Updated: The constitution and the king’s coup

10 04 2017

The New York Times carries an op-ed by David Streckfuss. It is titled “In Thailand, a King’s Coup,” and we guess it will be blocked here in Thailand before too long.

We are not sure we agree with all of it, but will comment later.

Update: Streckfuss is like everyone else. He’s reading royal and military tea leaves and trying to work out what is going on. We can’t do anything different. His hypothesis seems to be that the the changes the king demanded of the junta’s constitution might represent a slap to the military. We are not so sure.

He’s not entirely right when he says that one changes “allows the king to name a regent to act on his behalf, including when he is traveling outside Thailand. This strips the Privy Council, a royal advisory group known to support the junta, of its traditional authority to act in the king’s place on such occasions.”

This isn’t correct. In previous constitutions, the king has had the right to appoint a regent. The change that impacts the Privy Council is that the new constitution removes the Privy Council President’s role of acting as regent when there’s a void. Grand old political fiddler General Prem Tinsulanonda may not like that, but he’s frail and on the way out.

There’s also the capacity for the king to nominate a person or a group to act as regent. We are not sure how this might work.

Another change is that the king doesn’t have to appoint a regent when he’s (often) away. That is giving him a power he didn’t have before but which is an acknowledgement that the new king intends to be away a lot.

Most of the other changes are a rolling back to earlier arrangements.

Then there’s the hypothesis that the king has a political “clean slate” and that this may result in some kind of association with a more democratic Thailand, as Streckfuss has it, the king might “foster a somewhat more open political atmosphere…”.

Don’t hold your breath. For a start, the prince-cum-king does not have a “clean slate.” Anything but. He has been manipulative in events since his father became unable to do much. Think of his efforts to have the now disgraced Jumpol Manmai made police chief.

To date, over 64 years, PPT hasn’t seen any evidence that Vajiralongkorn is going to be a democratic king. We would be very surprised if he turns out to be this, but we’d welcome that almost as much as a democratic republic.

There’s no doubt that Streckfuss is right when he sees the proclamation of the junta’s constitution on Chakri Day as significant. But what, exactly, is the significance? Is it that constitutionalism resides in the monarchy? Is it that “[t]ying the promulgation of the Constitution to Chakri Day is significant …[as it] seems to signal that constitutions are a gift to the people from the monarchy…”.

That’s also a misreading. In fact, royalists have made this point since 1932. That’s why Thailand has the daftly rendered King Prajadhipok Institute, as if the king targeted in 1932 was the real founder of democratic constitutionalism in Thailand. That certainly is an ideological misrepresentation.

We can think of another rendering: if the constitution was granted by the king and on Chakri Day, will it constitute lese majeste if anyone criticized it or wants to change it?

(We must add that Streckfuss is wrong that the previous king criticized the lese majeste law.)





What happened to that?

9 04 2017

It is useful to recall the things that have quickly gone off the political boil and ask, what happened? We have no answers, for Thailand is a military dictatorship. Still, worth asking:

What happened to allow hundreds of unusually wealthy serve the junta as puppets? Have any of them been investigated? Have any of them paid tax for their wealth that far outstrips their official salaries?

What happened to the 50,000 baht a month that was claimed and then unclaimed as income by metropolitan police chief Pol. Lt. Gen. Sanit Mahathavorn? Will it ever investigated?

What has happened to Jumpol Manmai? After his conviction, is he really being held in a jail on a piece of the king’s property?

What has happened in the investigation of the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae? Big news for a while but now quiet. Whenever the police and military go quiet, you have to think they are “fixing” something in their own interests. Readers should follow two recent stories, in the Bangkok Post and at Prachatai.

What happened to the investigation of the death in custody of Private Yuthinan [Yutthakinant] Boonniam? Why is it that only underlings are being accused in this case? Why aren’t officers being held responsible?

Why is it that the state keeps murdering citizens with impunity? As a reminder of the extent of this killing, see this report (downloads a PDF that is probably illegal in Thailand).

What happened to the junta case against of ultra-nationalist and anti-democrat Veera Somkwamkid? The Nation had reported that “[p]olice are launching a manhunt for well-known political activist Veera … after he published an opinion survey’s result … saying the majority people lack confidence in the Prayut administration.” Since then, he’s been a regular in the news, giving media conferences. What happened there?

What happened to rich tycoon and Red Bull heir and cop killer Vorayudh “Boss” Yoovidhya? Oh, sorry, we know. He’s living the high life in London and no-one in the Thai (in)justice system gives a hoot. Is it possible they are all paid off?

That’s just the past few weeks of unresolved questions, all of which translate into failures of the justice system.





King, junta and politics

21 03 2017

We are not sure if we have ever quoted from StrategyPage previously, but a recent article on their webpage caught some attention.

Their story, titled “Thailand: Actions Have Long Term Consequences,” is the one we mention here. We have no way of judging the veracity of some of its claims when it comes to palace and king, but felt some of them worth quoting.

As is the custom in Thailand, compromise is in the works between the new king, the military government and the democratic majority. Once the new king took the throne at the end of 2016 he apparently made a deal with the military government that would, in theory, benefit both of them in the long run. First, the king wants to be freed from constitutional and parliamentary restrictions that were part of the 1930s deal that turned the absolute monarchy into a constitutional one. The military government is in the process of changing the constitution and that presents a rare opportunity to give the king more power. The generals need the backing of the king because they justified their 2014 coup by insisting they were doing it to protect the monarchy. Last year the military got their new constitution approved in a referendum and the king must approve it by May and apparently will do so as long as his requests are agreed to.

Where’s the “democratic majority in that you might ask. This is the StrategyPage answer:

Meanwhile the king is apparently also trying to negotiate a peace deal with the pro-democracy groups which have demonstrated that they still have the majority of voters with them. In late 2015 pro-democracy leader (and former prime minister) Thaksin Shinawatra called on his followers (the “red shirts”) to “play dead” for the moment and wait for the military government to allow elections. The military has agreed to elections in 2018 but only if some fundamental changes were made in the constitution. The king’s representatives have apparently been seeking a compromise deal that would allow Thaksin Shinawatra and other exiled democracy leaders to come home and abide by the new rules.

If there is any truth in this – it may just be an old story rehashed – then recent events have interesting potential meanings: think Jumpol Manmai as one once said to be close to Thaksin; think of Suthep Thaugsuban’s testy reappearance and emphasis on “democracy under the king”; and then think of the military’s manic obsession with red shirt and firebrand Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee. There’s more:

Since 2014 the troops have been ordered to arrest anyone who appeared to be leading resistance to the coup, but the anti-coup sentiments were so widespread that trying to decapitate the opposition by taking most leaders out of action did not work. The opposition had plenty of competent replacements for lost leaders and those leaders did not call for a civil war.

We do not get that sense of the red shirt opposition and certainly not from the Puea Thai Party. We actually think the military goons have succeeded in cowing much of the opposition, often through nasty but carefully planned example, i.e. capturing leaders and making their life a public misery so as to frighten others.

StrategyPage continues:

The king and the generals recognize that most Thais are fed up with the coups…. The royals have learned to keep their heads down, even though the military has always been staunchly royalist. The army and the king now seek to change this deadlock with “reforms” in the existing constitution.

We don’t think this is all true. The royals’ heads are always visible, scheming, wheedling, getting wealthy and allowing their status to be used against “threats.” Do they recognize that Thais are fed up with coups? Probably, but they can still pull them off whenever they feel the need to.

While the red shirts have lots of popular support, most Thais are more interested in economic issues and the army has not been able to deal with that because of widespread opposition to military rule in Thailand and abroad. The economic problems cannot be ignored…. So the army is paying attention to economic problems and is not doing so well at it.

That’s an understatement! The economy is looking awful and the junta is at a loss as to what to do. Its infrastructure projects are a mess of verbiage and little action. But StrategyPage has an upside (if you buy the “deal” notion):

The new 2017 compromise will restore elections with the king and armed forces believing they now have more power when the country is run by an elected government. The democrats note that long-term the kings and dictators lose. Most royalists recognize that if the king becomes too unpopular the monarchy could be abolished…. Actions have consequences.

Read in total, the article is highly contradictory, but the notion of the “deal” pops up often enough for this page to get a run.





Reporting palace re-ordering

20 03 2017

The palace-based machinations that have seen dozens of officials sacked, ousted, jailed and promoted has been watched internationally for sign of how the king can be considered going forward, as a problem, a threat or something else.

The Straits Times reports that “[m]ore than 30 notices related to Thailand’s palace staff were made public on the Royal Gazette website last week, providing a rare window into the preferences of newly installed King…”.

These notices seem to have been hastily produced to allow the king to escape overseas to Germany for some rest from the hectic tasks of … well, we don’t know. He certainly hasn’t been pushing his pen across the signature line on the much delayed military constitution. Nor do we know officially why he is in Germany although this should be public given that he remains king and has not appointed a regent.

The notices issued were for “various dates and signed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, also suggest that a shake-up has been taking place among palace staff.” The report continues:

One notice said that King Vajiralongkorn stripped an army major-colonel of his rank last month for “improper manner and behaviour” and “disputing royal observation”. In the same notice, the offending major-colonel [PPT doesn’t know this rank] was also described as “arrogant”, “negligent”, “insubordinate” and “lazy”.

Another commander was similarly stripped of her rank last month because she “did not improve herself, lacked enthusiasm, was idle and lacked correct judgment”.

At least four other officers were stripped of their ranks because they had been promoted twice in six months against the rules.

At the same time, royal decorations were handed out like candy at a children’s birthday party: “royal decorations were granted to 25 officers serving in King Vajiralongkorn’s royal guard unit, and privy councillor Kampanat Ruddit.”

The report notes that these “recent announcements come on the back of very public downfalls of some of the King’s senior aides” that saw a “grand chamberlain in charge of security and special affairs, Jumpol Manmai, … sacked for allegedly committing grave misconduct and having political interests deemed harmful to national security.” He’s now in an undisclosed jail that is likely the king’s personal jail.

Jumpol’s downfall was immediately preceded by that of “Chitpong Thongkum, an air vice-marshal who had served in the King’s bodyguard unit, was fired and stripped of all military ranks for reportedly stealing royal property and disclosing the King’s health records.” He’s in jail too.

The story goes on to report the secret dealings between the junta and the prince over the still languishing constitution. Perhaps both the king and the military junta have had second thoughts about the constitution and want it dead again. At least they now have a “plot” that can allow for further even delays.

As to how all this links to the goings-on in the palace, that’s anyone’s guess due to secrecy and threats of lese majeste.





Jumpol speedily sentenced and jailed

10 03 2017

A week ago, Khaosod reported that”[f]ormer Grand Chamberlain Jumpol Manmai confessed Thursday to building a luxury mansion on public land and declined to post his own bail…”.

It stated that Pol Gen. Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said “Jumpol will be held at Nakhon Ratchasima’s provincial prison while cases are prepared against him. Srivara said the provincial prison may later transfer him to another jail in the Thawi Watthana district of western Bangkok.”

The story includes a photo of Jumpol with senior police. His presumably handcuffed hands are covered and a doctor is present, assuring the media that Jumpol was “in good health.” This was important as Jumpol has disappeared from view for about two weeks, held in an unknown location.

A second Khaosod report reveals that the “trial” of Jumpol is over, taking just four hours, and he’s been given a 6-year prison sentence (halved for a guilty plea) and a fine of 890,000 baht.

These hasty “proceedings” have been seen in other cases that have involved those who have fallen out with the king.

Jumpol, stripped of his police rank sand royal decorations, was convicted of forest encroachment for a mansion he built in or near Thap Lan National Park in Nakorn Ratchasima province.

This time, Jumpol appeared in the shackles that are used for political prisoners.

Given that other higher-ups had committed similar offences and never been charged, including two privy councilors, it is clear that Jumpol offended King Vajiralongkorn, with who he had previously had a close relationship.

We are amazed that Jumpol has not been hit with lese majeste charges, which have been one of the prince-cum-king’s weapons of choice in dealing with those he’d found tiresome or had fallen out with.

The report states that Jumpol had “been held at a special prison in eastern Bangkok. We assume this is the same jail mentioned in the earlier report. It is known that this prison is “special” because it belongs to the king and was constructed inside one of his residences, in the Phutthamonthon area.

Jumpol was immediately taken off to prison. Which prison is not stated in the report, which is unusual. This may mean that he will be confined again in the king’s personal prison. We can only imagine that such a prospect may be daunting for the former police general.





Updated: Chitpong sentenced on lese majeste

4 03 2017

Embedded in a story on the now officially disgraced palace flunkey Jumpol Manmai, his wife and others, was a brief comment on the quick end to a lese majeste case also associated with the palace and the grumpy and vindictive King Vajiralongkorn.

Just a few days ago, we posted that Air Vice Marshal Chitpong Thongkum, who served with the King’s bodyguard, had been sacked for alleged misconduct claimed to be damaging to the royal household.

chitpongChitpong was stripped of his military ranks and eight royal decorations for “offenses” that were said to include stealing royal property, disclosing the king’s personal health records and failing to report to duty. It was not entirely clear what he had done to send the king into a rage.

At the time, we said we guessed that means a lese majeste charge would follow.

They did. And in record time, Chitpong has been in court and sentenced to “five years and six months for lese majeste and four other charges including theft at a state office and violations of the Cosmetics Act. He was also fined Bt25,000.”

We guess this was a secret trial. [Update: it was in a military court.]

As is usually the case in all lese majeste cases and not just those involving kingly bile, Chitpong’s sentence was “reduced by half as Chitpong admitted all the charges before the court.” We guess he had no choice or he might have faced death in custody. His lese majeste sentence of five years was halved.

There is little information available on the case. Palace involvement, secret trials, forced guilty pleas and fear mean that those close to the king who get the boot are considered dangerous to report on and it is accepted that the king’s decisions, no matter how nasty can’t be adequately reported.

Update: A couple of wire stories on the case are now available. They are:

AFP, 4 March 2017: “Thai king’s former aide jailed for royal defamation

Reuters, 3 March 2017: “Thailand jails former palace aide for royal defamation

Both make the point that this case is one in a growing list of persons in the prince-now-king’s household who have been purged since late 2014.





Palace punishment

4 03 2017

PPT has posted on the travails of former top cop and top aide to King Vajiralongkorn, Police General Jumpol Manmai.

jumpol-shavedAs has been something of a pattern when the prince-cum-king tires of people or he believes they have done him down in some way, Jumpol was first rumored to be in trouble, then legal cases were mentioned, followed by his disappearance. When he reappeared, like others, his head was shaved and he refused to apply for bail and entered guilty pleas on the legal accusation.

The Nation has a series of photos of what is a public humiliation of the former confidante to the king. Accounts on social media and The Nation report speak of dozens of photographers and reporters fighting for a piece of the new public face of the now officially disgraced Jumpol.

SuriyanThose reporters know that Jumpol is lucky to reappear – others, like Suriyan Sujaritpalawong have died.

Oddly, a later report in The Nation manages to mangle events, actually writing that “Jumpol surrendered to the Crime Suppression Division to face the charges…”.

The reporters also know that land encroachment charges seem rather “light” if Jumpol is really to be disgraced as others usually face lese majeste charges.

After all, not that long ago, former appointed premier, coup plotter and Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont was seen to have engaged in forest encroachment and nothing legal seemed to happen to him. He was still able to remain on the Privy Council as he apparently retained the support of General Prem Tinsulanonda and the palace. At the time, Surayud was seen as a leading light in the anti-Thaksin-cum-yellow shirt machinations against Thaksin Shinawatra and his parties and supporters.

Another reason for huge interest in the Jumpol case is that he is widely considered to have provided a link between Thaksin and the prince-now-king. The evidence for this is seen in some Wikileaks speculation and because Jumpol was treated as a Thaksin man by the former Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, despite his links to the then prince.

The police state they “have yet to charge him with violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, which involves lese majeste,” so it seems that this step is likely.

After his initial appearance, the military used one of their aircraft to take Jumpol to Nakorn Ratchasima for several legal matters associated with land encroachment.

One further step in the palace punishment process is to also charge family members as “accomplices.” These people may have committed real crimes, but their position close to a now “failed” royal relationship also places them at risk and they also get disgraced.

In this quite feudal and narcissistic approach to “relationships” has now seen Jumpol’s wife appear to be charged. Unusually, the police banned reporters from taking photographs of her.

She is described as having “turned herself in to police yesterday to face the same [forest encroachment] charges. She is reported to have “denied some of the charges against her, but allegedly made partial admissions during the police interrogation.” She was released on bail.

It is also reported that:

three other defendants had been released on bail after police investigators concluded that they were unlikely to flee. They were identified as Region 5 Police deputy commissioner Pol Maj-General Pongdej Prommijit, his wife Chanasit Pisitwanit, and her relative Manop Plodkhoksoong.

We suspect there’s a lot more to play out in this case.