Meechai as military lackey

12 09 2018

Meechai Ruchupan has loyally served several military and military-backed regimes.

Meechai has faithfully served royalist and military regimes, being a in various legal and political positions to prime ministers Sanya Dharmasakti, Kukrit Pramoj, Seni Pramoj, Thanin Kraivichien, General Kriangsak Chamanan, General Prem Tinsulanonda and Anand Panyarachun. His main task in all of these positions has been to embed Thai-style (non) democracy. rather than an electoral democracy where the people are sovereign.

He also worked for Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan, but when Chatichai was ousted in a miltiary coup led by General Suchinda Kraprayoon and his National Peace-Keeping Council (NPKC) in 1991, Meechai was hoisted by his military allies into the acting premier’s position before Anand was given the top job by the military, probably on royal advice.

Later, the military had Meechai appointed the leader of a charter-drafting committee, leading to the 1991 Constitution, which eventually led to the May 1992 massacre. In drafting that constitution, Meechai simply plagiarized bits of a charter that had been used earlier by a military regime. The major “achievement of that constitution was in allowing an “outsider” prime minister. Sound familiar? Yes, that’s what he has recycled into the 2017 constitution.

Like many of the “good” people, he is arrogant, practices nepotism, lies for his bosses and political allies, slithers before the monarchy, he’s a “constitutional expert” who practices and supports double standards and the retrospective application of laws. You get the picture.

Thai PBS now reports that, against all evidence, Meechai has claimed to not be a military lackey. As the report begins:

Every coup-maker of the past two decades needed his service. Seizing power doesn’t end with just toppling the incumbent governments. Coup announcements and executive orders need to be issued. And more importantly, interim constitutions need to be drafted.

And his track records have proven that nobody could have done a better job with all these necessary paperworks than Meechai Ruchuphan.

It is well more than two decades, but let’s go on.

Maybe he’s been to a fortune teller who predicts that Meechai will burn in the fires of hell for an eternity or perhaps he’s writing a self-congratulatory book. But whatever the reason, Meechai improbably claims that “he was inadvertently dragged [sic.] into a few coups despite the fact that he hardly knew any of the generals involved.”

He reckons that the multiple coup leaders just needed his legal expertise. In other words, he claims he’s just a tool for the men who repeatedly act illegally in overthrowing legal governments and smashing constitutions.

A tool he might be, but a willing and blunt tool. Willingly plagiarizing and willingly taking positions and pay from dull dictators.

But none of that means, at least in Meechai’s fairy tale, “that he would follow every marching order from the military.”

That he’s piling up buffalo manure is illustrated in his ridiculous claims about the 2006 coup.

He says the first he was ever at the army headquarters was during the 2006, which he knew nothing of. Really? Seriously? More unbelievable is his statement that he “didn’t even know at the time who was leading the coup. There were three of them there and I knew only afterward … [who] they were…”.

He is imitating the Deputy Dictator making stupid and unbelievable stuff in the belief that the public are gullible morons. That Meechai thinks anyone would believe that he, a military servant for decades, didn’t know three of the most powerful generals is laughable.

Then he lies about the 2014 coup: “His service was enlisted once again by the people he didn’t know.” Yes, that’s right, didn’t know anyone. He lies:  “I didn’t know Gen Prayut and didn’t even know what he looked like…”.

We assume that when he was President of the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly after the 2006 coup he kept his eyes closed the whole time so that he didn’t see NLA member Gen Prayuth.

He goes on and on with this stream of fermenting lies to claim “that even under military dictatorship … he was by no means an unquestioning subordinate of those in power.”

Meechai is unscrupulous and a military lackey. He doesn’t feel like a lackey because his ideas on anti-democracy fit the generals ever so perfectly.

The arrogance of the man is as stunning at Gen Prawit’s.





Updated: Royalism undermines popular sovereignty

14 08 2017

Everyone knows that the prince, now king, began his purges of the palace from late 2014, when he “divorced” Srirasmi. Dozens of her family and associates were jailed. Then there were the clearances that saw “unreliables” ditched, deaths in custody, lese majeste jailings and the use of a personal jail. Some fearful palace associates, now out of favor, fled the country.

This was followed by an aggregation of control to the palace. The constitution was secretly changed to accord with the king’s desires and then secret meetings of the puppet assembly gave him control over formerly state bureaucratic departments and the vast wealth of the Crown Property Bureau to the king.

Has he finished? Probably not. Fear and favor mean that an erratic king will lose interest in some people and some things and will need to be rid of them. Then he’ll desire control over other people and things.

But one of the other things that is noticeable is the “normalization” of the reign, as if nothing has changed or that the changes made are in line with the normal activities of the king and palace. Yet even this “normalization” has been a process of promoting a heightened royalism.

The media has been used recently to promote royalism. The excuse has been the queen’s 85th birthday, with a series of “stories” about “people nationwide” celebrating her birthday. Many of the photos showed military men and bureaucrats doing the celebrating.

The Dictator was especially prominent, leading the junta in an alms-giving exercise for 851 monks at the Royal Plaza, claiming it was also a tribute to the dead monarch.

More specific propaganda pieces have dwelt on “merit” and filial piety. For example, the Bangkok Post has run pictures of the king, his mother and Princess Sirindhorn making merit together.

Other royal stories include a donation to of 100 million baht to Siriraj Hospital, with the king thanking the hospital for taking care of his father. The money is said to have “come from revenue from selling his diaries featuring his drawings…”.

While we might doubt that so much money can be made from the sale of a collection of childish drawings, the junta’s support for the king has been strong and maybe it bought many diaries and distributed them.

But back to deepening royalism. The Nation reports on a “revival” of Kukrit Pramoj’s restorationist story “Four Reigns.” Kukrit was an incessant promoter of royalism, ideologue for the dictatorial General Sarit Thanarat, booster for King Bhumibol and diplomat for royalism translated for foreigners.

The Four Reigns is now Six Reigns. According to The Nation, the “restaging of Thailand’s most commercially successful musical play is more pro-absolute monarchy than ever.”

The play opens with the scene in which the spirit of Mae Phloi starts to recount her life story and confirm her unwavering love for “kings”, and the background is the familiar image of people gathering outside the wall of the Grand Palace paying respect to the late King Bhumibol.

And with the last scene showing Thai people paying respect to King Vajiralongkorn, the play now covers six, not four, reigns.

Clearly, the play … tries, more clearly than the original novel, to prove … that Thailand was much better before 1932 than after. This outdated attitude doesn’t sit too well in 2017 Thailand, as we try to build our political system from “military junta under a constitutional monarchy” to “unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy”, a kind of democracy that is already difficult to explain to our friends from many countries.

This royalism can only deepen as the cremation of the dead king approaches and as Vajiralongkorn and the junta further embed his reign and undermine notions of popular sovereignty.

Update: The new king is the old king propaganda continues, with two stories at The Nation of the king’s donations to 300 flood victims and 39 students in the south. We should add that there is no evidence provided of where the funds come from. Like royal projects, it may be that “donations” are all taxpayer funded.





Lese majeste and repression

7 06 2016

In this post we wish to draw attention to two recent articles discussing lese majeste and its impacts both personal and society-wide.

It has become “natural” for royalist Thais to “defend” the monarchy in recent years. Of course, royalists have always done this – the restoration of the monarchy after 1932 and more especially after WW2 was about defending the monarchy and recalibrating to again rule. The latter kind of failed, except in the ideological space, but it was royalist generals Phin Choonhavan and most especially Sarit Thanarat who forged an alliance with the palace (and Seni and Kukrit Pramoj) to make the palace-military alliance that has been so powerful and handsomely rewarded generals and the royal family.

Much of the history of this remaking and partial restoration is unknown to average Thais who have been indoctrinated in schools and universities and by the use of mass media. This is attested in an article at the Bangkok Post, by Achara Ashayagachat, where her account of lese majeste and various kingly anniversaries seems to be one of a gradual political eye-opening.

On the spike in lese majeste cases, she says: “Observers attribute the increase of cases to intense political polarisation, following the 2006 military coup and concerns over the King’s health.” This is only a partial story, for as she states, lese majeste is “more often than not, it is used — or abused — as a political tool in cleansing or taking revenge on individuals or political opponents.”

It is a tool used by the royalist elite and its military allies, and not always for political opponents in the usual sense, but in a kind of “traditional” sense as well. This is seen in the post-2014 coup list of “68 lese majeste cases relating to opinions, poems, cartoons, and comments online during the last two years, excluding the 37 fraud cases that are linked to names of the royal family.”

These “fraud” cases have been made lese majeste cases, and we assume that it excludes the two men who mysteriously died in custody.

The second story is a long account of the anti-coup poet and cyber activist Sirapop who writes as Rung Sila, apprehended on 24 June 2014 and still imprisoned without bail, charged with various “crimes,” including lese majeste. The report is of Rung Sila’s case – until now, little known. He denies all charges and affirms that he will continue to fight the charges. He is being tried in secret before a military court. It took almost two years for his case to go before that kangaroo court.

His arrest was for failing to report to the junta. Even today, still jailed, he refuses to bow before that lot: “I did not believe that the coup makers, or, if you will, the traitors, would remain in power for long and I chose to defend rights, freedoms and the constitution peacefully and nonviolently, avoiding aggression, by simply not cooperating with the traitors.”

One aspect of the story that is revealing of events we at PPT had never previously heard was of the junta’s own involvement in the interrogation of Rung Sila:

There was a major session on the final evening in military custody with 50 officials led by an admiral with the NCPO. The admiral told him that he had been constantly monitored and that there were many items that had come to the attention of military war rooms during multiple periods of unrest…”.

He was interrogated by dozens of thugs, but the involvement of “an admiral with the NCPO” – the junta – is another eye-opener. (The only admiral in the junta at the time of the coup was Admiral Narong Pipatanasai.)

Both articles deserve attention.





A $40,000 a day derriere

20 02 2016

The Cambodia Daily reports that when the portly Thai Princess Sirindhorn arrives in Cambodia’s Ratanakkiri province for a three-day visit to Cambodia on Monday,” she will enjoy the comfort and privacy of a luxurious freestanding bathroom built for her on the shore of a popular lake at a cost of more than $40,000, officials said…”. Sirindhorn and golden mikes

The “8-square-meter outhouse overlooking Yeak Lom Lake on the outskirts of Banlung City was carried out by the Siam Cement Group (SCG) at the request of the princess and took 19 days” to complete.

For the couple of people who do not know, the Crown Property Bureau is the largest shareholder of SCG and runs the group. International shareholders might question this “donation” that really does polish the royal posterior.

Sirindhorn is nearly always acclaimed at the most “down to earth” of the royals, but clearly her nether regions need special and expensive care.

“This toilet was constructed for the Thai princess’ use. When the princess has finished with it, they will take the toilet equipment back to Thailand, but the princess will leave the building for our community to use…”. Well, SCG will leave it.

We wonder why Cambodians don’t deserve “toilet equipment”? Perhaps the royal butt has special features and leaves something behind that might be exploited. We recall that Kukrit Pramoj once smashed a toilet after the king had seated himself on it for his ablutions.

A Thai involved in the outhouse construction noted that SCG had used “materials are of the very highest quality,” and required the work of one Thai supervisor and “10 Thai laborers who built the structure using only materials imported from Thailand.”

Presumably, for Thai elites, Cambodians are untrustworthy or worse when it comes to royals. Cambodian workers banged up some other, “more modest” bogs for the royal’s usually extensive entourage when they need to empty the pipes.

The report says that the “facilities will almost certainly come in handy” because “Pierre-Yves Clais, the owner of the Terres Rouges Lodge in Banlung City, said his staff had been tasked with organizing a lakeside banquet for Princess Sirindhorn featuring fish amok, fish in butter sauce, foie gras and ‘pancakes done the French way’.”

The report cites Andrew MacGregor Marshall, the author of “A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century,” who described the construction as “an insult to the Cambodian people.” He’s right.





Old men renewed

7 10 2015

What is that statement by a dead philosopher? George Santayana, reflecting his times and his political conservatism, stated:

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Marx put it this way when referring respectively to Napoleon I and to his nephew Louis Napoleon in The Eighteenth Brumaire:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

In Bangkok, it is arguably a little different as we see a sorry repeat of past farces as tragedy, as if The Dictator and his flunkies have no memory of their own past.

The appointment of Meechai Ruchupan to chair the new 21-member Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) is not a surprise for anyone. This appointment of a loyal servant of the military was predicted as soon as The Dictator got rid of Bowornsak Uwanno and his lot when the military dictatorship became fearful of a referendum and elections.

Meechai has worked on several constitutions, for the military, in the past. The Nation has quite a matter-of-fact account of Meechai’s career as a conservative, royalist servant of various military regimes.

Meechai, who is a member of the junta (NCPO), has faithfully served royalist and military regimes, being a in various legal and political positionsto prime ministers Sanya Dharmasakti, Kukrit Pramoj, Seni Pramoj, Thanin Kraivichien, General Kriangsak Chamanan, General Prem Tinsulanonda, Chatichai Choonhavan and Anand Panyarachun.

Chatichai was ousted by a coup led by General Suchinda Kraprayoon and his National Peace-Keeping Council (NPKC) in 1991 and Meechai slithered into the acting premier’s position before Anand was hoisted into the top job by the military, arguably on royal advice.

In 1991, the military had Meechai appointed the leader of a charter-drafting committee, leading to the 1991 Constitution, which eventually lead to the May 1992 massacre. In drafting that constitution, Meechai simply plagiarized bits of a charter that had been used earlier by a military regime.

This, when the Bangkok Post reports that “[g]ood elements from past constitutions will be collected to include in the new constitution,” it is quite possible that “good” simply means the reproduction of military desires for control. That it is claimed that “a first draft is expected in January which would then be presented to the public for feedback” is no cause for celebration. Meechai has yet to accept the idea of public consultation, With it or not, we expect Meechai to produce royalist rules that suit the current junta; that’s his track record.

The Dictator, General Prayuth has already told Meechai what he wants. Meechai denies this, but the general has stated it as a fact.

Chaturon Chaisaeng is right to point out that “the new CDC is made up of several legal experts, its weakness is that none of its members have had experience in drawing up constitutions that uphold the principles of democracy.”

Prachatai reports that “[p]ro-democracy activists” have already “rallied in front of the parliament to protest against the new batch of constitutional drafters hand-picked by the junta.”





Defining political inanity II

11 03 2015

A couple of days ago, the Bangkok Post felt the need to publish a propaganda piece by “Captain (Ret) Dr Yongyuth Mayalarp,” who is listed as “Spokesperson to the Prime Minister’s Office.”

We at PPT have never quite understood why having been a “captain” in the military (or the police) remains a badge of (dis)honor for the rest of one’s life. If the collective memory here is any good, we recall that the minor prince and royalist politician Kukrit Pramoj, for all his nasty political machinations against “non-royalists,” at least poked fun at this ridiculous notion by, on occasions, using “corporal” to describe himself.

Yongyuth is a long-time military flunkey, having been a deputy spokesman for the 2006 military junta “during the coup.”He worked at the Army’s Channel 5 from 1993, and like so many posterior polishers of the powerful, even worked for the self-important Surakiat Sathirathai when he promoted himself for the UN Secretary-general’s position and failed, as any sensible person knew he would.

But back to Yongyuth’s rather poorly-written propaganda piece, replete with English language clangers. It begins:

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha [sic.] has on many occasions talked to the public about his vision for Thailand, entitled “Stability, Prosperity and Sustainability”. He has taken the time to listen and speak to people from all walks of life about the future direction for the country. In light of this as well as the comprehensive reforms that are currently under way, it is only fitting that as citizens, we take some time to reflect on how the country can move forward.

PPT hasn’t seen Prayuth listening to anybody. He’s the boss. He dictates, orders, has tantrums, makes demands, represses and attacks those who disagree with him.

Yongyuth, who has spent some time overseas, mainly in elite circles in Britain, suggests:

We are mindful of the notion that Thailand is undergoing a period of fundamental transition in political development. It is useful for us to think about the experience of other countries and how their paths of major reform and transition share some commonalities with ours.

As Thailand is possibly the only military dictatorship in the world, has probably had more military putsches than any other nation and has a regime that prefers authoritarian royalism to other ideologies, we expect that the comparisons might be thin.

Yongyuth then launches into a barely intelligible account of the justification for the military dictatorship based on The Dictator’s “reading” of recent history, still claiming that the junta’s will “serve as the basis for a sustainable democratic system in Thailand.” Presumably he means Thai-style democracy. He makes the ludicrous claim that the coup, the junta and the military dictatorship can be conceived as “a way to manage the conflict…” that was manufactured by the anti-democrats, in league with the military brass.

Like so many conservatives, and not just in Thailand, Yongyuth and his bosses have a peculiar view of their country:

Many can recall that there was a time Thai society was being held together by a deeper appreciation for national unity based on our national heritage. It was a time when we were able to agree to disagree, a time when civility prevailed even though there were differences in opinion.

Of course, this is the military’s view of its long control of Thailand’s politics, allied with the Sino-Thai business class. The underlings knew that they had to shut up and bear the exploitation of the rich and powerful. It is the military dictatorship’s aim to reimpose that elite hegemony.

Yongyuth finds nothing odd about referring to a democracy “for the people, and by the people”. Declaring that “Thailand is not fundamentally retreating from democracy,” he makes the quite ludicrous statement: “We are strengthening our democratic institutions to prevent outright abuses of democracy in the past…. It is this government’s priority to take care of all of our citizens, and not just the majority like has happened in the past,” before coming up with the anti-democrat line: “… democracy is more than elections and must be based on respect for the rule of law. It must be about good governance, transparency, accountability and equal access to justice.”

Given the military dictatorship’s lack of transparency, zero accountability (that is what martial law allows) and a failed and politicized justice system, we think Yongyuth has used up his brain cells.

Remarkably, although we at PPT are getting used to the strange, remarkable and odd from the minions of the military dictatorship, Yongyuth reckons there are “lessons from international history in terms of democracy, governance and civil society.”

Which lessons? It is here that Yongyuth shows his ignorance. The first example: “We are aware of the Reform Act of 1832 in Britain and how long that took but after much debate and discussion.” Indeed it did take a long time, precisely because the wealthy and aristocratic elite opposed equal voting rights and extended voting rights. The aristocratic elite’s preferred “rotten boroughs” and patronage.

The puppet Constitution Drafting Committee is proposing to restrict voting and to have unelected senators and an unelected prime minister. 1832 in Britain was about undoing such unrepresentative arrangements, not entrenching them.

GuillotineNot content with that mistake, Yongyuth’s second example is even more bizarre: “We are aware of the French Revolution and how ultimately, it was the political will of the people to overcome injustice, poverty and misery, and that exploitation of the poor is unacceptable.”

Ah, did he notice that the French Revolution established a republic, put the king and queen to death and abolished feudalism and the old rules and privileges of the ancien régime. In Thailand, the military dictatorship uses feudal laws like lese majeste to repress opponents and the military itself serves the monarchy and the privileged.

We won’t even bother with the third crazy example. Suffice it to say that when Yongyuth declares that “national reform” by the military and its puppets is somehow “by the Thai people,” he is ignoring, dismissing and denigrating the people.





Royalist “constitutionalism”

16 03 2014

As PPT has posted before, there is support for the anti-democratic movement from various scholars connected to royalists and Thailand’s right since the days of the CIA’s involvement in the U.S.’s support for anti-communist and authoritarian regimes fronted by the military. The royalists have regularly wheeled out the relatively unknown American Stephen B. Young to support the anti-Thaksin Shinawatra and anti-democratic movement and to promote palace-inspired and conservative royalist ideas regarding politics and forms of “Thai-style democracy.”

We have previously mentioned Young as a commentator who heads up his own organization, the Caux Round Table, which is about shameless self-promotion. While the royalists like to say Young is a “scholar,” this is a misrepresentation. His major publication appears to have close connections to CIA-funded operations. His other publications are his own rants published in pretty meaningless places or self-published as a result of royalist support for their talking head.

A reader sent us a long version of yet another “paper” that Young has produced on the royalist “vision” for Thailand, and we were content to ignore it and let it disappear without trace. However, the conservative Bangkok Post has seen fit to publish a shortened version, so we are pushed to comment. In his longer paper, not only does the author spell “constitutionalism” incorrectly, but is listed as “Stephen B. Young, Esq.” as if from the 19th century. Both seem appropriate for that paper, which is a travesty of uniformed nonsense about Locke, Rousseau and constitutionalism.Young

For more and better information on these 17th and 18th century philosophers and their impact on constitutionalism, try here, here, and here. A bit of searching produces many papers that are learned and which contradict Young’s sometimes bizarre interpretations of Locke and Rousseau in this longer piece. So odd is his interpretations of Thailand’s history are impossible to briefly characterize here. What is more significant is Young’s remarkable confusion in his call for conservative reform.

Young’s basic point is that Locke’s approach to constitutionalism is a kind of perfect liberalism, while Rousseau’s is more radical and leads to authoritarianism. He argues that Thaksin Shinawatra and the red shirts are the inheritors of Rousseau’s alleged authoritarianism via the People’s Party, 1932, Pridi Phanomyong and Plaek Phibulsonggram. Indeed, Young makes the claim that Rousseau’s thought is the basis of all totalitarianism, and notion that has been refuted time and again since the early 19th century:

These interpretations, based on the concepts of the “total surrender” of individual rights (“l’aliéna-tion totale”) and of the absolute sovereignty of the state over all its members, draw conclusions from the Contrat social that are fundamentally opposed to the intentions of its author. Indeed, for Rousseau, liberty was the most precious of possessions, a gift which nature has made to men. They can no more be deprived of it rightfully than they can be deprived of life itself; nor can they be permitted to divest themselves of it for any price whatsoever. The social pact should not be interpreted as abrogating, in effect, a right which Rousseau declared inalienable and inseparable from the essential character of man.

Based on false premises, Young proceeds to make a nonsense of Thailand’s modern history. His interpretation of Locke and Rousseau is a manipulation to make a political point that resonates with palace and royalists. His selective use of quotes from these two philosophers is banal. PPT could be just as selective and note that Locke was “a major investor in the English slave-trade through the Royal African Company. In addition, he participated in drafting the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina while Shaftesbury’s secretary, which established a feudal aristocracy and gave a master absolute power over his slaves.” Hardly liberal, but also an unduly narrow interpretation.

His claim that “Thailand now needs sustainable constitutionalism harmonising with its Buddhist culture of seeking the equilibrium of the middle path between extremes and aligning with the rule of law” is a plagiarism of much earlier conservative ideas about constitutionalism that were developed in the early 1960s by Kukrit Pramoj (opens a PDF) and other royalists as elements of military-backed monarchism.

Firmly based in this conservative tradition, both Western and Thai, Young wants to provide a way forward for Thailand. He begins with an interpretation that Locke’s writings allow a popularly-elected government to be disposed of if it is believed to threaten liberty or property. Young chooses to interpret this as meaning:

“Thaksin’s manoeuvres to concentrate power in his hand by means of bringing elected officials under his personal sway caused his government to lose its legitimacy under Locke’s constitutional system. So, under that system, by seizing too much power Thaksin forfeited his authority and the people of Thailand were within their rights to withdraw allegiance from him and his ministers and seek to replace his government with one more faithful to upholding the public trust.

Young does not explain how this interpretation can be applied in circumstances where pro-Thaksin governments have been elected in every single national election since 2001. His claim that “the people of Thailand” could rise up against the elected government is simply an acceptance of anti-democrat propaganda. Other anti-democrats and royalists have avoided this philosophical gap by simply rejected elections.

Young, however, demonstrating his confusion and lack of imagination by arguing for more elections and a political system that looks a lot like the U.S. presidential system:

The executive branch of the national government should be removed from direct dependence on the National Assembly. The chief administrative officer of the cabinet of ministers should be directly elected by the people for — say — a three-year term of office. The election of the chief administrative officer would be held in years when the House of Representatives is not elected.

His other suggestions on decentralization, police, the judiciary (which he acknowledges is politicized), impeachment, and House and Senate are essentially American. Fixed term legislatures may or may not be relevant for Thailand, but certainly limit the very Lockean interpretation of threats to liberty and property he claims are the base of his “constitutionalism.”

He then suggests a path forward for Thailand current political stand-off that has no basis in law or constitution.

PPT takes all of this a a sign that the royalists have been very confused and challenged by the Yingluck Shinawatra’s seeming ability to hold out against the old threat of military coup and the newer threat from judicial coup (at least for the moment). It seems that the old men who have always believed they have the answers for Thailand are flummoxed.

 





Updated: The king and 1976

17 03 2013

To conclude PPT’s “mini-series” on recent documents located by Andrew MacGregor Marshall, we now turn to some important British cables posted at Zen Journalist and which reflect on the mythology surrounding the events leading up to the bloody massacre of students at Thammasat University on 6 October. That mythology is that the king was supportive of the students who rose up against the military regime that had existed since 1958 and which had done so much to restore the monarchy.

As seen in a cable from 1963, the king, just 36 years old and close to the repressive military regime, seems to enjoy showing a “liberal” side to foreign guests. However, his comments on students are telling:1963 on students

Essentially, he sees student demonstrators as trouble. He is reported as saying that he “told the Thai students he would not allow them to demonstrate here.” The king sees student demonstrators as either paid or manipulated (with echos of how the amart speak of those who vote for pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties). Indeed, Thai students as the sons and daughters of the elite, do remain reasonably quiescent until about 1972.

Without going into detail (see this excellent documentary), by October 1973, demanding constitutional rule, a student revolution brought down the military government. The king is usually portrayed in a positive light during these events, with the recent hagiography King Bhumibol Adulyadej. A Life’s Work manages to transform the king as supporter of the military regime into a political savior and democrat. It was the opening of palace gates to students fleeing the military’s guns that made the legend of the student-supporting king. But it didn’t take the king and palace long to abandon the students, reflecting the 1963 position, considering them communists or duped by communists. Almost immediately, royalists and the palace began supporting extremist and rightist military groups as they mobilized against the “liberal” forces unleashed by the student uprising. Lese majeste accusations began to mount and trials were held. As Ben Anderson (link opens a PDF) described the mounting fear for royalists and palace as communist forces made gains in neighboring countries,

Anderson

The stage was set for the 6 October massacre of students by royalist thugs and forces close to the palace such as the Border Patrol Police.

It is from this point that the British cables of 1976 become interesting and enlightening. The first of these is from 9 October 1976 (the link downloads a PDF) when the smell of blood and burned bodies had barely cleared at Thammasat, and British diplomat Malcolm Macdonald met the king and the Embassy reports on the meeting. It is clear that Anderson’s assessment of the king as a rightist is vindicated. He says the students were politicized and intent on overthrow the government and “the establishment.” We read this as a reference to the ruling class and the monarchy. He claimed they were influenced from “outside” and he feared the links the students had developed with unions and this challenge saw him state that he preferred a military government. The result was that, for some time, he had formed the view that a military government “was inevitable.” He explains that he knew of the coup in advance and had not objected. Thereafter he sets out the path of politics that was to be exactly as his chosen Prime Minister Thanin Kraivixien later expressed it:

No constitution

The next cable is from 13 October 1976, by British Ambassador David Cole. This file is so large that we are unable to load it so the originals will need to be viewed at Zen Journalist, which is often blocked in Thailand (Update: A version is available here).

The cable defends the military. Ambassador Cole makes the claim that the coup was not “premeditated by the military” is contradicted by the king’s statement cited above and by a later claim citing Kukrit Pramoj. His claims that the right-wing groups like the Red Gaur, Village Scouts and Navapol had nothing to do with the military brass appears contrived. However, the prediction that a far right government would be “disastrous for Thailand” seems reasonable. Interestingly, lese majeste is at the heart of the coup justifications, both in repeating the bogus claim that a student looking like the crown prince was theatrically hung by students. Lese majeste is also mentioned in military thinking:Lese majeste

Cole then turns to the role of the king and states: KingIndeed, from the cable of the 9th, we know that the king did more than acquiesce. Then Cole turns more directly to the palace and its involvement: QueenAs in 2006, when the role of the palace was clear, the king and the coup leaders tried to cover his tracks and those of other royals, even when they were obvious. While Cole predicts that the monarchy will be the biggest loser from the coup, this was be but a short-term setback as the king and his propagandists set about rewriting the history of this event.

The third cable is from about a month after the coup. On 5 November 1976, Cole writes about the current political situation. Again, this cable, reporting the Danish Ambassador, shows clear palace involvement, with the king planning for post-coup political arrangements well in advance of the coup: ThaninIn short, nothing changed all that much for the palace in deciding events in 1976 and in 2006. They were involved and were enthusiastic about being involved.





Palace involvement in coup planning (1957)

12 03 2013

Andrew MacGregor Marshall has managed to find yet another critical cable (reproduced, left and right; click on them to get a larger image) for understanding the role of the current monarchy in Thailand’s politics and especially in the planning of military coups.dhani1

Many readers will know that the palace was deeply involved in the planning of the 2006 military coup. There is no doubt that palace figures were very closely connected with the cabal of plotters who schemed to get rid of Thaksin Shinawatra’s government. Likewise, Privy Council President  General Prem Tinsulanonda actively campaigned against the government. Academic Kevin Hewison summarized this planning and scheming in a set of articles from the Journal of Contemporary Asia that can be downloaded as a large PDF:

… the palace’s footprints litter the trail to the coup. Prem’s critical role has been noted, and it is impossible that he would act without palace approval. Indeed, through Prem, the palace knew of the coup well in advance: “The coup plot was known within a tight circle of people, among them Gen Prem Tinsulanonda … and his close aides…, Air Force Commander … Chalit Pukkasuk and Lt-Gen Anupong Paochinda, commander of the First Army Region” (Wassana, 2006).

Often this deep involvement is portrayed as a “slip” in the king’s constitutional role, “necessary” for returning Thailand to the conservative hands of the ruling elite, delivering it from the “populist” and “authoritarian” Thaksin.

Interestingly, what the document uncovered by Marshall shows is that the palace has been involved in earlier coups – in this case the royalist putsch by General Sarit Thanarat – that was to result in a catapulting of the monarchy back to political and economic centrality.dhani2

In Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles, mention is made of the Sarit gaining “palace backing” by February 1957 and that “the palace aggressively undertook to undermine the prime minister” (p. 136). Later, Handley notes that the king called on Prime Minister Phibun to “resign to avoid a coup” (p. 138). Phibun refused and Sarit threw him out.

A missing link in this trail of palace politicking is the cable that details the planning of the coup. In the cable, British Ambassador Berkeley Gage writes on 17 April 1957 about a remarkable meeting the previous day in which a gaggle of royalists, including the President of the Privy Council, Prince Dhani, and the royalist agitators Seni and Kukrit Pramoj, amongst others. This was effectively a meeting of royalists and opponents of the 1932 political revolution, planning a coup, to reinstate royal power and wealth.

The presence of Prince Dhani is highly significant as this prince was the motivating political force in the palace and could not have occurred without the king’s approval or even suggestion. Clearly the palace was deeply involved. As the cable states:

Sarit

The palace’s footprints litter the trail to the coup in 1957, as they did in 2006.





With a major update: Zen Journalist on death of Ananda

6 03 2013

LandonAndrew MacGregor Marshall has posted another installment in his search of documents regarding the death of King Ananda Mahidol. PPT won’t post anything from it as readers can get to the account here. The new information is Margaret Landon‘s account, written in 1971, that has the current king shooting his elder brother. She claims this information is from a source close to the royal family.

PPT imagines that many will discount Margaret Landon as a reliable reporter based on her earlier and greatly debated accounts of things royal in Thailand.

Update: At the version of this story posted at Zen Journalist (ZJ) blog, more detail is provided. The author makes this statement:

The [official] investigation deliberately excluded a fourth possibility: that Ananda was accidentally shot by somebody else. This fourth possibility is the truth. Ananda Mahidol was shot and killed by his brother Bhumibol. It seems inconceivable that the killing was premeditated. It was a terrible tragic accident or aberration, and it has haunted Bhumibol Adulyadej ever since.

He notes a cable from the U.S. representative in Bangkok:

The Prime Minister spoke to me very frankly about the whole situation and ascribed the King’s death to an accident, but it was obvious that the possibility of suicide was in the back of his mind. He was violently angry at the accusations of foul play levelled against himself and most bitter at the manner in which he alleged that the Royal Family and the Opposition, particularly Seni Pramoj and Phra Sudhiat, had prejudiced the King and especially the Princess Mother against him.Doll

Part of the reason for suspicion being directed to Pridi, apart from simple prejudice against a leader of the 1932 revolution, is mentioned in a British document (right). (If the clips look small in your browser, just re-load the page and you should be able to view it.)

In addition, in a later cable this is stated:

The Department may also be interested to know that within 48 hours after the death of late King two relatives of Seni, first his nephew and later his wife, came to the Legation and stated categorically their conviction that the King had been assassinated at the instigation of the Prime Minister. It was of course clear that they had been sent by Seni.

SangwanSeni, like the royal mother, hated Pridi, not least for his pivotal role in 1932. Her view is shown in the snippet, right, from a British document, reproduced in the ZJ post.

The discussion which follows is important for understanding how the death of the king was politicized in quite remarkable ways. It has long been known that the Pramoj brothers and the nascent Democrat Party used the death to oust Pridi. However, at least for PPT, the claim that follows in new and plausible:

Meanwhile, increasingly alarmed about Bhumibol’s refusal to return from Lausanne, and concerned that his complicity in Ananda’s death would disastrously weaken him as a monarch, leading royalists including Democrat Party leader Khuang Aphaiwong, and the Pramoj brothers Seni and Kukrit, hatched a plan to announce that Bhumibol had killed Ananda. They hoped to force him to abdicate in favour of Prince Chumbhot.

The source for this is Kenneth Landon. ZJ then states:

The plan was foiled by military strongman Field Marshal Pibul Songkram, who deposed the Khuang government in a coup in April 1948. Pibul wanted to keep Bhumibol on the throne, believing that the secret of his accidental killing of Ananda could be used to manipulate him.

The account then moves to Margaret Landon’s note mentioned above.