On the new king’s accession

3 12 2016

New Mandala has had quite a few insightful article of late. Each looks at aspects of succession, accession and the new king. To link to some of these:

Christine Gray, “Ritual and the demise of Thai democracy

Andrew MacGregor Marshall, “What next for the theatrics of Thailand?”

Paul Sanderson, “Henry VIII of Thailand

Kevin Hewison, “Thailand’s long succession


Academics on post-coup Thailand

8 05 2016

PPT has snipped this post from the Journal of Contemporary Asia. We have previously posted on a couple of these articles. Most are behind a paywall, with two articles being free:

RJOC_COVER_46-02.inddIssue 3 of Volume 46 (2016) has gone to print and the issue is available electronically at the publisher’s site (with two articles available for free download). This is a Special Issue titled: Military, Monarchy and Repression: Assessing Thailand’s Authoritarian Turn. The details are:

Introduction: Understanding Thailand’s Politics” by Veerayooth Kanchoochat & Kevin Hewison (free download).

The 2014 Thai Coup and Some Roots of Authoritarianism by Chris Baker.

Inequality, Wealth and Thailand’s Politics by Pasuk Phongpaichit.

The Resilience of Monarchised Military in Thailand by Paul Chambers & Napisa Waitoolkiat.

Thailand’s Deep State, Royal Power and the Constitutional Court (1997–2015) by Eugénie Mérieau (free download)

Thailand’s Failed 2014 Election: The Anti-Election Movement, Violence and Democratic Breakdown by Prajak Kongkirati.

Rural Transformations and Democracy in Northeast Thailand by Somchai Phatharathananunth.

Redefining Democratic Discourse in Thailand’s Civil Society by Thorn Pitidol.

The issue includes five book reviews.

Reviews and reads

9 03 2016

Readers might be interested in two more reviews of Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s A Kingdom in Crisis. We posted on earlier at least eight earlier reviews of the book, and these reviews can be found here.

The first is probably already widely known as it is by Andrew Walker at New Mandala. In a lengthy review, Walker states:

It certainly is a myth-busting tour-de-force showing how Thai kings, and the elites that surround them, have regularly generated political crises, which also reflect competition between narrow sectional interests.  However, whether or not the book will achieve its myth-busting objective is hard to tell. Most readers, I suspect, will already be converts to MacGregor Marshall’s position. By contrast, those who subscribe to the royal mythology will probably be confirmed in their view that unsympathetic Westerners like MacGregor Marshall are determined to slander the royal institution.Kingdom in crisis

Walker concludes:

… Marshall’s preoccupation with the succession points to a broader problem with this book.

Despite its provocations and iconoclasm this is very much a royalist account of Thai history. Like Thailand’s royalists, MacGregor Marshall places the king at the heart of the Thai polity. In A Kingdom in Crisis, contestation over royal power is the engine room of 21st century Thai politics, as it has been over the past millennium (p  213).

The mass of people sometimes do feature, but they are peripheral to MacGregor Marshall’s central purpose. When they do enter into the narrative, it is as an undifferentiated mass of “ordinary  people” who are struggling against the elite in pursuit of “greater freedom and a fairer society” (p 109).

This two-dimensional and a-historical model — a cut-throat elite ruling over a repressed population — is classic orientalism and contributes little to an understanding of the complex and cross-cutting social and economic forces that have brought Thailand to its contemporary political impasse.

The other review is by Jim Glassman in the journal Pacific Affairs. The review can be freely viewed. The review begins:

The publication of Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s A Kingdom in Crisis has been a much-awaited event among Thai scholars. Marshall, a Scottish journalist who used to work for Reuters, has been releasing large pieces of this study for a number of years now, at his “#thaistory” blog. The book adds something to this material but will not be a huge surprise to those who have read his work at the blog site.

Glassman adds that the book is really rather thin:

Given the relative paucity of accessible and critical English-language writing about the Thai monarchy, and the risks that such writing entails, A Kingdom in Crisis should be considered a significant accomplishment, and Zed Books should be given credit for being willing to publish it….

For many scholars and people fairly familiar with Thai politics, some of Marshall’s analysis will nonetheless prove fairly thin gruel. It is not only that there has actually been a string of books in recent history that raise telling issues about the monarchy and challenges of succession—for example, the works by Benedict Anderson, Paul Handley, Soren Ivarsson and Lotte Isager, William Stevenson, David Streckfuss and Thongchai Winichakul, which the author cites, as well as works by Kevin Hewison, Rayne Kruger and Somsak Jeamteerasakul, which he doesn’t cite—but Marshall’s explanation of the current crisis is somewhat one-sided.

Acknowledging shortcomings in the book, Glassman concludes:

A Kingdom in Crisis is a useful read, particularly for those unfamiliar with the roles of royalist-military elites (and their international allies) in shaping Thailand’s ongoing struggles for democracy. It will certainly find its place on the bookshelves of Thai democracy activists—provided they do not live in Thailand.

In the same issue of Pacific Affairs there is an article which is of interest because it is based on a survey of serving military officers. The authors of “Professionals and Soldiers: Measuring Professionalism in the Thai Military” are Punchada Sirivunnabood of Mahidol University and Jacob Isaac Ricks of Singapore Management University. The abstract states:

Thailand’s military has recently reclaimed its role as the central pillar of Thai politics. This raises an enduring question in civil-military relations: why do people with guns choose to obey those without guns? One of the most prominent theories in both academic and policy circles is Samuel Huntington’s argument that professional militaries do not become involved in politics. We engage this premise in the Thai context. Utilizing data from a new and unique survey of 569 Thai military officers as well as results from focus groups and interviews with military officers, we evaluate the attitudes of Thai servicemen and develop a test of Huntington’s hypothesis. We demonstrate that increasing levels of professionalism are generally poor predictors as to whether or not a Thai military officer prefers an apolitical military. Indeed, our research suggests that higher levels of professionalism as described by Huntington may run counter to civilian control of the military. These findings provide a number of contributions. First, the survey allows us to operationalize and measure professionalism at the individual level. Second, using these measures we are able to empirically test Huntington’s hypothesis that more professional soldiers should prefer to remain apolitical. Finally, we provide an uncommon glimpse at the opinions of Thai military officers regarding military interventions, adding to the relatively sparse body of literature on factors internal to the Thai military which push officers toward politics.

Meanwhile, at the Journal of Contemporary Asia, a third paper from the forthcoming Special Issue, Military, Monarchy and Repression: Assessing Thailand’s Authoritarian Turn, has been published. “Inequality, Wealth and Thailand’s Politics” is by well-known political economist Professor Pasuk Phongpaichit of Chulalongkorn University.

The abstract for the paper states:

Acemoglu and associates argue that resistance to democratisation will be stronger where inequality is high. Piketty shows that shifts at the upper end of the distribution may be historically more significant than overall measures of inequality. In Thailand, the high level of income inequality has eased slightly since 2000, but there is a ‘1% problem’ as peak incomes are growing faster than the average. Newly available data show that inequality of wealth is very high. At the top of the wealth pyramid, family holdings of commercial capital are growing. A significant proportion of top entrepreneurs have emerged within the past generation. A second tier of the wealth elite has developed over the past generation from rising property values, financial investments and professional incomes. Although their individual wealth is much less than the corporate elite, their numbers are much greater. The existence of the prospering ‘1%’ and the emergence of the second-tier wealthy may corroborate Acemoglu’s proposition, but there are tensions within the wealth elite which may favour democracy.

Me and my monarchy

10 10 2015

At the time that the draft constitution was ditched, several attempts to say why this was were made. One of those was by academic Kevin Hewison, at Asia Sentinel, where he claimed that it was fear driving the military junta:

… fears about a vote, especially in the northeastern region that still retains loyalty to long-ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the possibility of an unwelcome outcome clearly told them that the country has not seen sufficient “reform” for elections to reject the surrogate political parties associated the exiled former premier.

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha has now confirmed that assessment, with the Bangkok Post claiming that Prayuth issued a “strongly worded ‘message to the people’ …[that] attacked the previous government and Thaksin Shinawatra, while also urging the public to support the new constitution drafting process.”

The erratic tyrant stated that “anyone with bad intentions toward the monarchy” or who would “rob the country, hurt people or pressure the government or constitution writers” was unwelcome.

Presumably this means that we will find the junta dissolved and gone.

Yes, the dullard generals support the monarchy, but they do this while robbing the country, hurting people – indeed, murdering them – and pressuring the constitution writers to do the job for the military. By Prayuth’s statement they should be gone.

Of course, they won’t go. They are not men of honor or of their word. They are liars and bandits who wish to stay in control so that the royalist elite may profit and exploit.

Prayuth, like the rest of the elite in the palace, the Sino-Thai tycoons and Bangkok’s trembling middle class, blame Thaksin for everything, even if Prayuth can’t bring himself to use Thaksin’s name:

If that person had confessed and faced justice from the start, there would not have been problems… There would not be the NCPO [National Council for Peace and Order] today and people would not have died because of the unknown militants — and we all know who they support.

Prayuth proves he is a liar, again refusing to admit that the military murdered red shirt protesters.

Making it worse, and indicating why he was egged on by the palace for a second coup, Prayuth “accused the previous government of not being serious enough about preventing lese majeste, which he claimed flourished under former premier Yingluck Shinawatra.”

He explains why he wants to control the internet:

These people use technology to avoid being arrested, and support groups that create and disseminate false news aimed at undermining the credibility of the country.

We think The Dictator and the dullards who surround him do a pretty good job of undermining the country’s credibility without the help of anyone else.

Prayuth is obviously livid that the European Parliament has called out his military dictatorship.

The fearful general makes it clear that all must obey him and his cronies: “for reforms to be successful, the new constitution must be based on the guidelines laid down by the junta.”

This will not include “some democratic means, but not the kind with boundless freedom…”. That’s the finger bird for the European Parliament and for any democrats in Thailand.

Oddly, Prayuth then staggered like a drunken sailor into a critique of his previous charter writers, saying Borwornsak Uwanno didn’t “listen to all groups of people” and “listened only to the elite,” while “some people tried to distort the facts…”. We are numb. How could Borwornsak do other than listen to the elite? That was his assigned task.

But then we read:

In fact, there is not such group in Thailand. There is no elite, middle class or low class here. These terms are just rhetoric used by politicians seeking to drive a wedge in society for their own gain.

Some even accuse the NCPO and the government of abusing Section 112 [the lese majeste law] to destroy our opponents….

We want them [the people] to express their views through the channels provided by the CDC. They should not talk to the media because society will be confused about what is true and what isn’t.

The man is, frankly, deranged.

We wonder how much longer he can continue to dictate with such madness on display. The upper crust can seldom cope with insecurity and unpredictability.

More threats

14 09 2015

After having detained journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk, the military goons have told the world that the detained politicians Pichai Naripatapan and Karun Hosakul are “are in military-supervised detention at an undisclosed location…”.

The military have dissembled. The detainees are “fine,” they say, and have not been harmed. They are only held for a little “attitude adjustment.”

Translating from juntaspeak, these men are being held because they have been “critical about the government and the NCPO [the junta].” That’s it. Say anything the the thin-skinned generals don’t like, and you are in danger.

The generals say that “politicians have been asked to agree to stop making remarks which run counter to national reconciliation and could re-ignite social conflicts. If they agree, they will be released.”

Translating from juntaspeak, saying anything the erratic generals don’t like is inciting “conflict.”

In fact, it is the generals who should be locked up, for their coup was illegal. That won’t happen, and the future is filled with increased repression for the junta promises tougher measures against those who resist The Dictator’s prescriptions, He only allows “recommendations but not criticism…”.

On this pattern of repression following the dumping of the charter, readers may find academic Kevin Hewison’s musings at Asia Sentinel of some interest. He argues that the charter was ditched becaue the junta is fearful that it hasn’t engaged in sufficient repression.

If the king can’t say it, Suthep can

1 09 2015

The Bangkok Post reports that anti-democrat leader Suthep Thaugsuban is campaigning for the military dictatorship’s constitution. Yes, there were warnings against this, but a little pushing from Suthep is probably welcomed by the junta (even if they chastise him later).

The Post reports him as saying:

He said that although the document may have some shortcomings, they could be amended in the future as deemed necessary.

“What is more important is that there must be a guarantee for Thailand’s future, for the people to see the light and have a better life,” he said.

According to Mr Suthep, the final draft of the constitution is good enough for the people to support it in the referendum.

Compare this with the king’s 1992 support for the then military-backed government’s constitution:

ความจริงวิธีนี้ถ้าจำได้ เมื่อวันที่ ๔ ธันวาคม ๒๕๓๔ ก็ได้พูดต่อสมาคม ที่มาพบจำนวนหลายพันคน แล้วก็ดูเหมือนว่าพอฟังกัน ฟังกันโดยดี เพราะเหตุผลที่มีอยู่ในนั้น ดูจะแก้ปัญหาได้พอควร ตอนนี้ก็พอย้ำว่าทำไมพูดอย่างนั้น ว่าถ้าจะแก้ก่อนออกก็ได้ หรือออกก่อนแก้ก็ได้ อันนั้นทุกคนก็ทราบดีว่าเรื่องอะไร ก็เป็นเรื่องรัฐธรรมนูญ ซึ่งครั้งนั้น การแก้รัฐธรรมนูญก็ได้ทำมาตลอด มากกว่าฉบับเดิมที่ตั้งเอาไว้ได้แก้ไข แล้วก็ก่อนที่ไปพูดที่ศาลาดุสิดาลัย ก็ได้พบพลเอกสุจินดา ก็ขออนุญาตเล่าให้ฟังว่า พลเอกสุจินดาแล้ว พลเอกสุจินดาก็เห็นด้วยว่า ควรจะประกาศใช้รัฐธรรมนูญนี้ และแก้ไขต่อไปได้ อันนี้ก็เป็นสิ่งที่ทำได้ และตอนหลังนี้ พลเอกสุจินดาก็ได้ยืนยันว่า แก้ไขได้ก็ค่อยๆ แก้เข้าระเบียบให้เป็นที่เรียกว่า ประชาธิปไตย อันนี้ก็ได้พูดมาตั้งหลายเดือนแล้ว ในวิธีการที่จะแก้ไข แล้วข้อสำคัญ ที่ทำไมอยากให้ประกาศใช้รัฐธรรมนูญ แม้จะถือว่ารัฐธรรมนูญนั้นยังไม่ครบถ้วน ก็เพราะเหตุว่ารัฐธรรมนูญนั้น มีคุณภาพพอใช้ได้ ดีกว่าธรรมนูญการปกครองชั่วคราว ที่ใช้มาเกือบปี เพราะเหตุว่ามีบางข้อบางมาตรา ซึ่งเป็นอันตรายแล้ว ก็ไม่ครบถ้วนในการที่จะปกครองประเทศ ฉะนั้นก็นึกว่า ถ้าหากว่าสามารถที่จะปฏิบัติตามที่ได้พูดในวันที่ ๔ ธันวาคมนั้นก็นึกว่า เป็นการกลับไปดูปัญหาเดิม ไม่ใช่ปัญหาของวันนี้

Academic Kevin Hewison commented on this several years ago (downloads a PDF), stating:

Following the 1991 coup, the draft constitution was faxed to the King in Chiangmai, and was returned in the same manner, reportedly with some minor alterations (FEER 14 March 1991). This nonchalant attitude was also reflected in the King’s reaction when the constitution was challenged. He pointed out that while the draft was ‘not … fully adequate’, it should be promulgated because it was ‘reasonable’ (มีคุณภาพพอใช้ได้) and could be ‘gradually amended … in a “democratic” way…’. In other words, the principles embodied in the constitution were not particularly important, but its promulgation was necessary so that instability could be avoided….

Such support for the military’s control of politics is not unusual for the monarch, but this constitution was rejected, led to protests and to the massacre (again) of the military’s opponents.

Academic and other stuff of interest

18 03 2015

Several readers have alerted PPT to some recent publications.

The first is a new article at the Journal of Contemporary Asia website by Duncan McCargo and Peeradej Tanruangporn. It examines the Nitirat group, who have intervened in legal issues resulting from the country’s decade of coups and protests. “Branding Dissent: Nitirat, Thailand’s Enlightened Jurists” examines, according to the abstract:

… the political role of a group of academic lawyers based at Thammasat University who have been seeking to reform various aspects of the Thai legal and judicial system. The seven-member group started out by criticising the illegality of the 2006 coup. After the 2010 crackdown against redshirt protestors, the group named itself Nitirat and started to hold seminars, draft legal proposals, and campaign to amend various laws. Nitirat has repeatedly challenged the legal and constitutional underpinnings of three key elements of the Thai state: the judiciary, the military, and the monarchy. In doing so, the group has gained a mass following, drawn mainly from those sympathetic to the “redshirt” movement which broadly supports former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Informally led by scholar Worajet Pakeerat, Nitirat has created a popular branding which is reflected in huge audiences for public events, and the sales of souvenirs. The article aims to answer the following questions: How does Nitirat combine the roles of legal academic and political activist? How does it differ from the traditional mode of Thai public intellectuals? How significant is the Nitirat phenomenon?

The article is behind an expensive pay wall.

The second article is “Thailand: Contestation over elections, sovereignty and representation,” by Kevin Hewison, and is behind the pay wall at the journal Representation. The abstract states:

Thailand’s politics in the early twenty-first century has seen considerable contestation. Underlying the street protests, military interventions and considerable bloodshed has been a struggle over the nature of electoral politics, popular sovereignty and representation. The military and monarchy have maintained a royalist alliance that opposes elections, popular sovereignty and civilian politicians, proposing Thai-style democracy as an alternative. Those who promote elections and popular sovereignty argue that these are a basis for democratisation.

The third publication is free and is a book review. The review is by Michael Montesano and looks at Innovative Partners: The Rockefeller Foundation and Thailand, published by the Foundation, allegedly detailing its 100 years of collaboration with mainly military regimes and royal interests. The blurb for the book, which can be downloaded for free, states:

For nearly a century, the Rockefeller Foundation and its Thai partners have been engaged in an innovative partnership to promote the well-being of the people of Thailand. From the battle against hookworm and other diseases to the development of rice biotechnology and agriculture, the lessons learned from this work offer powerful insights into the process of development. On the occasion of its centennial in 2013, the Rockefeller Foundation has commissioned a history of this innovative partnership.

The book is packed with royals and conservative royalism. It promotes minor royals as important and tends to ignore civilian politicians as if 1932 didn’t happen. This is another example of how royals capture and use willing foreign institutions to promote royalist ideology and control. The Foreword is by royalist scholar and anti-civilian politician activist Prawase Wasi. In one sense, though, the detailing of the links between the Foundation and the monarchy is revealing, if nauseating.

Yingluck’s demise

27 01 2015

There’s not a lot that is new in academic Kevin Hewison’s op-ed on the impeachment of Yingluck Shinawatra, but a few things worth highlighting. His article at The Conversation begins:

No-one should be surprised that Thailand’s former prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, has been impeached by the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly. This was one more act in a political tragedy in which elected politicians have been repeatedly defeated by the military and judiciary.

… These events were scripted, directed and produced by the military junta. Perhaps the only surprise was that Yingluck defended herself, her government and electoral democracy.

He points out that the “impeachment” was a “show trial”:

An unelected assembly, packed with generals and Yingluck’s political opponents, threw out an elected politician who had already been sacked by the Constitutional Court before the May 2014 coup. That putsch – itself illegal – ejected the elected government, scrapped the 2007 constitution and set its own rules to retroactively impeach Yingluck from a position she no longer held.

Hewison mentions Thaksin’s demise in 2006:

Not unlike her brother’s situation when he was ousted by a coup in 2006, it was Yingluck’s electoral popularity that brought her downfall. Thailand’s political elite is suspicious of elected politicians and fears that “populist” policies threaten its social, economic and political control.

On the military:

… the military wants to continue to steer political developments. There’s a good chance that the coup leader, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, will stay on as prime minister after elections….

The junta hopes that the final act in this political drama will be an election where the result will at least be a royalist and pro-military government and more likely a military-dominated one.

Whatever the outcome, it won’t be a democratic regime.

Further updated: Punishing Yingluck

23 01 2015

PPT has read several articles, social media sources and received several emails about The military’s puppet Assembly (predictably) voting to impeach former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. No links to the sources, just a cut-and-paste.

Yingluck was impeached for being elected prime minister. The puppets and a legion of royalists say it was about her lack of oversight on her government’s rice subsidy, but her real “crime” for them was her popularity and for being Thaksin’s sister.

The vote is one “partisan action aimed at crippling the political machine founded by her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, another ousted Prime Minister.” Other partisan actions will produce a constitution that will be anti-Thaksin, anti-democratic and anti-election.

Yingluck will be banned from politics for five years, but that is not enough for some, with the partisan Attorney General’s Office will “indict her on criminal charges for negligence related to losses and alleged corruption in the rice program.” That could lead to 10 years in jail. That may not be enough for others who will seek to drive her into exile.

Academic Kevin Hewison commented that the:

banning represents a show of confidence by the junta, which feels that it has broken the back of the Pheu Thai Party and the Red Shirt movement. It also allows the junta to reassert its anti-Thaksin credentials with the pro-royalist street movement that paved the way for the coup…. With Yingluck banned and Thaksin in exile, the military junta and its appointed bodies will feel more confident in gradually preparing the way for an election, probably in 2016. They will be more confident that they can be heavy-handed in changing the political rules to prevent any pro-Thaksin party having any chance to do well electorally.

Yingluck cancelled “a scheduled news conference because the military authorities had expressed concern that it might violate martial law.” She had already denied the charges and pointed to the essential unfairness of the process that was put in place and managed by her political opponents. Yingluck pointed to “a hidden agenda under an unjust practice, and [said it] is a political agenda.”

Yes, political, but hardly hidden!

She rightly pointed out that all these agencies “lacked the legitimacy to judge her because the junta terminated the constitution when it took power on May 22.”

Yingluck made some commentsat Facebook, saying she expected the Assembly to impeach her.

The idea that she can be impeached when she doesn’t hold a single position anywhere, having been thrown out just before the coup by the politicized Constitutional Court is reflective of bizarre royalist Thailand.

She stated that she insisted on her innocence. She added: “I am confident in my innocence.” Yingluck observed that “Thai democracy has died, along with the rule of law.”

She says she feels depressed because the “Thai people … have to return to the cycle of poverty, being taken advantage of and having lost the most fundamental democracy, as well as suffering the distortion of the law.”

Yingluck pledged to continue to fight to prove her innocence. She added: “… I will stand by the Thai people. We have to join forces in bringing prosperity and progress to the nation, bring back democracy and create the true fairness in the Thai society.”

Anti-democrats welcomed the pre-ordained decision.

Akanat Promphan, on his Facebook page, made inane statements about the “bravery” of the puppet Assembly, ethics and morals. He’s clearly lost his moral compass.

Update 1: The unofficial translation of Yingluck’s statement is available at the Puea Thai Party site.

Update 2: As noted above, the Attorney General has also decided to go after Yingluck, with the aim of tying her up in the courts or even in jail for months and years to come. She’s not the only one in the Shinawatra clan who is targeted. While PPT was recently disgusted by the political toadying of Somchai Wongsawat, the military dictatorship seems to have taken little notice, and the National Anti-Corruption Commission has launched a “lawsuit against former prime minister Somchai … and three others [Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, a former deputy prime minister, Pol Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwon, the former police chief, and Pol Lt Gen Suchart Muankaew, the former Metropolitan Police chief] over the 2008 crackdown on People’s Alliance for Democracy protestors.” The Supreme Court is to decide whether to hear the case. The royalist elite certainly seems keen to punish those it sees as elite traitors.

Palace coups

10 12 2014

PPT has just noticed a “birthday celebration” article on the king and politics in The Atlantic magazine. It makes some interesting points and shows how international commentators have become far more wary of simply reproducing palace propaganda than was the case even in the recent past.

For that change, we can credit the efforts of authors Paul Handley and Andrew MacGregor Marshall, and academics Serhat Unaldi, Patrick Jory, Michael Connors, Thongchai Winichakul, Kevin Hewison, Duncan McCargo and others. Activists like Ji Ungpakorn, Rose Amornpat, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Junya Yimprasert and others have also changed the monarchy discourse. And, perhaps, PPT and blogs like New Mandala have also changed perceptions.

Yet the story also evidences some confusions.

Beginning by noting that the king was a no-show for his promised birthday speech. It makes nothing of this, which is odd. Given the fanfare about the aged, frail and largely incomprehensible king coming out of hospital to make a speech, that event would have been a “coup” for the military dictatorship. But the report wants to make another point:

With nearly seven decades in power, Bhumibol is the world’s longest-serving head of state—and he’s somehow achieved this milestone in a country that has seen more coups than most any other. By one count, there have been 10 since Bhumibol assumed the throne after his brother, the previous king, was found shot in the head in 1946. As elected leaders and military juntas have come and gone in Thailand with a frequency unrivaled in the world, King Bhumibol has held on at the very top, and he is frequently described as a “unifying force” in a country with deep political divisions. How has he done it?

Much in this is odd. First, it is odd that the question of who shot the king’s brother is not made. It is now a widely-held view, as it was at the time amongst diplomats, that the present king shot his brother, probably by accident. Second, the claim made seems to be that the king has been a coup survivor. That is a very odd claim. Indeed, for almost all the military putsches during his reign, the king and palace have been actively involved with the coup-makers and, in some cases, the palace has been involved in planning and making the military intervention. Surviving a partnership with the military is far easier and more profitable than opposing each illegal military coup.

The article says that the king “survived” these military interventions, not because he was a part of them, but because he is “genuinely popular.” Remarkably, in making this point, The Atlantic cites Paul Handley, who is quoted: “He’s shown himself as really a man of his people…”. The article continues:

Listed by Forbes as the world’s richest monarch, worth some $30 billion in 2011, Bhumibol has presented himself as a friend to Thailand’s poor, with well-publicized efforts to improve rural development, health care, and education. A combination of authentic dedication and professional image management, Handley told me, have helped build up a strong reputation for the king over a period of decades.

If these are accurate quotes, and we think they are taken out of context, then PPT reckons that there’s a confusing of ideology and reality.  As is later stated: “The law also makes the monarchy’s own role in Thailand’s coups—many of which, Handley wrote in his book, ‘took place in the throne’s name and with the palace’s quiet nod’—difficult to discuss publicly within the country.” Indeed, the palace has been more deeply involved than this suggests.

In any case, as the article says, “it’s not quite that simple, and it’s impossible to know exactly how popular, or how unpopular, the king really is. Thailand criminalizes speaking ill of the royal family…. The [lese majeste] law may help protect the king’s image and reinforce his popularity, but their enforcement also provides an imperfect window into the anti-monarch sentiment that exists in the kingdom.”

It quotes David Streckfuss, who states that the number of lese-majeste cases has “skyrocketed to never-imaginable heights…”. Readers of PPT will know that the number of cases has gone up even further since then, with the military dictatorship using the law more feverishly than any government since the law was established in the early 20th century. Noting just one of these cases, the article states:

The law is now being employed by Thailand’s ruling military junta, which took power in a coup in May, to suppress dissent and demonstrate the military’s allegiance to the popular monarch. Just this week, a former member of parliament was sentenced to two and a half years in jail for comments made in a May speech entitled “Stop Overthrowing Democracy.”

Indeed, that speech made the palace-military link clear in recent military interventions. Under the royalist military dictatorship, facts are replaced by myth, and the enforcement of myth is vigorous.