Updated: Rewarding Suthida

15 10 2017

A couple of days ago a Royal Gazette announcement was circulated quite widely. It was about the award of one of the highest-ranked royal decorations to the commander in King Vajiralongkorn’s guard.

The reason for the interest is that, as Khaosod reports it, that commander is none other than the king’s most senior girlfriend/consort/concubine (we are unsure of the appropriate term), General Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya.

The Knight Grand Cross of the Most Illustrious Order of Chula Chom Klao is reserved for the royal family members, Privy Councilors and members of the royal household). There are normally 30 male and 20 female members of this order.

The report notes that the announcement of this award “coincided with the first anniversary of King Bhumibol’s death, and the formal date of King Vajiralongkorn’s [retrospective] ascension to the throne.”

Suthida is often in the military uniform. The king promoted him to general when he took the throne. Her “qualification” is that she is the king’s favorite consort.

Today, General Suthida is the “de facto head of security for … the King. Although she formally holds the title of deputy commander of the royal guard corps, the top rank had been left vacant since December 2016.”

As the report states, “Suthida had been serving in the royal guards unit since 2013, when King Vajiralongkorn held the title of Crown Prince.”

Update: For those who can read Thai, BBC Thai has a very useful account of Suthida’s rise, beginning from 2012 and listing the many promotions and awards that have been showered on her by the prince-now-king. Each event is linked to the Royal Gazette.





Lese majeste expanding madly

15 10 2017

Since the 2006 royalist military coup, the use of the lese majeste law has been expanded and deepened. Under the military dictatorship its use has become downright bizarre. By the month ever more absurd cases are being pursued.

Some of the downright absurd charges and allegations have involved: “insulting” a dead king’s dead dog, expressing doubt about an ancient king’s elephant battle, juveniles, jailing the family of the new king’s ex-wife, “insulting” a long dead king, a palace associate who sold oversized chilli paste to the new king’s household, fraudsters and grifters charged under Article 112 and much more.

None of these cases have anything much at all to do with the law as written. All of these cases have been assessed by an unstated royalist judicial view of what might, possibly, perhaps, cause others to think less of the existing monarchy. (Yes, we know the current monarch is starting pretty low.) There’s also a lot of unexpressed fear of not being royalist enough. And, there’s the requirement to be seen to be doing the required posterior polishing.

In a recent story, Khaosod reports that a lese majeste charge “might be filed against a construction company that allegedly defrauded 300 million baht from its victims…”.

The Department of Special Investigation has nabbed the Hujjee Group for having “solicited investment by claiming to have won major contracts in Myanmar from bogus royal family members of the Mon ethnic group there.”

Bogus royals? In Myanmar? DSI is “considering” whether to file a lese majeste charge against the seven people already in custody other suspects still being pursued.

This seems like just another group of garden variety of fraudsters who are so common in Thailand, but their alleged claims are about Myanmar and a bogus royal family that has no relationship with Thailand’s monarchy.

Should the DSI file lese majeste charges, the next step might be to charge companies like King Power, Hotel Royal Bangkok, Royal Coffee, Royal Airport Services, Royal Skyways, Royal Foods and even similar companies in other countries for using allusions to the monarchy in their trading names!

It’s getting that risible.





The “necessity” of military dictatorship

13 10 2017

In the Bangkok Post, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak comes up with his repeated excuse for military domination. He claims the succession explains it:

The consequent royal transition is likely to be viewed in posterity as the principal reason why the Thai people have had to put up with Gen Prayut.

Later he states, as he has before, that:

To appreciate how Gen Prayut and his cohorts could seize power and keep it with relative ease, we need to recognise the late King Bhumibol’s final twilight. The royal succession was imminent by coup time, and the Thai people collectively kind of knew the special and specific circumstances this entailed. Power had to be in the hands of the military, as it had to ultimately perform a midwife role. Unsurprisingly, ousted elected politicians may have complained about and deplored the coup but none wanted to retake power during the coup period. They knew that after seven decades of the reign in the way that the Thai socio-political system was set up around the military, monarchy and bureaucracy, it had to be the generals overseeing this once-in-a-lifetime transition.

This is nonsensical propaganda. There were, at the time, and today, many, many Thais who reject this royalist babble. But Thitinan just ignores the deep political and social struggles that marked the period of discord that began with the Asian economic crisis in 1997 and which was punctuated by two military coups.

Thitinan appears to us to be expressing the views of the socially disconnected middle class of Bangkok, those who hate and fear the majority of Thais, and “protect” themselves by attaching themselves to the economic and political power of the Sino-Thai tycoons, monarchy and military.

Thais have “put up with” ghastly military rulers for decades. The military dictators and rulers have used the monarchy to justify their despotism. General Pin Choonhavan used the “mysterious” death of Ananda Mahidol; General Sarit Thanarat promoted the monarchy as a front for his murderous regime; General Prem Tinsulanonda made “loyalty” de rigueur for political office.

Thitinan is wrong and, worse, whether he wants to or not, he provides the nasty propaganda that is justification for military dictatorship. We can only imagine that the military junta is most appreciative.

One reason Thais “put up with” military dictatorship now is because anti-democrats want it, because many of them hate elections that give a power to the subaltern classes. And, as Thitinan acknowledges,

Gen Prayut and his fraternal top brass in the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have guns and tanks to intimidate and coerce. In their first year in power, the ruling generals detained hundreds of dissenters and opponents for “attitude adjustment”. They even put some of those who disagreed on trial in military court. They also came up with their own laws in an interim charter, including the draconian absolutist Section 44. And they have used and manipulated other instruments and agencies of the state to keep people in check and dissent suppressed.

To be sure, dozens of Thais are languishing in jail during junta rule. One young man, a student with his own strong views, has been jailed for re-posting a social media message that appeared on more than two thousand other pages. The junta also has banned political parties from organising, and has generally violated all kinds of human rights and civil liberties all along.

In addition, the generals have not been immune to corruption allegations….

Thais, it seems, must just “put up with” all this in order to facilitate the death of a king, succession and coronation. Thitinan goes even further, lauding The Dictator:

who grew up in the Thai system from the Cold War, who came of age at the height of Thailand’s fight against communism in the 1970s, seeing action on the Cambodian border against the Vietnamese in the 1980s, serving both the King and Queen and the people in the process with devotion and loyalty.

In fact, General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s military promotion was not forged in “battle” but in providing service to the palace and especially the queen.

Thitinan declares that General Prayuth is the “soul of the nation,” a term once used for the dead king:

When Gen Prayut spoke for the nation [after the last king died], he meant it. Fighting back tears, in seven short minutes, he said what had to be said, and directed us Thais to two main tasks, the succession and the cremation after a year’s mourning. Had it been Yingluck [Shinawatra], who is not known for her eloquence, she might have stumbled during the speech. Had it been Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is fluid and flawless in speechmaking, it would have lacked the soul of the nation.

It had to be Gen Prayut, the strongman dictator and self-appointed premier. He is an earnest man, purposeful and well-intentioned….

Make no mistake, this is pure propaganda for military dictatorship. Make no mistake, Thitinan is justifying military dictatorship for the West, “translating” Thai “culture” for those he thinks are Thailand’s friends. He is saying to The Dictator and to “friends” in the West that 2018 or 2019 will mark the end of an “unusual” time and a return to “normality.” That “normal” is Thai-style democracy, guided for years by the military and its rules.

For those who seek a more nuanced and less propagandist reflection try Michael Peel in the Financial Times. He was formerly a correspondent for the FT based in Bangkok, and has penned “Thailand’s monarchy: where does love end and dread begin?” (The article is behind a paywall, but one may register and get access.) Peel asks: “In a country where few dare to speak openly about the royals, how do Thais feel about their new ruler?”

That is, how do they feel about the succession that Thitinan propagandizes as having “required” military dictatorship working as midwife.





1932 plaque back in the news

11 10 2017

Prachatai reports that the Puea Thai Party’s Watana Muangsook has been “accused of sedition for posting on Facebook about the missing 1932 Revolution Plaque…”.

That plaque “mysteriously” disappeared around the time that the military dictatorship’s “constitution” was promulgated by the king.

That was no coincidence. No one ever investigated the disappearance, suggesting that the authorities were the vandals and thieves or that they knew who was responsible for an act meant to further erase 1932 from Thailand’s collective memory.

Watana has said he will fight the sedition charge. On Monday he appeared for a deposition hearing that also includes a charge under the Computer Crimes Act.

The report states that the “Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) accused him of posting false information on the internet in claiming that the 1932 Revolution plaque is a ‘national asset’ in order to call for people to demand its return, adding that the post might also incite chaos.”

This is a very large pile of buffalo manure, but the regime’s exaggerated response suggests that it is protecting a very powerful thief.





Updated: Big deals for the Crown Property Bureau

7 10 2017

In a somewhat bland Bangkok Post article it is reported that the “Crown Property Bureau’s shareholding in Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), Thailand’s third-largest bank by assets, has declined by 3.33%…”.

That amounts to about 17 billion baht or more than half a billion dollars.

The CPB remains the bank’s largest shareholder after the transaction on 2 October. There were few other details.

SCB shares fell every day following the transaction in a market that reached a 24 year high.

The Post provided no other detail or any analysis suggesting fear at work.

Sure enough, a Reuters report suggests murky trading. It states that the shares “have been transferred on behalf of King Maha Vajiralongkorn from the Crown Property Bureau…”.

The report adds that the Securities Commission “filing by the Crown Property Bureau did not identify the ultimate beneficiary of the shares, nor did it indicate if any money had been paid for the shares.”

This is an odd “transaction.” It may have been a sale, but we don’t know. (PPT could not locate the announcement at the SCB website or those of the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Securities Exchange of Thailand.)

Reuters states that the CPB confirmed the transaction but declined comment further. An official reportedly said: “It is his majesty’s private affair so I cannot comment further…”.

The SCB also “declined to comment on the transaction in its shares.”

That’s odd for a publicly listed firm and will probably worry some institutional investors. If we were SCB shareholders we’d be very concerned about this lack of transparency. After all, SCB is supposed to be a public company, not a royal plaything.

This isn’t the only recent deal that lacks transparency. Back in late 1994, there was a deal done to buy most of Kempinski, the hotels company. The annual report for that year stated:

It was the SCB that headed up this takeover, with its chairman becoming the chair of Kempinski. When the economic crisis hit, Dusit Thani “sold its share of Kempinski Hotels to its partner, the Siam Commercial Bank…”. Exactly how this was done is unclear as the SCB was struggling at this time.

In a remarkably opaque statement at the Kempinski website, it is stated:

In 2004, the Thailand Crown Property Bureau took over a majority holding in Kempinski AG, which enabled the company to extend its portfolio even further by means of a global expansion strategy and to develop new markets.

How the CPB obtained Kempinski from SCB is unclear. The same site then adds, equally opaquely:

After 13 years, in February 2017, the two existing shareholders formalised previous plans for an equity transfer between them and the majority shares are now held by the existing Bahraini-shareholder while the shareholder from Thailand now owns a minority.

Some say the “equity transfer” was worth one billion Euros. That means about $1.6 billion in two known but opaque deals in 2017. These coincide with the king’s formal expansion of his power over royal loot.

Update: The Nikkei Asian Review states that it is King Vajiralongkorn who “has personally become a major shareholder in Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) following the transfer this week of shares held by the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) valued at about $500 million.” It adds: “report filed with the SEC by the Crown Property Bureau, it was stated that the 3.33% holding had been transferred to King Vajiralongkorn, but there was no indication as to whether there was any payment for the stake.”

The motivation for such a transfer remain unclear.





Lese majeste vs. historical debate

6 10 2017

PPT’s page on the various  lese majeste cases brought against conservative social critic Sulak Sivaraksa is rather long. Unfortunately, we will be adding to it.

Sulak

The fifth of these cases (that we know of) has these details. On 16 October 2014, Lt Gen Padung Niwatwan and Lt Gen Pittaya Vimalin, retired and deeply royalist generals, filed a complaint at Chanasongkram Police Station accusing Sulak of lese majeste for a speech he made about King Naresuan. This long dead king, surrounded by myth, is considered important for royalist mythology about Thailand.  Sulak made a public speech on “Thai History: the Construction and Deconstruction” on 5 October 2014, at Thammasat University, where he allegedly claimed the legend of an elephant battle between Naresuan and a Burmese king was constructed. He is also reported to have criticized the king of some 412 years ago for being cruel. Both claims have been the subject debates among historians.

It might be considered that “defaming” a figure from ancient history, for who there is only  scant reliable historical information, must be a nonsense. Yet the madness of the royalist judicial system knows no bounds, either in law or in insanity.

On 24 December 2014, police issued this statement: “… Sulak Sivaraksa has referred to Somdej Phra Naresuen the Great and Somdej Phra Chomklao Chaoyookhua (Rama IV) in a way that insults, defames, or threatens His Majesty the King…”. The police appear confused about present and past tenses and about past and present in general. Yet they pushed the case forward.

Khaosod reports that the police have told the 84 year-old Sulak that he must “report Monday morning to police who will take him to a military court to meet with prosecutors preparing a case against him for allegedly criticizing” Naresuan.

Sulak commented: “If the country was normal and there existed rule of law in this country, then there won’t be problems. The lese majeste law protects the current monarch and if someone is charged for criticizing a king who reigned 500 years ago, then something is not normal…”.

As everyone knows, Article 112 of the criminal code “forbids defaming, insulting or threatening the current king, queen, heir apparent or regent” not some dead king of centuries past. Yet in the recent past the courts have convicted persons for lese majeste against other dead kings. The prosecutors and courts simply make the law up as they go along and now seem to bizarrely interpret any critical comment against any royal, real or imagined, as constituting lese majeste of the current monarch, who wasn’t even on the throne when Sulak made his comments.

So now we have a case of an elderly man accused of “defaming” a long dead monarch and thus causing a transference of “defamation” to a monarch who died a year ago. Thailand’s judicial system has become entirely maniacal as well as ultra-royalist.





Updated: Yet another anti-monarchy “plot”

3 10 2017

Thailand’s recent politics has been awash with rightist and royalist claims of “plots” against the monarchy. The military dictatorship claims to have “discovered” another such “plot.” This time the plot is claimed to be a plan to disrupt the funeral for the dead king.

PPT can only express disdain for this political ploy and we can only wonder if anyone still believes such nonsense. As much as we’d like to see an an anti-monarchy plot in Thailand, we haven’t seen any evidence that there is one in the works now.

One of the first “plots” was the entirely concocted “Finland Plot.” The claim peddled by many associated with the People’s Alliance for Democracy and fabricated by notorious royalist ideologue Chai-anan Samudavanija and others. It claimed that Thaksin Shinawatra and former left-wing student leaders had met in Finland and come up with a plan to overthrow the monarchy and establish a communist state. These inventions were published in the Sondhi Limthongkul-owned newspapers and repeated many times by PAD.

As bizarre as this nonsense was, Wikipedia notes that the allegations had an “impact on the popularity of Thaksin and his government, despite the fact that no evidence was ever produced to verify the existence of a plot. Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai party vehemently denied the accusations and sued the accusers. The leaders of the 2006 military coup claimed Thaksin’s alleged disloyalty as one of their rationales for seizing power.”

Back in 2015, even the politicized courts held that ultra-royalist Pramote Nakornthap had defamed Thaksin with these concoctions. Not surprisingly, many ultra-royalists continue to believe this nonsense.

The anti-monarchy plot diagram

Equally notorious was the anti-monarchy “plot,” replete with a diagram, that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government concocted when faced with a red shirt challenge in April 2010.

The government’s Centre for the Resolution to Emergency Situations claimed to have uncovered a plot to overthrow the monarchy and said “intelligence” confirmed the “plot.” Indeed, the bitter Thawil Pliensri, the former secretary-general of the National Security Council “confirmed” the “plot.” The map included key leaders of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, members of the Puea Thai Party and former banned politicians, academics and hosts of community radio programs. Then Prime Minister Abhisit welcomed the uncovering of the “plot.”

CRES spokesman and then Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, who just happens to be the current dictatorship’s chief propagandist, repeatedly declared this plot a red shirt effort to bring down the monarchy.

We could go on, but let’s look at the current “plot,” which not coincidentally comes from the same military leaders who were in place in when the above “mapping” of a republican plot was invented. It is the same coterie of coup plotters (and that was a real plot) that repeatedly accused Ko Tee or Wuthipong Kachathamakul of various anti-monarchy plots and he was “disappeared” from Laos, presumably by the junta’s henchmen-murderers.

In the new “plot,” Deputy Dictator General Wongsuwan has declared:

Anti-monarchy cells are conspiring to disrupt the funeral of His Majesty the Late King this month, deputy junta chairman Prawit Wongsuwan said Monday.

Gen. Prawit described the alleged agitators as those who “have ill intentions toward the monarchy.” Although he gave no details, he said full-scale security measures would be implemented throughout the rites to place over several days culminating with the Oct. 26 cremation.

Prawit added that “[a]uthorities have learned of threats inside and outside the country, especially from those who oppose and have negative thoughts about ‘the [royal] institution’…”. He put “security forces” on “full alert.”

Careful readers will have noticed that the first mention of this “plot” came from The Dictator General Prayuth Chan-ocha almost two weeks ago.

Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart “refused to elaborate in detail on the supposed threat in the latest intelligence report” but still declared that “[t]hose involved were among the ‘regular faces’ abroad wanted on lese majeste charges, but who still incite negative feelings towards the monarchy among supporters through social media.”

The fingerprints on this concoction are those who have regularly invented plots for political purposes. That’s the military. They read all kinds of social media and put 1 and 1 together and come up with anti-monarchy plot.

We tend to agree with Pavin Chachavalpongpun, who is reported as saying:

The cremation provides an opportunity for the security forces to strengthen their position politically using critics of the monarchy as an excuse to increase the state’s heavy handed policy to control society more tightly…. Critics of the monarchy hardly pose a threat considering how much they have been suppressed since the coup….

The cremation and the coronation that will follow are critical political events for the military dictatorship. They want to be seen to be ensuring that everything runs smoothly for both events as the junta moves to stay in power, “election” or “no election.”  Finding a “plot” can make them look even more like the “protectors” of the monarchy.

Update: We don’t know why, but Khaosod’s most recent report on this “plot” seems to be supportive of the the junta’s claims. The claims this report makes amount to little more than reporting chatter. Similar chatter has been around for some time, encouraging individual acts that do not amount to anything like rebellion or disruption.

Some of the material that has been circulated may well derive from the state’s intelligence operatives seeking to disrupt and identify red shirts.  The thing about concocting a plot as a way to discredit your opponents is that there has to be elements in it that seem, at least on a initial view, feasible and believable. That was the point of the diagram produced above, naming persons known to be anti-monarchy. Putting them in a plot is something quite different.