Re-feudalization and repression

26 01 2020

Somsak Jeamteerasakul has posted another before and after picture of the destruction of symbols of the 1932 revolution and the People’s Party. This time at the Field Marshal P. Phibulsonggram House Learning and History Center in Chiang Rai:

Meanwhile, yet another critical report seems to have been removed from the Khaosod news website.In this case, an opinion piece by Pravit Rojanaphruk titled “Opinion: The Talibanization of Bangkok’s Architectural Heritage” about the erasing of post-1932 architectural style from Rajadamnoen Avenue, has gone.

When one looks for the article at the site, the return is:

It was there.

And it was circulated:

And it was re-posted in Thailand:

Frustratingly, PPT didn’t copy the article before it was taken down. If any reader has a copy, please email us.

The last time this happened it was a news story about the trouble caused by Princess Sirivannavari when she and some rich friends had a holiday in the south and officials closed land and sea to allow her to have fun with “security.” Ordinary Thais lost income and work while taxpayer funds were burned.

As far as we can tell, in neither case has Khaosod explained why the articles have been disappeared. We assume the management and owners came under pressure. But from where? From notions of self censorship? Or from the regime? Or from the palace?

The fear about commenting on anything royal is reinforced. The erasure of memory and history gathers pace.





Playboy prince, fearsome king

25 01 2020

Readers may be interested in Richard Bernstein’s piece with Vox, “Thailand’s playboy king isn’t playing around.”

PPT finds some of the underlying assumptions a bit too accepting of elite propaganda:

Self-crowned

With King Bhumibol Adulyadej old and ailing, many worried the Thai monarchy would atrophy into irrelevance once his playboy son [Vajiralongkorn] ascended to the throne. And given its importance as a pillar of Thai nationhood and identity, that could be disastrous in a country already prone to deep divisions and political turmoil.

This ignores the fact that Vajiralongkorn was preparing for the throne for all those years that the old king was ailing. But, anyway, as the author says, “… things have decidedly not worked out that way.”

As Bernstein notes, the outcome of succession – so far- is that “… Vajiralongkorn has rapidly amassed power.” That’s legal, economic and political power. On the economic side, suggesting that the royal wealth is $43 billion seems a significant underestimate to us.

The article lists several of the ways in which this transition to an even more powerful king has taken place in a relatively short time.

Through all of this, Vajiralongkorn has behaved badly, just as he has throughout his adult life:

Vajiralongkorn gets away with things that would have ruined his predecessors, [and]… involves an intentional display of royal power, a signal that the rules that apply to everybody else don’t apply to him.

Fear is palpable when it comes to Vajiralongkorn:

Royal Household Bureau via Khaosod

It’s clear that nobody wants to be heard saying anything negative or derogatory about Vajiralongkorn. Thailand is a country where there can be lively conversations about all sorts of topics….

But there’s almost no discussion of the king’s grasping, his horrid treatment of his women, his militarization of the monarchy, his manipulation of the law or anything else. Political critics worry that they may end up in jail or floating in a river, murdered and disemboweled. It may be that lese majeste is no longer used the way it was under the military junta, but the beatings, deaths and disappearances are a potent warning of the lawless power wielded by and for the monarch.

Bernstein writes of the seldom-discussed “massive building campaign in the central Dusit district of Bangkok.” This area is now essentially a “royal compound”:

It’s an immense rectangle, surrounded by newly renovated walls surmounted by the yellow flag of the monarchy. Soldiers patrol the sidewalks alongside. Construction cranes loom over the ramparts. In one area, a row of large buildings that once housed senior members of the palace staff are empty and decaying, reportedly awaiting demolition.

The gates to the old zoo are locked shut. A glimpse into the old race track revealed a bunch of construction sheds….

“It’s all a way of making his power formal, visible,” one person whispered to me. “He wants everybody to see, whether it’s taking back the land that the zoo is on or assuming direct control of military regiments. And nobody can or dares to stop him.”

The king and the junta’s years in power eliminated opposition to such grandiose designs and little is whispered about the vast (mis-)use of public funds for aggrandizing a monarch whose every action projects a desire for re-feudalization and absolutism. He cultivates:

an image of sternness, command, and Olympian distance from ordinary people. If there were people hoping somehow that, being a Western-educated, cosmopolitan person living mostly in the West, he would encourage a move back in the direction of liberal values and practices, they have by now been disappointed.

We have no idea how anyone could have thought that the obsessive-compulsive Vajiralongkorn was ever going to be anything other than a military man, a thug and greedy wasn’t watching him as he “matured.”





Going backwards II

24 01 2020

In our last post on the destruction of symbols of 1932, PPT commented: What’s next? The Democracy Monument? Changing street names? We think anything is possible under a king who wants more absolutism and mad military monarchists who cravenly lick his boots.

We got the answer within hours. An erasure of architectural style on Rajadamnoen Avenue as another effort to make Bangkok the monarch’s city.

Rajadamnoen now. Clipped from Wikipedia

Khaosod reports that the Crown Property Bureau, on King Vajiralongkorn’s orders, will “tear down buildings along a 1,200-meter stretch of the iconic Ratchadamnoen Avenue and rebuild them under a new architectural style…”. The CPB owns the buildings.

The CPB will “renovate 10 buildings on the avenue in a ‘neoclassical’ style, ditching the art deco look originally implemented in the spirit of a 1932 revolution that overthrew the absolute monarchy.”

Rajadamnoen now. Clipped from Wikipedia

For example, the Deves Insurance building, majority owned by the king, “is currently a six-storey art deco structure” but will be made neoclassical.

Why neoclassical? According to theCPB, “the new look will showcase ‘art, culture, and identity of Thailand’.” In other words, neoclassical is considered the style of the absolutist monarchy even if the Avenue has never had such a style.

As the report notes, “Ratchadamnoen Avenue is perhaps the most politically charged landmark in the capital; its history symbolizing the ebb and flow of the ideological struggles that define the last century of Thai politics.”

The monarchy is now reclaiming control of the properties and their style, and it can be expected that the politics will be removed from the avenue as it is made more firmly a royal avenue.

Royal vandalism. Clipped from Khaosod

After 1932, the revolutionaries “soon set out to fill Ratchadamnoen Avenue with buildings designed under art deco style… [A]rt deco was chosen by the revolutionaries to signify a break with the feudal past.” As historian Chatri Prakitnonthakan notes, “Buildings with this look came to represent democracy. It represents the ushering of the modern era…. It’s democratic architecture.”

The king and his agents, including the monarchist-military regime.

Chatri recognizes that “conservatives are not happy and hate this type of buildings,” and there can be no doubt that the king has been schooled in this conservative mode and his now using his economic and political power to obliterate symbols of 1932 and democracy.

And, of course, the report notes the fear: “In spite of the magnitude of the change coming to one of the most iconic landmarks in the Old City, few people are willing to discuss the issue.”

Officials responsible for maintaining building and construction ran and hid when asked about the CPB’s project. No official dares comment.

Others claimed that “they carry out whatever changes or construction as instructed by the Crown Property Bureau.”

Welcome to neo-absolutist Thailand. Watch for more such moves against symbols of 1932 as the monarch promotes cultural and political crimes.





Further updated: Going backwards I

23 01 2020

Earlier this month we pointed to another effort directed by King Vajiralongkorn to erase all symbols of the 1932 revolution.

We pointed to reports that memorial statues to two leaders of the 1932 revolution – Phraya Phahol Pholphayuhasena and Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram – were to be removed at a military base in Lopburi.

This was just the latest in a string of secret, then semi-secret and now brazenly open re-feudalization efforts by the palace to de-memorialize 1932 and replace it with symbols of the monarchy.

We observed that history is being re-constructed as we watch.

This dirty deed has now been done, in the depths of night, as shown in social media posts of before, during and after the official vandalism.

What’s next? The Democracy Monument? Changing street names? We think anything is possible under a king who wants more absolutism and mad military monarchists who cravenly lick his boots.

Update 1: There’s now some confusion on social media about this removal of statues. The photos above referred to a statue of Phahon Pholpayuhasena being removed. Some reports had it as a statue of Phibun. It seems the latter’s statue remains. If we see any further news on this we’ll update.

Update 2: The confusion on statues seems to relate to a Phibun statue in Bangkok, which is still in place. The social media commentary on statue removal referred to Lopburi. Prachatai has a graphic summarizing the destruction and memory erasures:





Rampant re-feudalization

22 01 2020

The effort to re-feudalize contemporary Thailand has been gathering pace since the 2014 military coup and since King Vajiralongkorn ceremonially took the throne.

The most recent effort to move backwards “students at public schools operated by the City Hall must line up and sing the Royal Anthem in unison every morning per order from [junta-appointed] Bangkok Governor [Pol Gen] Aswin Kwanmuang.”

Indoctrinating the young (from Chiang Rai Times)

Aswin claimed his royalist imposition was because “he wanted to promote loyalty to the monarchy…. Singing the Royal Anthem is just an idea to promote … love and faith in the nation, religions, and the monarch, who are the crucial foundations of Thainess…”.

The report claims that “Thai schools typically require students to sing the National Anthem every morning,” which is well known, and adds that the Royal Anthem “… is played less frequently. In many schools, the Royal Anthem is sung only once a week, at the end of class on Friday.” Even that is a relatively recent royalist innovation.

Aswin now demands that the royal anthem must be sung after the national anthem every day.

The royal anthem was the national anthem until the 1932 revolution. So Gen Aswin’s order is yet another rolling back of 1932.

One of the military junta’s first steps after the coup was to tighten the thought control in schools. That involved both militarism and monarchism.





Another year of PPT

20 01 2020

Eleven years have passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand. We admit our disappointment that we remain active.

By this, we mean that PPT should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, being unnecessary as Thailand’s political prisoners, its military dictatorship and political repression would have been a thing of the past. But political dinosaurs flourish in Thailand’s fertile environment filled with fascists, royalists and feudalists. Sadly, the political climate in  the country is no better following last year’s March “election,” which was rigged to return a junta-based regime.

When we began PPT on 21 January 2009, we hoped it would be a temporary endeavor, publicizing a spike in lese majeste cases to an international audience. Instead, a decade later, we are still at it and dealing with the outcomes of royalist politics gone mad.

We now face the repressive reality of the continued dominance of a military dictatorship-turned-military-backed regime, initially brought to power by an illegal military coup in 2014. This regime is underpinned by a nonsensical royalism that protects an anti-democratic ruling class and efforts by the king to enhance his political and economic power, cheered on by the regime. This royalist state lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few.

In “protecting” monarchy, regime and ruling class, the military junta and its “elected” spawn have used a politicized judiciary, a rigged constitution and blunt military and police repression to maintain power.

Last year we argued that the junta’s rigging of an “election” that would embed a military-royalist constitution and lead to a political nightmare, maintaining military political domination for years to come. Sadly, we were right.

A better, more representative and more democratic politics remains a dream.

When we sputtered into life it was as a collaborative effort to bring more international attention to the expanded use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws by the then Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and his anti-democratic Democrat Party. That regime’s tenure saw scores die and thousands injured in political clashes and hundreds held as political prisoners.

The royalism and repression that gained political impetus from anti-democratic street demonstrations that paved the way for the 2006 military coup and then for the 2014 military coup have become the military state’s ideology. Those perceived as opponents of the military and the monarchy were whisked away into detention, faced threats and surveillance and some have died or been “disappeared” in mysterious circumstances.

This royalism and repression has also strengthened the monarchy. The junta supinely permitted King Vajiralongkorn to assemble greater economic and political power. It colluded with the palace in aggregating land for the monarch that was previously set aside for the public. It has colluded in destroying symbols of the 1932 revolution, emphasizing the rise of neo-feudal royalism that leaves democracy neutered.

On this anniversary, as in past years,  we want an end to political repression and gain the release of every political prisoner. Under the current regime – as military junta and then “elected” regime – hundreds of people have been jailed or detained, subjected to military courts and threatened by the military.

The 2006 and 2014 coups, both conducted in the name of the monarchy, have seen a precipitous slide into a new political dark age where the lese majeste law – Article 112 – has been a grotesque weapon of choice in a deepening political repression.

From 2006 to 2017, lese majeste cases grew exponentially. Worse, both military and civil courts have held secret trials and handed out unimaginably harsh sentences. And even worse than that,  the definition of what constitutes a crime under the lese majeste law has been extended. Thankfully, since 2017 we were unable to identify any new lese majeste cases and some in process were mysteriously dropped. There remain several persons held or charged with lese majeste and cries of lese majeste still emanate from royalists and ministers.

These days, other charges, including sedition, are used to repress political opponents.

As for PPT, we have now had more than 6.5 million page views at our two sites (one now closed). PPT isn’t in the big league of the blogging world, but the level of interest in Thailand’s politics has increased. We are pleased that there is far more attention to political repression and lese majeste than there was when we began and that the international reporting and understanding of these issues is far more critical than it was.

Tired after all these years, we did take a break in late 2019, but we are now back.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with us. We trust that we remain useful and relevant and we appreciate the emails we receive from readers.

As in the past we declare:

The lese majeste, sedition and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

Charges against all political activists must be dropped.

All political prisoners must be released.

Royalism and neo-feudalism must be opposed.





Further updated: “The Threat”

19 01 2020

Like some mid-20th Century Hollywood B-grade movie, The Threat emerges from the (authoritarian) political sludge to try to undermine and crush Thailand’s monarch and the monarchy. Yes, even when almost all the supporting actors are military and the regime is military-dominated and military-backed, The Threat is always there, eating away at authoritarian monarchism.

The Threat is most usually from those who oppose the military and its never-ending efforts to control politics. Under the current regime, where the military is in the hands of ultra-royalists and, in fact, where the king has a firmer hand on the military than at any time since 1932, “threats” are most often associated with Thaksin Shinawatra because of his electoral popularity in the first two decades of this century.

Royalist rightist Rientong

Anyone who attended the recent rally for the regime at Lumpini Park would have noticed the placards linking the Future Forward Party and its leaders to Thaksin. Also noticeable was the claim that FFP represented a threat to the monarchy and, ipso facto, the nation. These demonstrators for the regime and those who organized them consider FFP’s popularity and the urge for democratization to be a threat to the monarchy. We have no doubt that, scared witless by the red shirt rising of a few years ago and associated anti-monarchism, the palace and the royalists in government worry endlessly about how to turn the tide, especially among the younger generation.

Opposing The Threat involves not just all kinds of electoral cheating, constitution rigging and shoveling increased power to the king, but bellicose ultra-rightist thugs and expensive, taxpayer-funded displays of military power and loyalty to the king and throne.

On the rightists, the Bangkok Post has an unusual electronic headline (right) that seems to indicate that the recently unleashed royalist attack dog Maj Gen Rientong Nan-nah was thinking he might be king. It turns out he was just thinking of following the regime and its opponents and organizing a run/walk not for the regime per se, but “a run to ‘save the king’…”. Yes, so great is The Threat from FFP, a party in opposition, that the barking Major General feels the need to “save the king.” He’s been told to reign that idea in for a while. But watch his space. Once unleashed rightist royalists become murderous thugs.

All of this agitation plays into the bizarrely concocted Illuminati “case” against FFP at the regime’s Constitutional Court. Somehow we don’t think that this “case” will be the end of FFP – even the hopelessly biased Constitutional Court and its mentors could not be this ridiculous, maybe, perhaps. Betting seems to be that the Court will dissolve FFP in another case, where the Court will miraculously define a loan as a donation to a political party. In the end, the plan is to do away with Thailand’s third most popular party.

For the displays, even in his so far short reign, King Vajiralongkorn has had plenty, and he’s not even in the country all that much. He’s also had the Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong doing his bidding and a bit of his own in also barking about The Threat. He’s sees FFP as a bunch of Commie rats.

Clipped from Khaosod

An AP report on the most recent (waste of taxpayer money) display of defending the king from The Threat came when the king, queen and the most senior of his children (from wife #1) Princess Bajrakitiyabha “presided over an oath-taking ceremony Saturday at an army base where almost 7,000 soldiers and police paraded to mark Armed Forces Day.”

The report notes that “Vajiralongkorn’s presence at the ceremony was unusual, as Thai monarchs have rarely, if ever, attended the occasion, even though the royal palace and the military are closely linked.” The regime – and presumably the palace – linked the parade to the king’s coronation last May.

As ever, the military brass groveled and frog-marched to show their willingness to face The Threat, declaring: “I pledge my life to honor and sustain the greatness of the king. I pledge my loyalty to Your Majesty and will serve and guard Your Majesty till the end of my life…”.

The monarchy, military and regime are making clear their intention to destroy upstarts who comprise the contemporary “threat.” The broader ruling class – which should be worried about this concentration of power – is probably willing to go along with it so long as the regime that maintains the ruling class’s wealth is maintained.

Update 1: Leaked documents appearing at Somsak Jeamteerasakul’s Facebook page suggest that the taxpayer has been hit with a bill of at least 340 million baht for the Army’s display for defending the king.

Update 2: For an example of how “The Threat” causes great fear among regime supporters, try former Bangkok Post Editor Veera Prateepchaikul’s most recent op-ed. Veera’s a hack, but writes op-ed’s essentially for the broad yellow group that supports the military-backed regime. He’s been running a campaign against FFP since they did so well in last year’s election, and he’s obviously very frightened that, should FFP do well and not be dissolved, electoral democracy might make a comeback. Veera and his ilk fear that.