime gave the king a very expensive birthday present. Reuters reports that the king “will be exempt from tax on some of his land property…”. It wasn’t that long ago that there was some fanfare when the Crown Property Bureau lost its tax-free status as its assets came under the king’s direct ownership. However, a new announcement now says “some of the king’s lands and establishments will now be exempt from tax…”.

Lands and establishments that are “used in state affairs, royal affairs, or used by agencies under the king” will be exempt as will properties “used in other affairs by the king or members of the royal family, for public interests, or used as religious places. Royal properties that “do not fit the above descriptions” will also be tax exempt for those “… parts that are used for non-profit purposes…”. Millions and perhaps billions will be kept in the royal pocket.

Update 3: Some time ago the then crown prince let it be known that he wanted to be a more “traditional” king. Since Vajiralongkorn has been king he’s been realizing that ambition, grabbing land and making royal wealth more obviously his, wringing increased powers from the junta and gaining command over thousands of troops and police. Now he’s gone a step further. When we mentioned above that he gave a title to his favorite consort, this act was more significant than we thought.

Khaosod reports that the title bestowed is “Royal Noble Consort,” making Sineenat the first official consort taken by a king since King Chulalongkorn Vajiravudh. That the event was televised, with the king anointing her while seated with the queen tells Thais that neo-feudalism is upon them.

Sineenat also received a bunch of royal decorations: “The Most Illustrious Order of Chula Chom Klao, 1st Class; The Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant, Special Class; The Most Noble Order of the Crown of Thailand, Special Class; and Rattanaporn Medal, First Class.”





Updated: Junta’s government goes, repression retained

16 07 2019

According to the Bangkok Post, the “outgoing junta government held its last meeting on Monday…”. We are not sure whether that means the junta has held its last meeting but guess this means the depleted cabinet met one last time. Anti-democrats will be in tears.

But this means little in terms of political repression. That continues, mostly run by the military and the Internal Security Operations Command.

As reported by Khaosod, junta legal fixer for the junta and who will be the fixer for the junta’s “new” government, Wissanu Krea-ngam “told reporters the power to detain people without warrants will rest with the counter-insurgency agency operating under the Prime Minister’s Office [ISOC]…”.

While he says that this power “won’t be invoked,” when political push comes to shove, watch this change. Wissanu added that “those who pose threats to national security or the monarchy will merely be questioned and warned.” In other words, they will “have [their attitude] adjusted.” He said they would not be detained.

Wissanu defended retaining these repressive powers: “It’s okay to retain such power, however, because it’s a power to oversee peace and order.”

Look forward to more of the same from the “new” government.

Update: The Bangkok Post quotes ISOC spokesman Maj Gen Thanathip Sawangsaeng who seems to contradict Wissanu. He stated: “I insist that the Internal Security Act does not authorise any detention or order for anyone to undergo an attitude change…”. The detention bit seems to match Wissanu’s claim, but not the attitude change bit. What’s going on there?





No change, more repression

10 07 2019

Despite claims that the military government is ending, it remains in place, essential a government of the junta, headed by the junta’s prime minister who will also be the post-junta/junta-backed prime minister.

The (almost) end of the rule by junta government has some useful attributes. For example, as reported by the Bangkok Post, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha issued a decree stating:

The NCPO [junta] issued announcements and orders to facilitate administration and national reform and to promote unity and reconciliation among people. Now that the implementation of some of them have been completed, they no longer serve a purpose….

All offences under the NCPO orders, whether committed before or after this order takes effect, will be in the jurisdiction of the courts of justice [not military courts]. The cases being tried by the military court will also be transferred to the courts of justice….

And, despite having used Article 44 just yesterday, Gen Prayuth says he won’t use it again.

Even so, “[s]ome special laws enacted by the junta’s absolute power will stay in place even after the new government takes over…”. As has been noted previously, however, many of the activities of the junta have been sucked up into the military and in particular, the Internal Security Operations Command.

As the Bangkok Post notes in an editorial about recent attacks on activists and repression and threats to opponents, this is the style of “rule of a repressive military regime, not a civilian one.”

It notes that “state surveillance on activists remains ongoing and the same kind of heavy-handed suppression of political dissent can be expected under the new civilian government,” confirming that the junta “has already ensured that such a campaign will be led by the military … [and] Isoc…”.





Never trust an Army boss II

7 07 2019

Back in February we observed that no one should ever trust the commander of the Royal Thai Army. At that time, Gen Apirat “pledged … that the army will remain neutral in this election…”. That was a fabrication and a lie.

He’s at it again.

Army watcher and occasional propagator of its propaganda, the Bangkok Post’s Wassana Nanuam conveys a message from Gen Apirat that is another lie. The basic point of the first report (of two that seem essentially the same), is that Gen Apirat “will wash his hands of politics after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta] is dissolved once the new cabinet is sworn in.” He states: “From then on, I won’t make political comments nor will I get involved with politics in any way. I’ll perform my duty strictly as a professional soldier…”.

But, that is just silly and deceitful. For one thing, the junta – of which he is secretary-general – has constitutionally created a senate spot for the Army boss. That is, for Gen Apirat. In other words, he is a part of the political process as structured and rigged by his junta.

He’s also deputy chief of the Internal Security Operations Command, which is scheduled to take over many of the junta’s roles when the junta dissolves. ISOC has been embedded in politics from the national to the local levels [clicking opens a PDF].

As an aside, but interestingly, he provided the clearest signal yet that the Army is to remain US-aligned. With the Army now more cashed-up than it has been in decades – thanks to the military junta doubling its budget – and with an authoritarian-friendly regime in the US, look for this relationship to strengthen further.

Perhaps the biggest issue in Thailand’s politics is the one seldom discussed in the media is the relationship between the Army and the monarch. This is one aspect of politics where the Army has played – and will continue to play – a major role. The junta used ISOC and the Army to squash the anti-monarchism that sent shivers through the palace and the royal-aligned ruling class. That fundamental aspect of politics is also the Army’s most fundamental task.

So never trust an Army boss and don’t believe Gen Apirat’s claims.





Loans, Prawit and ISOC

1 07 2019

A few days ago PPT posted on Gen Prawit Wongsuwan’s backslapping regarding title deeds allegedly returned to debtors following the intervention of ISOC, Army police and administrative officials who claim to have magically convinced “loan sharks” to return land title deeds to the owners who had hocked them.

What amused us about the report was the data, which we questioned.

Interestingly, while not questioning the data, the Bangkok Post has questioned the program in an editorial. It notes that it was “deputy Democrat Party leader Nipit Intarasombat [who] floated an allegation that the return of land title deeds to debtors … was fake…”. He claimed that after the ceremonies fronted by Gen Prawit, “returning” the title deeds, “the documents were given back to the creditors…”.

Gen Prawit has denied this, but the allegations come from a man at the top of a “coalition partner,” which makes the whole idea of the junta’s ongoing “government” all the more fragile.

More significantly, the Bangkok Post recounts that:

… at another ceremony to hand back title deeds on Thursday, a group of 30 debtors of loan sharks from several provinces in the Northeast showed up uninvited to file a petition to Gen Prawit…. They said they were given back title deeds at previous ceremonies but when they went back home the police seized back the documents from them. They were then forced to repay debts or sign new borrowing contracts to get back the title deeds.

Will these villager be denied? Will they be harassed or arrested?