What happened to that palace “crisis”?

9 12 2018

Readers may recall that, in the period before Vajiralongkorn came to the throne, there was a widely-held view that there was a “succession crisis” in Thailand.Nothing was seen publicly, although when the incoming king did not take the throne for a period, the media was abuzz.

Earlier, PPT wrote that it had to be admitted that Wikileaks, the 2006 coup, the role the palace played in that, the royalist opposition to electoral representation, the infamous birthday video, and the rise of the successionist line in blogs and on social media have changed the way most of the world thinks about Thailand’s monarchy.

There were also those stories circulating that the then Crown Prince was close to Thaksin Shinawatra and red shirts. This even led to a forlorn hope that the new king might be “more democratic.”

Then there were stories about rifts in the palace, most notably between the then prince and Princess Sirindhorn, who were characterized as competing for the throne. One story reckoned she was preparing to decamp for China if her brother became king.

PPT wasn’t convinced by this successionist argument., but we couldn’t ignore the way discussion of succession merged with rising anti-monarchism.

We can’t determine whether this crisis was a beat up based on limited evidence coming from an opaque palace, wishful thinking, an effort to destabilize the palace under the junta or something else. What we did notice was that the 2014 coup had a lot to do with snuffing out anti-monarchism.

In the end, it turns out, the biggest “crisis” for the palace occurred in late 2014, when the king-in-waiting “cleaned” out his family and continued a palace cleaning and reorganization that saw dozens of lese majeste cases and saw many jailed and some die.

All of this is a long introduction to a new op-ed by Pavin Chachavalpongpun at FORSEA. On all of the above, he now states: “There was no such war. Vajiralongkorn was already firmly in charge of palace affairs before his father passed away in October 2016.” He adds:

After the long authoritative reign of Bhumibol, some would have hoped that the new monarch would be more open, liberal even. Yet, they were wrong. Now that Thailand has installed a military-trained king on the throne, who is determined to expand the monarchy’s powers, the country’s future does not seem bright. The new monarch promises authoritarianism rather than democracy.

The op-ed deserves attention for its focus on what Vajiralongkorn has been doing on the throne:

Vajiralongkorn is striving to re-establish the power and authority of the royal institution, fully enjoyed by Thai kings prior to the abolition of absolute monarchy in 1932….

This is the first time since 1932 when a new Thai king holds more formal power than his predecessors. The entrenchment of the monarchical power has been made possible by a renewed alliance between the monarchy and the army through a repressive military regime.

His economic and political power has expanded. Under the junta, no one can say anything much about this.

Pavin mentions the huge land grabs in Bangkok:

has taken into his possession a number of major public buildings in Bangkok, from the Dusit Zoo to the Nang Loeng Horse-racing Track. Both are located within the close radius of the royal palace. The confiscation of these buildings was supposedly meant to be an expansion of the spatial power of the new king. A dream of redesigning Bangkok to mimic London where royal properties have been integrated finally comes true under Vajiralongkorn reign. The only difference is that whereas the British royal parks are open for public, those in Thailand will be forever shuttered.

The grabs in the area of the palace – also including Suan Amphorn, the so-called Throne Hall and the current parliament buildings and land – have coincidentally been about erasing 1932.

In terms of politics, it seems pretty obvious that all of this palace work depends on the extension of authoritarian rule.





Sulak, the king and lese majeste

24 11 2018

A story from an Australian newspaper provides yet more detail on the king and lese majeste via Sulak Sivaraksa. It is kind of looking like Sulak is a palace messenger.

The report notes that despite multiple lese majeste charges brought against him (all under the previous king), Sulak “remained a monarchist.” As a monarchist, “[h]e believes the lese-majeste law, Article 112, should be abolished for the sake of keeping the royal family strong.”

Sulak “speaks highly of the new king … who he says is not only responsible for his freedom but for no new lese-majeste charges being laid against anyone in a year.” He claims that on lese majeste, Vajiralongkorn “… is impatient, he said ‘no more’…”.

Academic Patrick Jory argues that the frequency of use has to do with “… political crisis, particularly one in which the monarchy is involved…”. He also suggests that “the coming election and Vajiralongkorn’s coronation, on a date yet to be set, have both played a part in the year-long moratorium on new charges.”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk says: “While there has been a sharp drop in lese-majeste prosecutions, Thai authorities have switched to using other laws, such as the Computer-Related Crime Act and sedition law, to prosecute critics of the monarchy…”.

As well as praising the king, Sulak refers to Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, as “mediocre” and “the worst of the dictators we’ve had,” but “competent.” Worst, mediocre and competent is a wide range of descriptions and he also describes Gen Sarit Thanarat as “the worst.”

Mixing all that up, Sulak then declares: “Prayuth’s afraid of me. He’s a hypocrite. He used this case to silence me. Every dictator hated me. Suchinda [Kraprayoon, whose brief tenure in 1992 was marked by a massacre] was very bright compared with Prayut. He tried to kill me.”

No of this makes sounds particularly compos mentis, his comments on Vajiralongkorn need to be seriously considered as he is one of the few who has spoken about him.

Sulak is described as “circumspect about what the king is like in person,” but admits that “[h]e has a bad public image…”. He continues:

He’s shy, but he’s very knowledgeable. He’s very concerned with the survival of the monarchy, and very concerned about whether this country could be really democratic.

I think the king is wise. He wants the monarchy to be more open and more transparent. He has gained a lot of confidence [since he assumed power].

That’s all very scary.

On the future of lese majeste, Jory says “the new king is very unpopular, particularly compared to his father, and with “too many skeletons” in the monarchy’s closet he does not expect the lese-majeste law to be reformed any time soon.”

Jory says the “monarchy has lots and lots of enemies. This issue in the medium term won’t go away,” meaning that lese majeste will be maintained. “He is not expecting much to change with the election expected in February.”





Madam Secretary and the monarchy

21 11 2018

A couple of days ago PPT, along with plenty of others, pointed out to febrile Thai officials that the Madam Secretary television show is a fictional TV show, even if its attention to the monarchy and lese majeste seemed reasonably accurate for the period since the 2014 military coup.

But, of course, as has been the case for several decades, royalism demands that officials “defend” the monarchy, keeping the issue in the news rather than simply allowing it to fade away.

That coven of royalists at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that it had “asked the Thai embassy in Washington D.C. to convey our concerns on the content of the show’s particular episode, which touches upon Thailand and the monarchy institution…”.

For those who don’t know, the monarchy is often referred to as “the institution” in Thailand. Royalists and opponents alike have fallen into this silly argot.

The Ministry also stated that it had “lodged a complaint that the producers of the show didn’t consider the sensitivity of the matter.”

The “sensitivity” might be that the king-as-portrayed died or it may relate to the barbs directed at monarchy and the call for it to be overthrown.

Not unexpectedly, a U.S. embassy spokeswoman has explained that the “show is a fictional work, an expression of the show’s creators, and is not a reflection of U.S. government views…”.

Stating the obvious may not sooth ultra-royalists, especially as they recognize the portrayal as accurate of feudal Thailand. That said, the junta hasn’t mobilized anti-US protests whereas it might have a couple of years ago.





Madam Secretary criticism affirms Thailand’s feudalism

19 11 2018

A couple of days ago we posted on the episode of Madam Secretary that includes commentary on Thailand’s monarchy and the feudal lese majeste law. Most controversial is the part of the episode that includes a call for the monarchy to be brought down. The episode is available here.

The episode opens with comments on Thailand from the main character, the US Secretary of State, who emphasizes the feudalism of the monarchy and a statement that “Thailand is a country where free speech does not exist.”

A religious studies professor who was born in Thailand has a monologue – a speech in Bangkok – that goes like this:

Thailand is a land of contradictions. A Buddhist nation that worships its own king as semi-divine…. This … country imposed on its people the worship of a man nowhere recognized in its Buddhist faith….

Where does it [Buddhist faith] say that one man and his family should be worth over $30 billion while many of his people starve and beg in the streets?

… I call for an end to this family’s rule over Thailand. Let the monarchy die when our king passes from this world and let the people of Thailand choose their own leaders, not false gods.”

She’s arrested for lese majeste and threatened with decades in jail while her friend seeks a pardon from a king portrayed as an angry and unsmiling old man.

While all this is fiction and the episode is not always accurate – it is a fictional TV show – the attention to the monarchy and lese majeste is pretty much as it was used, particularly after the 2014 military coup. And, parts of the episode were made in Thailand.

As expected, the regime has had to respond.

The Bangkok Post reports but cannot repeat any of the main material of the episode because Thailand is indeed a country where free speech does not exist. It also gets some things wrong, stating, for example that the episode “makes no mention of Thai reaction” when it explicitly does so and has a scene where Madam Secretary says the US has to prepare a response to the Thai reaction.

In real life, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is reported to have “asked the Thai embassy in Washington to ‘convey our concern and disappointment to CBS’ over the Nov 4 episode.”

As expected, Ministry spokesperson Busadee Santipitaks complained that the “episode … presented the Kingdom of Thailand and the Thai monarchy in a misleading manner, leading to grave concern and dismay from many Thais who have seen it…”. We have no idea if the latter claim is true or not, but the portrayal of a lack of freedom of expression, the feudal and hugely wealthy monarchy and the draconian lese majeste law are not misleading.

And here’s where the Ministry and royalists dig themselves into a monarchist hole. In responding, the Ministry confirms the episode’s portrayal of the monarchy.





Another lese majeste acquittal

15 11 2018

The change to the prosecution and conviction of lese majeste cases continues to move in a better direction.

Khaosod reports that “Sakan Saengfueng … walked free today [14 Nov] after spending nearly five years in jail…”.

He had earlier been convicted in an alleged bomb plot and spent 4 years in jail on that score. Sakan and two other alleged red shirts were arrested in April 2009 “on suspicion of plotting to bomb the head office of Charoen Pokphand…”.

When he was to be released, “Sakan was then held in custody after other inmates accused him of royal insult.” In 2014 these inmates allegedly “complained to guards that Sakan insulted the monarchy while watching a TV documentary on King Rama IX.”

This led to a lese majeste charge and Sakan was “detained shortly after his release in 2017. He was denied bail and sent back to jail for the next seven months.”

Interestingly, like Tom Dundee, Sakan initially pleaded not guilty but agreed to cop a guilty plea. However, the court did not accept this. Remarkably, the court “said Sakan’s remarks ‘needed interpretation’ and were not evidently critical of the Royal Family as alleged by the plaintiffs.” Because of this and a lack of evidence, like Tom, Sakan was acquitted.

The state may appeal, but in the current climate this seems unlikely.





Refugee status for political activist charged under 112

13 11 2018

Khaosod reports that 25 year-old political activist Chanoknan Ruamsap “has become the first Thai political refugee in South Korea.” She was previously charged with lese majeste.

Now in Gwangju in South Korea, Chanoknan said “she was surprised by the speed of Friday’s decision to grant her status, coming as it did 10 months after she fled Thailand.” That’s good news.

Chanoknan fled Thailand “in mid-January after learning she was wanted for insulting the monarchy.” Her charge related to sharing on Facebook a BBC Thai story on then new King Vajiralongkorn. That sharing saw student activist Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa charged, convicted and sentenced to 2.5 years in jail in Khon Kaen.

We can now wait to see how the slitherers at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs respond.





Two interesting reads

12 11 2018

For quite different reasons, PPT recommends two recent stories as worthwhile reads:

The first is a story at The Nation on the “cool responses and sometimes heated confrontation” that Suthep Thaugsuban is getting.

The second story is at Prcahatai and concerns Nattathida Meewangpla, charged with lese majeste and being a part of a “bomb plot.” This is an account of her arrests and detention, and while the English is not always easy to follow, it is revealing of much about “justice” under the military dictatorship.