The monarch’s wealth

8 10 2021

In a very long post at Secret Siam, Andrew MacGregor Marshall has discussed the monarchy’s wealth and its drain on the taxpayer. He puts together an account that draws on multiple sources to assess both aspects.

It is behind a paywall, but if readers can get to it, it is well worth some time going through it.

Some excerpts:

According to an excellent analysis by Prachatai, at least 35.76 billion baht of taxpayer money — well over a billion US dollars — was allocated to the palace in the 2021/22 fiscal year. This represents 1.15 percent of the entire state budget, an extraordinarily vast sum for a country to spend on a supposedly purely symbolic monarchy in the 21st century.

What makes it even more obscene is that the Thai monarchy is already among the wealthiest royal families on the planet, but continues to guzzle taxpayer funds that are desperately needed by ordinary people struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.

The palace has never been honest about the extent of its wealth, and most media have done an extremely poor job of finding out the facts, so most reporting about the size of the Thai royal fortune is inaccurate and incomplete.

Marshall sets the record straight – or as best as it can be with still limited data. He seems to conclude this on wealth:

Kevin Hewison, one of the foremost experts on the political economy of Thailand, estimated royal wealth at a minimum of $70 billion in his article “Crazy Rich Thais” published in the Journal of Contemporary Asia earlier this year:

Between 2006 and 2019, the ten wealthiest families/groups saw their wealth grow by more than seven times. If that figure is applied to Porphant [Ouyyanont]’s 2005 estimate, the CPB’s wealth in 2018 might have been more than $310 billion. However, because of the CPB’s focus on land and its conservative investment strategies, this is likely to be an overestimate. Using Porphant’s calculations of assets and applying a low 3 percent per year increase for land prices the figure for the CPB in 2019 might be more conservatively put at around $70 billion.

By way of conclusion, Marshall states:

There is no prospect that Vajiralongkorn will agree to reform of the monarchy and greater parliamentary oversight of palace finances. He is implacably opposed to making any concessions. He wants to use the royal fortune however he chooses, and nobody in the regime dares to try to stop him.

But with Thailand facing years of economic pain before it recovers from the damage caused by the coronavirus, and most Thais now aware of Vajiralongkorn’s egregious profligacy, the explosive issue of royal wealth has the potential to bring down the monarchy.





Year-end articles I

30 12 2020

2020 has been quite a year. Already, several publications have produced year-end articles that attempt commentary on a remarkable year. Here are some that we found:

VICE, “2020: Thai Protesters Look Back on a Year That Changed Their Lives.” As the article says: “We asked those behind the unprecedented demonstrations what was achieved, and what’s next.” Well worth reading and considering.

The Los Angeles Times has a very good article on the disappearance of Wanchalerm Satsaksit and subsequent events. “A Thai dissident was kidnapped. When police had no answers, his sister began to investigate” is also about the determined quest by Sitanan Satsaksit to ensure her brother’s enforced disappearance is not forgotten.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

East Asia Forum has an editorial – “Thailand needs normal politics” – and two year-end articles. One is by James Ockey, “Government no match for Thai demonstrators online” and another by Kevin Hewison, “Thai youth protests undercut political establishment.





Post dissolution commentary

4 03 2020

We thought that several recent op-eds, long posts and reports and statements coming after the Constitutional Court’s dissolution of Future Forward may be of interest for readers who have not yet seen them:

Giles Ji Ungpakorn, Thai junta can’t even tolerate existence of opposition parties

Joshua Kurlantzick, A Popular Thai Opposition Party Was Disbanded. What Happens Next?

Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang, Anakot Mai: ‘lawfare’ and Future Forward Party’s legacy

Kevin Hewison, Thai Constitutional Court dissolves another major party

The Economist, Thailand’s courts ban the country’s third-biggest political party

VICE, Inside Thailand’s Rising Anti-Government Student Protests





Two new articles

25 08 2019

There are two new and interesting articles by academics to add to our recent listing.

One is by James Buchanan at New Mandala. In “Is the era of ‘Red versus Yellow’ over in Thailand?” the author seeks to present an understanding of how politics has changed (or not) in recent years. We find his argument quite convincing. However, there has been some negative response on social media, suggesting that observers of Thailand’s post-coup politics are splintering. Helpfully, this article also has a Thai version: ยุคของ “แดง ปะทะ เหลือง” ในประเทศไทยจบแล้วจริงหรือ?

Another article is by Kevin Hewison at the Journal of Contemporary Asia. His abstract states:

This article provides an account of the upper echelons of Thailand’s capitalist class. Based on an analysis of the Forbes data on Thailand’s wealthiest for the period 2006–2019, it analyses the 30 families and groups that have dominated these rankings over this period. The article compares how the growth of this group’s wealth has outpaced other measures of how Thailand’s economy has grown over this period. The article also compares this Forbes-ranked group with the upper reaches of the Thai capitalist class in 1980, assessing wealth and investment between the most important capitalist groups in 1980 and those in the Forbes rankings for 2006–2019. It finds considerable consistency within this category, in both periods and over time.

The article is behind a paywall. However, as we have stated previously, authors are generally willing to help out with copies for those without access.





Recent academic publications on Thailand’s politics

13 08 2019

Every so often, PPT scans academic journals to see what has been published over the past 12-18 months. Here’s a list of politics-focused research that we located. Some of them are very much better than others. Unfortunately, most are behind paywalls but we have found that authors will often send a copy if requested:

‘Long Live Ratthathammanūn!’: Constitution worship in revolutionary Siam in Modern Asian Studies and by Puli Fuwongcharoen

New Wine in an Old Bottle: Female Politicians, Family Rule, and Democratization in Thailand in Modern Asian Studies and by Yoshinori Nishizaki

Ironic political reforms: elected senators, party-list MPs, and family rule in Thailand in Critical Asian Studies and by Yoshinori Nishizaki

Gold diggers and their housewives: the gendered political economy of Thai labor export to Saudi Arabia, 1975–1990 in Critical Asian Studies and by Katie Rainwater

Dictatorship, Monarchy, and Freedom of Expression in Thailand in Journal of Asian Studies and by Tyrell Haberkorn

Subjects of politics: Between democracy and dictatorship in Thailand in Anthropological Theory and by Eli Elinoff

Thailand: an old relationship renewed in The Pacific Review and by Kevin Hewison

Haunted Past, Uncertain Future: The Fragile Transition to Military-Guided Semi-Authoritarianism in Thailand in Southeast Asian Affairs 2018 and by Prajak Kongkirati

Crisis of Democracy in Thailand and the Network of Monarchy in Paradigma and by Aryanta Nugraha

Thailand’s Traditional Trinity and the Rule of Law: Can They Coexist? in Asian Studies Review and by Björn Dressel

Thailand 4.0 and the Internal Focus of Nation Branding in Asian Studies Review and by Petra Desatova

Uneven development, inequality and concentration of power: a critique of Thailand 4.0 in Third World Quarterly and by Prapimphan Chiengkul

The Iron Silk Road and the Iron Fist: Making Sense of the Military Coup D’État in Thailand in Austrian Journal of South East Asian Studies and by Wolfram Schaffar

Alternative Development Concepts and Their Political Embedding: The Case of Sufficiency Economy in Thailand in Forum for Development Studies and by Wolfram Schaffar

Agents, Principals, or Something in Between? Bureaucrats and Policy Control in Thailand in Journal of East Asian Studies and by Jacob I. Ricks

The never changing story: Eight decades of the government public relations department of Thailand in Public Relations Review and by NapawanTantivejakul

Proud to be Thai: The Puzzling Absence of Ethnicity-Based Political Cleavages in Northeastern Thailand in Pacific Affairs and by Jacob Ricks

Politics and the Price of Rice in Thailand: Public Choice, Institutional Change and Rural Subsidies in Journal of Contemporary Asia and by Jacob Ricks

Anti-Royalism in Thailand Since 2006: Ideological Shifts and Resistance in Journal of Contemporary Asia and by Anonymous

Coloured Judgements? The Work of the Thai Constitutional Court, 1998–2016 in Journal of Contemporary Asia and by Björn Dressel and Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang

Is Irrigationalism a Dominant Ideology in Securing Hydrotopia in Mekong Nation States? in Journal of Contemporary Asia and by David J. H. Blake

Drivers of China’s Regional Infrastructure Diplomacy: The Case of the Sino-Thai Railway Project in Journal of Contemporary Asia and by Laurids S. Lauridsen

Thailand’s Public Secret: Military Wealth and the State in Journal of Contemporary Asia and by Ukrist Pathmanand and Michael K. Connors

The Unruly Past: History and Historiography of the 1932 Thai Revolution in Journal of Contemporary Asia and by Arjun Subrahmanyan

Worldly compromise in Thai Buddhist modernism in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies and by Arjun Subrahmanyan

Memories of collective victimhood and conflict in southern Thailand in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies and by Muhammad Arafat Bin Mohamad

The Prayuth Regime: Embedded Military and Hierarchical Capitalism in Thailand in TRaNS and by Prajak Kongkirati and Veerayooth Kanchoochat

Thailand Trapped: Catch-up Legacies and Contemporary Malaise in TRaNS and by Veerayooth Kanchoochat

Expansion of Women’s Political Participation through Social Movements: The Case of the Red and Yellow Shirts in Thailand in Journal of Asian and African Studies and by Duanghathai Buranajaroenkij and others

Constitution-Making in 21st-Century Thailand: The Continuing Search for a Perfect Constitutional Fit in The Chinese Journal of Comparative Law and by Andrew James Harding and Rawin Leelapatana

The political economy of state patronage of religion: Evidence from Thailand in International Political Science Review and by Tomas Larsson

The conundrum of a dominant party in Thailand in Asian Journal of Comparative Politics and by Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee

Generals in defense of allocation: Coups and military budgets in Thailand in Journal of Asian Economics and by Akihiko Kawaura





Updated: Prem dead II

27 05 2019

As mentioned in our earlier post, buffalo manure is to be piled high for the deceased Gen Prem Tinsulanonda. That said, there are some interesting accounts emerging. We link to some of them here and comment briefly on some of them.

The Bangkok Post has a couple of stories and will probably have more. One of these is a listing of Prem’s “achievements” and refers to him by the kindly term “Pa Prem.” In fact, Prem’s career was of an ambitious right-wing military leader. A second item in the Post is an editorial. Like the previous king, Prem is said to be “revered.” It would be more accurate to say that some rightist, royalist Thais revere Prem for his “loyalty” and steadfast opposition to elected government. Indeed, many Thais hated Prem as an unelected politician and incessant political meddler.

The main error in this editorial is the mistaken view that Prem decided of his own volition to leave his unelected premiership in 1988. The editorial states:

Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and the regime would do well not to forget Gen Prem’s wise decision to relinquish power before the tide turned against him. The regime has been accused of trying to hold on to power at any cost, which is at odds with the example set by Gen Prem.

This view is mistaken as it ignores the long and intense political struggle that eventually forced Prem out. Indeed, that is what will be needed to force out out the Prem-ist junta and its illegitimate political child, the Palang Pracharath-manipulated coalition.

AP has a sound obituary that appropriately links Prem and Prayuth. It also makes a useful point via academic Kevin Hewison:

That coup [2006] was probably Prem’s last major political intervention, and it was one where he misjudged…. He expected elation and praise for his open role in getting rid of Thaksin. Instead, his intervention lit the fuse of a political polarization that continues to haunt Thailand’s elite.

The New York Times obituary is useful and forthright, with another academic, Duncan McCargo noting Prem’s long alliance with the last king:

The king trusted Prem absolutely … seeing him as an incorruptible figure who shared his soft and understated approach, but who was a skilled alliance-builder and wielder of patronage.

We are not quite sure how McCargo knows Bhumibol’s views, but his comment recalls his coining of the term “network monarchy” that describes Prem and the king’s manner of meddling in all manner of things in Thailand.

Reuters mentions Prem’s political meddling and the rewards he received from the conglomerates that benefited from his promotion of monarchy. Prem provided the links – the network – for Sino-Thai tycoons to connect with the palace and his politics provided considerable protection for the ruling class and its profits.

BBC News quotes its correspondent Jonathan Head on Prem’s role in making the monarchy more overtly political:

He will be remembered as an ardent royalist who helped to cement the monarchy’s place at the very top of modern Thailand’s power structure….

AFP has a measured account of Prem’s political meddling and the rise of the monarchy:

Hailed as a stabilising force by allies but loathed by critics as a conservative underminer of democracy in the kingdom, General Prem was a top aide to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and helped cement the unshakeable bond between the monarchy and the military.

It adds that “General Prem became a figure of revulsion in Thailand’s pro-democracy camp.”

Update: Bloomberg’s story on Prem’s death hits the nail on the head: “Royal Aide Accused of Plotting Thai Coup on Thaksin Dies at 98.”





International media on monarchy and military

23 12 2018

It’s the holiday season, so we at PPT felt that a bit of a round-up of what the international media is saying about Thailand. Unsurprisingly, the topics are monarchy and military.

The monarchy stories revolve around silly and sad notions. The silly is that ultra-royalists and others in Thailand have been so brainwashed by decades of palace and other propaganda over the claimed brilliance and alleged capacity of royals that no criticism can be made or implied. It is sad that the police and other elements of the (in)justice system accept complaints from a motley collection of royalist political activists, mad and corrupt military leaders, the palace itself and anyone else who shows up at a police station that can result in ridiculous secret “trials” for lese majeste and huge prison sentences.

The most recent case involves a blogger who commented on a frock “designed” by one of the king’s daughters, Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana. PPT couldn’t give a fig about the dress, but the controversy caused by a dopey royalist political candidate laying a complaint has caught the attention of the international media. Here are some of the stories:

The Guardian: “YouTube host faces charges for criticising Thai princess’s Miss Universe dress

TIME (via AP): “YouTuber Could End Up in Court After Criticizing Miss Universe Gown Designed by Thai Princess

Yahoo Finance: “YouTuber faces charges for calling a Miss Universe contestant’s dress ugly — here’s why

Ironically, as the police “investigate” the supposed slander of a dress allegedly designed by the princess, the senseless ultra-royalist has been arrested for a previous allegation of fraud.

On the military, the stories are about how the junta is intent on political longevity via its rigged election – no surprise for PPT readers. Here are some of the stories and op-eds:

EurAsia Review (via Bernama): “Thailand: Military To Retain Grip On Power Post-2019 Polls – Analysis

East Asia Forum has an op-ed by academic Kevin Hewison: “Another year of military dictatorship in Thailand

Deutsche Welle: “Will Thailand’s military step aside after elections?





Expunging Pridi and 1932

16 11 2018

Pridi

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.





Worth reading

18 07 2018

Over recent months we have neglected suggesting some of the more academic works on Thailand that some readers might find of interest.

We were reminded of this omission when we saw an excellent account of the 6 October massacre and associated events in a story at the Los Angeles Review of Books by Suchada Chakpisuth and translated by Tyrell Haberkorn. As ever, when it comes to anything on Thailand’s politics, there are likely to be negative responses. In this case, so far, there is only one such comment. All we can say is that what one reader finds sentimental and sophomoric, we found enlightening, sobering and a painful reminder of the ways in which ultra-nationalism and ultra-royalism can spin out of control or be made to become demonic and murderous.

Back to recent articles that may be of interest:

There’s a Commentary behind a paywall at Critical Asian Studies by Kasian Tejapira: “The Sino-Thais’ right turn towards China.” Also at CAS, there are pay-for-view commentaries reflecting on Thailand: “Thailand’s urbanized villagers and political polarization” by Duncan McCargo and “Modern day slavery in Thai fisheries: academic critique, practical action” by Peter Vandergeest, Olivia Tran & Melissa Marschke.

At the Journal of Contemporary Asia, there are several pay-for-view articles and book reviews: Owners of the Map. Motorcycle Taxi Drivers, Mobility, and Politics in Bangkok is reviewed by
Kevin Hewison who also reviews Working Towards the Monarchy: The Politics of Space in Downtown Bangkok, while A History of Ayutthaya: Siam in the Early Modern Period is reviewed by Robert H. Taylor. Björn Dressel & Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang author “Coloured Judgements? The Work of the Thai Constitutional Court, 1998–2016.” The most recent issue includes two Thailand articles: “Anti-Royalism in Thailand Since 2006: Ideological Shifts and Resistance” by an anonymous author (which was, for a time free for download, but not now) and “Politics and the Price of Rice in Thailand: Public Choice, Institutional Change and Rural Subsidies” by Jacob Ricks.

Pacific Affairs has a pay-for-view article by Aim Simpeng, “Participatory Inequality in the Online and Offline Political Engagement in Thailand.” and free book reviews of Thai Politics: Between Democracy and Its Discontents reviewed by Kevin Hewison, Siege of the Spirits: Community and Polity in Bangkok reviewed by Charles Keyes, The Lost Territories: Thailand’s History of National Humiliation reviewed by Søren Ivarsson.

Contemporary Southeast Asia has a free book review of Thai Politics: Between Democracy and Its Discontents reviewed by Aim Simpeng, Khaki Capital: The Political Economy of the Military in Southeast Asia reviewed by John Blaxland and Thailand: Shifting Ground between the US and a Rising China, reviewed by Pongphisoot Busbarat. It has a pay-for-view article by Duncan McCargo, Saowanee T Alexander and Petra Desatova, “Ordering Peace: Thailand’s 2016 Constitutional Referendum.”

The Journal of Southeast Asian Studies has “Mae Fah Luang: Thailand’s Princess Mother and the Border Patrol Police during the Cold War” by Sinae Hyun and available for free download. It also has several book reviews of general Thailand interest, some for free download.

If an article is behind a paywall, we recommend searching by title as authors and their universities sometimes make them available in a pre-print format.





Stealing an “election” V

24 04 2018

A reader pointed out a recent op-ed at East Asia Forum on rigging the “election” in Thailand.

Academic Kevin Hewison points to the many “delays” to an “election” and writes that these:

delays are one element of a set of processes devised by the junta to prevent the election to government of any party associated with exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. For the junta and its supporters, ‘reform’ means neutering the Shinawatra clan’s Pheu Thai Party. The junta’s determination to crush Pheu Thai and the related red-shirt movement draws lessons from the military’s failure to defeat its opponents following the 2006 coup.

Another element of the strategy is the military boot:

Repression has been an important instrument. Immediately after the 2014 coup, the military showed that it had been assiduously acquiring intelligence on the vast red-shirt network by arresting and intimidating its leaders across the country. Several hundred red-shirts went into exile while local networks were penetrated and disrupted. The regime gave particular attention to anti-monarchists and lodged dozens of lese majeste charges. In one case, a red shirt leader was pursued internationally and ‘disappeared’…. At the same time, the regime prosecuted and incarcerated Pheu Thai leaders.

The junta has also:

plagiarised several Thaksin-era policies and launched concerted efforts to win the allegiance of those who voted for pro-Shinawatra parties. Like its yellow-shirted supporters, the junta believes that the provincial citizens who repeatedly voted these parties into government were duped or bought, or are simply ignorant. It assumes that these voters were insincere in their support for Thaksin parties and can be made ‘less stupid’ and weaned from Pheu Thai.

Hewison notes that the “regime and military intelligence is encouraging the establishment of small parties that, while nationally insignificant, may diminish Pheu Thai support in local constituencies” and has restructured the electoral, oversight and political system “to prevent any elected government from actually governing.”

He sees this as a kind of throwback to the 1980s when Gen Prem Tinsulanonda was an “outsider” prime minister, never elected. Prem “mostly ignored parliament” as it was “an unimportant place” where politicians argued and Prem ruled, with the “locus of political power was in the bureaucracy and the military.”

He views the rise of new and self-proclaimed “progressive” parties, as well as the junta-loving parties as “a measure of junta success.” Why?:

Small parties and a fragmented party system mean the military can maintain its political dominance in a Prem-style quasi-democracy that is better thought of as a stifling, semi-authoritarian political system.

This actually leads beyond “elections.” The arrangements put in place will indeed be stifling until, somehow, some way, the military is depoliticized and its repressive ménage à trois with monarchy and super-rich is unpicked.








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