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.





Monarchy, junta and judiciary entwined

17 03 2017

In a couple of recent posts, PPT has emphasized the lawless or rule-by-law nature of the military dictatorship. Under this regime, rule-by-law is essentially lawlessness as the junta can make everything it does legal, while using law to repress and oppress all of its opponents, be they red shirts, “politicians,” grannies, kids or activists.

Lese majeste has been one important law used against political opponents and the prince-cum-king’s personal acquaintances, minions and consorts who fall out of favor. The threat of lese majeste, interpreted in ways that are not even covered by the law, threatens and silences many.

The junta uses Article 44 dozens of times to make illegal actions legal or to ride roughshod over law and procedure. Having come to power illegally through a military coup, later made “legal,” the junta uses law when it suits it, but makes law up as it feels fit. In other words, it behaves lawlessly but makes that lawlessness “legal” through “special” decrees.

The judiciary is complicit in both the manipulation of lese majeste and the making legal the junta’s lawlessness. Since the late king’s infamous intervention in 2006, the judiciary has been more highly politicized, with movement to judicialization, marking itself out as a royalist court that “interprets” law for the political advantage of royalists and its class.

The most recent example of the judiciary’s view of itself as “above” the hoi polloi is its use of “contempt of court” allegations and charges against anyone daring to question or criticize a court or judges. This is a ploy used by various courts in recent years, always in political cases.

In Khon Kaen, the Provincial Court is going after student activists.

This court, doing the junta’s work, has repeatedly refused bail for Jatuphat (Pai) Boonpattaraksa, the sole person accused of lese majeste for sharing a BBC Thai nes story on the new king. More than 2,000 others did the same thing and are not targeted. Jatuphat is charged and jailed simply because he is an anti-junta activist.

The director of the Provincial Court’s Prosecutor’s Office has accused several supporters of Jatuphat with “contempt of court for participating in a peaceful gathering to demand for … [Pai]’s release.”

In a junta pattern, the charges are targeted on activists considered leaders. The junta wants to threaten all by targeting leaders. The junta wants to decapitate opposition groups. The judiciary supports the junta’s work.

The activists are:

Phayu Bunsophon, Chatmongkon Janchiewcharn and a female student activist (who does not want to reveal her identity), the three law students of Khon Kaen University who are members of Dao Din group, and Narongrit Upachan, a political science student from the same university who is a member of NGC.

The court will hold a hearing on the case on 24 April 2017, essentially considering its own evidence. Whatever the outcome, the court, complicit with the junta, is seeking to threaten and  silence.





Secrets and miracles

16 03 2017

The news media has been quite taken up with the scramble among junta people – and their accusations flying back and forth – on the failure to levy any tax on the Shin Corp sale deal back in early 2006.

Part of the problem for the tax authorities was that a later grab for Thaksin Shinawatra’s assets. The authorities wanted to his kids, but the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions had ruled that the assets really belonged to Thaksin, not his kids.

That seemed like a tax dead end, but no! At the last moment, before the statute of limitations expires, and amid recriminations within the bureaucracy, a way to tax Thaksin has been found!

Problem is, it is a secret. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who is involved in just about every news event of late, said the “Revenue Department will proceed with the tax collection process before the statute of limitations in the case expires on March 31.” He claims the junta has decided on a “miracle of law” that will allow to collect the taxes, which he says should “be worth a try.”

Secrets and miracles are hardly the stuff of rule of law, but this is a military dictatorship.

This secrecy reminded us of the secret changes to the draft junta constitution. As we understand it, the king has flitted off to Germany.

As far as we know from news reports, he has not signed off on the document that he received back in early February. That version, the junta says, only made changes to the (so far) secret things the king demanded. So why is he sitting on it? We know he has 90 days (although some reports did claim 30) to sign and only about 38  of those have so far been used.

We can only guess that the constitution is not considered urgent by either the king or the junta. It may be that a full 90 day “consideration” suits the junta which seeks every way it can to extend its military rule. There are no miracles in the constitution story, just secrets.





Even more palace cleansing

15 03 2017

The prince-cum-king has been cleansing and reorganizing the palace – his palace – for quite some time. One of the most high-profile bits of cleaning was the ousting of his former consort, the former Princess Srirasmi back in late 2014.

Since then there’s been a constant churn of people and officials close to the prince-now-king.

Now a report of yet another purge, this one in Khaosod English, which we reproduce in full:

The royal household announced a number of reassignments Monday in a reshuffling of the ranks.

Six palace aides working under His Majesty the King were stripped of their rank, some due to alleged misconduct, while five officials were promoted by the monarch for their service. Nineteen civil servants also left the royal household, four of them senior officials known as grand chamberlains.

Among the six military officers who lost their status were two officials, Cmdr. Jaruwan Changmool and Maj. Thanapon Yooman, who were expelled for serious offenses described in the Royal Gazette on Monday.

A royal statement said Jaruwan was slacking in her duties.

“[She] did not develop herself, lacked enthusiasm; was idle, and lacked correct judgment which caused damage” to His Majesty’s household, the Royal Gazette said in its proclamation stripping her of her rank.

Another statement accused Thanapon of multiple offenses, including disobeying orders from His Majesty the King himself.

“[He] used inappropriate words and behavior; disputed royal commands; displayed arrogance, insolence and insubordination; committed gravely evil acts; behaved carelessly in his bureaucratic duties; procrastinated; and neglected his bureaucratic duties,” the statement said.

Four other officers were stripped of their rank on technical grounds. The Royal Gazette said they had recently moved up two ranks within six months, which is not allowed under military regulations.

On the same day, His Majesty the King also promoted five members of his household corps, including three air force officers and two colonels, to generals, citing excellence in their services.

Meanwhile, 19 officials were fired from the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary. Four of them held the rank of deputy director to the royal household, a title known formally as grand chamberlain.

The Royal Gazette did not say why the officials were expelled.

Some details of this article have been been omitted to comply with the criminal royal defamation law.

The machinations in the palace, this lot coming as the king jetted off to Germany, are quite amazing. In fact, “amazing” is probably too limited a term. It is bizarre.

We wonder if lese majeste charges will follow.

Obviously, the king has the support of the military dictatorship as he behaves in this odd manner.





An example to other activists

14 03 2017

A Prachatai story on the continuing refusal of bail to activist student Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa begins:

While the government was humiliated at the UN’s ICCPR meeting in Geneva for serious human right violations, at home a Thai court has again refused to release a student activist who has become a posterchild of the pro-democracy movement.

He’s also a “posterchild” for the junta; an example of what can happen to anyone who opposes the junta’s regime.

Of course, there are plenty of others who deserve to have their lese majeste and sedition and computer crimes and anti-junta charges and jailing protested and given a political stage, not least those who are from classes other than those represented by student activists.

Jatuphat’s case is highlighted because he’s a university student of the middle class but also because it is clear that lese majeste is a tool being used by the military dictatorship to repress its political opponents. Joined at the hip to an unpopular king, the junta’s legitimacy and longevity is tied to that of the new monarch. Jatuphat’s jailing is a constant reminder to others of the middle class and other students that they should shut up and accept authoritarian royalism.

On 13 March 2017, for a seventh time, Khon Kaen’s Provincial Court “rejected a 700,000 baht bail bid by Jatuphat ‘Pai’ Boonpattararaksa, a law student and key member of the New Democracy Movement (NDM).”

The court remains miffed that “the activist had mocked the authority of the state without fear of the law” and added that he “faces other charges for violating the Public Referendum Act and the junta’s political gathering ban in connection with his previous political activities.”

He is an example to others: don’t mess with the military junta!

As a reminder, the story adds these details:

Jatuphat is accused of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law, for sharing on his Facebook account a controversial biography of King Vajiralongkorn published by BBC Thai. He is the first person to be arrested for lèse majesté under the reign of the new King.

Shortly after he was arrested for lèse majesté on 3 December 2016, the court released him on bail. However, his bail was revoked on 22 December after he posted a satirical message mocking the authorities on his Facebook account. The message read, “Economy is poor but they (authorities) took my money for bail.”

Despite the fact that more than 2,000 people shared the same article on Facebook, he was the only one arrested for lèse majesté.





Narisara on the barbaric lese majeste law

12 03 2017

The following post is provided by Narisara Viwatchara, who lives in exile after being accused of lese majeste under Article 112 of Thailand’s law:

The lese majeste law is indeed barbaric and contradictory. How could you know the truth when you don’t even know if the one who praises the royals is being truthful?

Praising the royals is the ONLY way for anyone to talk about them openly and without fear of reprisal. If you utter even a slight hint of negativity, it could land you in a Thai jail.

The lese majeste law hinders creativity. Time and again, creative and talented people are thrown in jail for allegedly defaming the monarch. Some two years ago, two university students sentenced to five years in jail for staging a play allegedly defaming an imaginary king!

This despicable law extends beyond Thailand so that the protection of the monarch is universal. It can be used against anyone, anywhere in the world who states anything in a negative tone with references to the monarch, queen, heir apparent and regents, even if such criticism is based on the truth!

No civilized nation should have such a warped law and oppress her people!

I am sure a growing number of the populace now realize that they have been deceived all these years by the royalist elite but they are too fearful to express themselves.

Thais are basically non-violent people. Royalists know this and that may be why they have been able to control the minds of the people for so long. They are not always successful, so the violence of the state backs up their ideological hold.

All of Thailand’s neighbors got rid of their parasitic monarchy a long time ago. So did most other countries in the world.

Thailand must rid of itself of this undemocratic hold on government where the king is the head of state. Thailand must be a republic.