Royalist regime fighting for the past

24 01 2022

While not a new revelation,

He explains:


On a recent visit to a cinema in Bangkok, I was reminded of the dual role that movie theaters play in Thailand. One, of course, is to show films, local and foreign. The other is to reinforce in the audience a belief that their monarch serves as a unifying pillar in the Southeast Asian kingdom. That lesson plays out just before the main feature, when the screen in the darkened auditorium displays a message requesting the audience to stand as the strains of the king’s anthem fill the hall, accompanied by images of the king’s achievements….

The response of audiences — standing up for the anthem — was almost universal until the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in late 2016 ended a 70-year reign.

We think this is something of an overstatement. We recall that in the mid-1970s, when the royal stuff came on at the end of the film, many bolted for the exits to escape the hagiographic kitsch. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, audiences at movies and concerts often waited outside until the royal propaganda was finished and then rushed to their seats. But back to the story today:

But something quite different is now going on in cinemas….

[A]t Siam Paragon, a high-end mall in Bangkok’s upmarket shopping district…, [w]hen the familiar request to stand flashed across the screen to the strains of the royal anthem, only a middle-aged Thai couple stood up. The rest of the audience, which mostly consisted of younger Thais, sat impassively through the entire anthem as if it were perfectly normal.

… The display of silent defiance has gathered momentum in recent months; it has been noted by many Thais on social media and is discussed openly….

For the moment, the government appears at a loss on how to respond to this discreet but public challenge to the cinema reverence ritual. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the ex-army chief and former junta leader, has appealed to young people not to give in to peer pressure.

Yet, Thai cinemas have emerged as a new frontier for a generational zeitgeist. They have given a decisive answer to the question of whether or not to stand, something that seemed inconceivable just two years ago. From this perspective, Thai cinemas provide an inflection point in which the simple act of going to the movies becomes a political statement.

The royalist response to this anti-monarchism – or at least the rejection of the palace propaganda – is deepening. As they have for many years, it is the regime and the military are taking the lead.

Former red shirt, now paid turncoat, Seksakol/Suporn Atthawong, a vice minister attached to the Office of Prime Minister continues his boss’s conspiracy theory-inspired campaign against NGOs. Amnesty International is his main target. He claims – and it is a lie – that “NGOs that are supporting the three-hoof mob [he means the 3-finger salute] to destroy the country’s stability and abolish the royal institution…”. He means the monarchy.

He salivates over the AI target:

Amnesty International is an illicit organization that must be held accountable for its actions, and must be prosecuted to the fullest…. We should not give in to organizations that undermine national security.

Here, by national security, he means the monarchy. What did happen to his lese majeste charge? Oh, yes, he sold himself to the military rightists.

As in so many other places struggling with authoritarianism,

Seksakol’s gambit is typical of Thai ultra-royalist fringe politics. But as his position in the prime minister’s office attests, the fringe has migrated gradually to the center and the top of the Thai governing establishment since the military coup led by Prayut 2014. Facing a legitimacy deficit, Prayut’s current military-backed administration (direct military rule technically ended with the holding of a flawed election in 2019) has relied heavily on the blunt force of Thailand’s controversial lese majeste law, which outlaws any critical comment about the king or the monarchy, to silence critics and quash protests.

The regime is planning to stay. Forget all of the parliamentary realigning. This is about maintaining the political status quo well into the future through another rigged election. And just to help it along, the regime has extended its state of emergency. Thailand has been under this kind of draconian control for most of the period since the 2014 coup. This situation allows the military, police, ISOC and the judiciary to keep a lid on anti-royalism.

How it deals with the more passive rejection of the monarchy and the regime requires more propaganda, more surveillance and more repression. It means keeping Thailand in its past and rejecting the future. All in the name of the monarchy.

Humpty’s men

3 07 2019

Marwaan Macan-Markar, at the Nikkei Asia Review, contributes a long and useful review of the remolding of the relationship between monarchy and military.

He claims that diplomats in Bangkok know which military leaders are closest to King Vajiralongkorn by a pin with an “image of Prince Dipangkorn, the king’s 14-year-old son” which are “pinned on the left breasts of a select few military leaders…”. (Dipangkorn is widely considered to be heir apparent, lives in Germany and seldom appears the full quid.)

Gen Apirat

One diplomat described those wearing the pin as “a small network,” with Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong an important bearer of the pin. Gen Apirat is known to present himself as “fiercely loyal to the king.”

Macan-Markar says that this “network” indicate “a major change in the relationship between two of Thailand’s most powerful institutions — the monarchy and the military” under King  Vajiralongkorn.

While his analysis, based on interviews with diplomats, pundits and academics, is interesting, it is one that is based on a kind of “Kremlinology” of military watching which can be somewhat misleading if the forest is obscured by the trees. Hence the interminable speculation over Queen’s Guard versus King’s Guard.

In our view, it is misguided to see the king’s faith in the “senior generals of the King’s Guard, a Bangkok-based faction” as representing a spurning of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and his junta. As far as anyone can tell from available evidence, the junta has done everything that the king has wanted and it is Gen Prayuth, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda who have put in place military succession plans that lead from Gen Apirat to Gen Narongphan Jitkaewthae, currently commander of the First Army region and Gen Songwit Noongpakdee, the leader of the Bangkok-based 1st Infantry Division.

That “defense analysts say the monarch’s choice of trusted lieutenants stems from his own military record” is no surprise, now. What they miss, however, is that the king’s succession was a long one, with his father incapacitated, and the then crown prince and his advisers long having had influence over the military brass.

Interestingly, and barely mentioned, is the ways in which the king revamped the Privy Council, the Crown Property Bureau and the palace administration over that period of long succession. In these moves, he made these institutions his own, bringing in junta loyalists and advancing those closest to him, including Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol, long the king’s private secretary and now, arguably, his most powerful adviser, heading the CPB, Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement Group, among other important bodies.

ACM Sathitpong Sukwimol (clipped from The Nation)

All of these rearrangements, promotions and not a few demotions and ousters do mean that a military man on the throne has ensured that he has the military under control. Just in case of problems, there’s some “insurance,” with ACM Sathitpong’s younger brother Pol Maj Gen Torsak at the head of a large force of “protectors.”

Naturally, Prawit remained a Prayuth confidant during the five years of the junta, serving as the deputy prime minister and defense minister. Gen. Anupong Paochinda, another former army chief from the Queen’s Guard, was also a key figure in Prayuth’s coup and junta.

That the king promotes the “King’s Guard, the faction he was part of, in the driving center of army power,” hardly seems a revelation. Yet there’s no evidence that the Queen’s Guard is in any way untrustworthy or disloyal. (It was King Bhumibol who placed his son in the King’s Guard.)

With little evidence, Macan-Markar discerns that the generals of Queen’s Guard is somehow more “politically ambitious” than those of the King’s Guard. There’s no evidence for this. In addition, there’s an amnesia for previous claims made. In the view of many pundits, it was the Queen’s Guard who conducted the 2014 coup in order to ensure the current king’s succession. What happened to that position? And, it was the Queen’s Guard coup masters who purged the military of those perceived as disloyal.

Former foreign minister Kasit Piromya is quoted as saying: “The king clearly wants a vertical hierarchy without any distractions and divisions that can cause splits in the army…”. That seems to have been the junta’s aim as well. To see this as a move against the Queen’s Guard ignores the fact that the junta’s role has been to “cleanse” the military, to immeasurably strengthen it and to embed it at all levels of society. That’s the important message, not the Kremlinology of watching factions.

It seems that “experts” on the military blame “factional rivalries” for “repeated coups.” We think the experts need to re-read the history of successful coups.

Former ambassador and new author James Wise is right to observe that “the monarchy and the military exercise authority in their own right, often without reference to the more familiar legislative, executive and judiciary…”. The big picture matters.

When Kasit predicts: “No more coups,” we think he’s in la-la land. It will depend, as in the past, on on perceptions of “threat” to the monarchy and the broader ruling class.

Updated: Tyranny into the future

15 06 2019

…[Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha’s plans for a political makeover — one in which he would be labeled as head of a quasi-civilian government rather than military junta strongman — remain stalled as he continues to invoke Section 44 of the constitution.

He adds that “Prayuth is not expected to give up this weapon until after the country hosts a summit of regional leaders from June 21-23…”. That’s when his legal fixer Wissanu Krea-ngam says the “new” cabinet will begin work.

There is no smooth path to forming the “new” junta government + 19 parties. When the junta’s in trouble, it begins repressing, and as we have said before, this looks like the sad future for Thailand.

Macan-Markar says that “human rights groups and political critics are alarmed.” They also say that there’s “no end in sight for the dictatorship in Thailand.”

He cites Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch:

Gen. Prayuth maintains a host of repressive powers that allow him to prosecute dissidents, gag free speech, and put critics in secret military detention. They don’t tolerate even the slightest hint of mockery…. This is an embrace of authoritarian rule, not a transition to democracy, as Gen. Prayuth starts his second term in office.

The article then mentions the Wai Khru events that sent the junta into a repressive spin.

On this, HRW states that:

The authorities have even targeted high school students for ridiculing the junta. On June 13, soldiers and police officers went to Chumpholphonphisai School in Nong Khai province and ordered students to delete all photos on their social media accounts about their Teacher’s Day activities, in which they made pedestal trays with satirical messages about military dictatorship and the junta’s manipulation of the general election to prolong Prime Minister Prayuth’s rule.

It has since been reported that soldiers weren’t involved, only police. We are not at all sure how this makes it any less reprehensible.

This story really only gained traction when Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan got his knickers in a knot over social media posts. He exploded: “I believe there is someone behind this. How could the kids come up with this idea by themselves?”

We guess he’s blaming Thaksin Shinawatra and red shirted teachers. He’s such a dipstick, but fascist dipsticks are nasty dipsticks. The students contradicted Gen Dipstick.

Khaosod has further details on events:

Five Grade 12 students at Chumpholphonphisai School yesterday creatively adapted flower arrangements on trays that are traditionally offered to teachers to wai khru, in order to critique Prayuth’s appointment as prime minister for a second term.

In addition to the usual flowers, one tray depicted an imbalanced scale with cardboard signs saying “millions of votes” on the lighter side and “250 votes” on the heavier side – referring to the junta-appointed senate and their unanimous voting last week in favour of Prayuth’s bid for the top job. Another tray depicts figurines of armed soldiers and monsters surrounding Democracy Monument.

Pol. Col. Puwis Siriphanich of Phon Phisai police station is quoted as saying: “We did not order or intimidate students to delete the photos. We respect their rights.”

However, Pipat Srisookpant, the school director insisted “[o]fficers asked that the photos be removed from all social media and the students complied…”.

Anti-democracy campaigners used the event to chastise parents. Former Democrat Party MP Warong Dechgitvigrom complained that parents prevent the spread of democracy: “I ask parents to exchange thoughts with your children because they can be easily mislead…. Children are optimistic and can be indoctrinated by democracy.”

What party did he represent? Oh, yes, the Democrat Party, the anti-democrat party that looks like allowing dictatorship and repression to advance without impediment.

Adding to this depressing descent into political darkness, HRW mentions several other efforts by the junta to repress mocking on social media.

It is an effort to make Thailand a dark and fearful place.

If readers need a pick-me-up, there’s a story on the determination of democracy activists to resist despite having “been the target of increasing physical assaults and intimidation since the March elections…” and the disappearance and murder of dissidents.

Update: In an op-ed at the Bangkok Post:

We thought we were creeping back to democracy. We thought we were regaining our freedoms. After all, we have just welcomed a new government which has tried to convince the world that it came to power by democratic means.

But we are creeping even closer to 1984 than ever.

Indeed it is. Who would have guessed that the end of the junta, well, sort of, would result in deepening repression!?!

The junta and big business

18 05 2018

The Nikkei Asian Review has an article by Marwaan Macan-Markar that begins the much-needed task of unraveling the military dictatorship’s business dealings.

Over almost four years, the junta has quietly gone about reshaping the relationship between the military and business, both state enterprises and Sino-Thai conglomerates.

The article refers to a “cosy relationship between Thailand’s business-minded generals and powerful Thai-Chinese conglomerates.” It refers to junta-supporting companies as the Central Group, Thai Bev, Mitr Phol, Thai Union and the Bangkok Bank.

The report cites academic Veerayooth Kanchoochat who argues that the junta’s Pracha Rath project that brings the blue suits and khaki together represents the “collective endeavors of Sino-Thai conglomerates to replace competitive markets with hierarchy, rather than encouraging SMEs to catch-up with them.”

The report states that: “Conglomerates have been enticed to sign up with Pracha Rath with generous tax breaks and hopes for previously elusive project approvals.” It adds: “Officers in and out of uniform are meanwhile finding their way on to corporate boards and being given shares in return for acting as ‘fixers with authority’.”

In addition, academic Napisa Waitoolkiat is cited as saying “this symbiotic relationship has again become the ‘norm’.” PPT can’t recall hearing this since the 1970s. She added that state-owned enterprises have again become a sinecure for generals. She says that of “56 state-owned enterprises, 42 now have military directors…”. She adds that the movement of generals onto boards is beginning to include the private sector.

Those generals and their business “partners” are keen to protect this corrupt system, just as they were in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Updated: What red shirts want

4 08 2013

Marwaan Macan-Markar has a useful account, at The Irrawaddy, of the position of red shirts on amnesty.

He argues that the “amnesty bill that Worachai Hema, a government lawmaker, has proposed to be taken up when a new parliamentary session…” is the most likely bill to be taken up. He adds that this amnesty bill is not just reviled by the anti-government agitators as a ruse by Thaksin Shinawatra to come home, but “has become a rallying cry for Thailand’s strongest and most enduring street protest movement—the Red Shirts.”

There are other red shirts who want a different bill, but that’s another story.

With the Yingluck Shinawatra government still partly reliant  on the red shirts, at least when political push becomes angry shove and when elections come along, Marwaan says the red shirt “cry” is one that cannot be ignored. And, red shirts are likely to show up outside parliament to show support for the bill, risking clashes with the yellow shirts (or whatever color they choose this time).

Marwaan points out that

[t]he Red Shirts’ endorsement of the Worachai bill is rooted in the campaign for justice launched by the leading arm of this movement, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), and other groups not linked to the UDD, dubbed by some here as the “Free Red Shirts.” The campaign emerged after the bloody crackdown that ended weeks of Red Shirts-led street protests on May 19th, 2010. Over 90 people were killed, of whom 82 were civilians, and more than 2,000 people sustained injuries in the wake of heavily armed troops driving off anti-government protesters from Ratchaprasong, the center of Bangkok’s glitzy shopping mall core.

One of the reasons the red shirts like the bill is because the “military’s role has not been spared…. [T]he Worachai proposal … seeks [a] pardon … only for all low-ranking members from across the country’s color-coded protest movement who are facing charges since the 2006 coup.”

When Thaksin, “on May 19th this year, … delivered a speech via Skype … to thousands of Red Shirt supporters who had packed the streets of Ratchaprasong to commemorate the third anniversary of the 2010 crackdown … publicly endorsed the Worachai bill, … [it] prompted wild cheers from the crowds.” This represented a 180-degree turn for Thaksin from the previous year. Marwaan observes:

Such a turn has brought into relief a view among political observers that neither the Yingluck administration nor Thaksin can take Red Shirt support for granted. And the Worachai bill, more than a lightning rod, emerges as an occasion of Red Shirts muscle flexing against their patron—a rare moment that has compelled Thaksin to concede ground.

That can only be a good development.

Update: Kind of related to this, PPT observes that there are two recent posts at the official Red Shirts blog that indicate recognition by diplomats of the red shirts/UDD. The first is about  U.S. Embassy officials visiting the UDD and reportedly “praised the UDD organization for their commitment to the practice of transparency and other democratic principles within the organization.” The second has UDD President Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn attending “the anniversary of the National Day of the Swiss Confederation.” We are sure the yellow lot will be depressed and angered by this.


Updated: Land of grimaces

25 12 2011

Updated to include link.

Marwaan Macan-Markar has a headline to that effect in his latest story on lese majeste repression. He begins: “The ‘Land of Smiles’ attracts some 14 million tourists annually to its tranquil beaches and glistening temples. But to many Thais, their country is becoming one of grimaces, thanks to its draconian lese-majeste (LM) law.”

He writes that Pravit Rojanaphruk, one of the few truly critical journalists in the mainstream media, “learnt on Wednesday from a popular alternative news website that he is being targeted for an LM complaint.” Pravit says “There is a chilling effect even before formal complaints are filed at a police station…”. In fact, Pravit has been a royalist-yellow shirt target for some time, precisely because he is a good journalist rather than a royalist lapdog.

Amnesty International Benjamin Zawacki is cited, saying: “Amnesty is unfortunately not able to assign a number of political prisoners in Thailand since the 2006 coup on account of the opacity of the justice system with respect to political imprisonment…”. We should add that AI might have been better placed if it had actually taken a stronger an interest in lese majeste much earlier instead of deliberately fumbling about with notions of royalist democracy and royalist good sense; oxymorons for anyone really, seriously interested in lese majeste repression. Of course, Zawacki adds that AI has “no plans” for any kind of “report to expose the number of people jailed in Thailand for LM.”


Fixing the election V

18 05 2011

We think PPT has said most of what follows in various ways in recent weeks. We’re repeating it here because Marwaan Macan-Markar at the The Irrawaddy has said it so well in his latest story.

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha “appears determined to carve out a dominant role for the military in the coming weeks, as political parties seek to woo an estimated 45 million voters ahead of the general election on July 3.” PPT felt they pretty much had the dominant role following the 2006 coup and the various attacks on the opposition. The point is that he wants to carve it in Palaeolithic stone.

His actions targeting the opposition red shirts and Puea Thai Party are listed, and we itemize from the article:

* Two days after the parliament was dissolved, Prayuth ordered a military reshuffle dispatching hard-line officers to take over the command in … opposition strongholds.

* Jatuporn Promphan was jailed… The army chief had a hand in this turn of events: he had ordered a complaint filed against Jatuporn for a speech containing comments alleged to have insulted the Thai monarchy.

* 13 community radio stations in and around the Thai capital had been raided by a team that had included military officers.

* And PPT throws in the 18-20 lese majeste allegations that the Army chief has sprayed about in recent weeks.

The article calls these “brazen acts [that] have confirmed the suspicions that the military has set its sights on retaining a prominent role on the stage of national affairs.”

Thitinan Pongsudhirak is cited:”The army’s intention to call the shots before and after the polls is blatant…. Gen. Prayuth is everywhere. He is hawkish and he doesn’t hide his hard line attitude…. The military is … focused on propping up the (ruling) Democrat Party-led coalition…. The rules are being stacked up in favor of (incumbent Prime Minister) Abhisit (Vejjajiva’s) coalition.”

As Marwaan observes, this “is an alliance that holds no surprises, given the role the military played in stitching a backroom deal to enable Abhisit’s Democrat Party to receive parliament’s backing to form a coalition government in December 2008.”

If the Army boss’s brazen interventions still see Puea Thai come out on top, despite his statements to the contrary, PPT doubts that he will accept the voter’s choice. This seems like the new vicious cycle in Thai politics.

Explosions, red shirts, emergency decree

12 10 2010

Marwaan Macan-Markar in The Irrawaddy has a useful report reflecting on recent events in Thailand. He notes the Nonthaburi explosion came just “a few hours after the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva extended the emergency decree for another three months in Bangkok and three neighbouring provinces.”

The explosion was also used by the regime “to buttress its claims that the decree needs to be extended due to the unsettled political climate.” It’s a good point to make as previous extensions have relied on relatively small bombs as justification. Now the government has a really large blast to point to as justifying their decision.

He cites acting spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn as being keen to link the explosions to red shirts: “This emerged for the first time with last week’s bomb—to establish the link…. These people are connected to the red shirts, and they are capable of exploding bombs…. It is clear, the threat is clear…”.

PPT is sure that the government has made this link many, many times in the past. So what is Panitan on about? It seems that the government thinks a really big explosion will be more convincing and will invoke heightened fear and disdain for their political opponents, especially if it can show a link to the Puea Thai Party that is in any way convincing.

Interestingly, in this context of fear, some observers are questioning the emergency decree. Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat, Thailand analyst of the International Crisis Group, makes the point that “The emergency decree is not needed in the red shirt areas… The government could use regular laws to deal with the disturbances.” Why aren’t the alleged red shirt bombers operating in their heartland?

Vitit Muntarbhorn of Chulalongkorn University worries that “the political climate in the Thai capital is steadily inching toward one where laws meant for abnormal circumstances are becoming the norm,” where “National security laws are becoming permanent…”. PPT has been pointing this out for some time.

Marwaan claims that the emergency decree had resulted in a situation where, by “late August, the jails in Bangkok and in cities across the north and northeast held close to 470 political prisoners…”. That leaves out the sizable (but still largely unknown) group of lese majeste political prisoners. Panitan says there are only184 detainees.

Thailand lingers in the half-light at the edge of a political dark age.

Red shirts on trial

28 09 2010

Marwaan Macan-Markar refers to a “landmark political trial begins on Monday when leaders of an anti-government protest movement, known as the ‘Redshirts,’ will be hauled before a Thai criminal court to face alleged terrorism charges.” 19 red shirt leaders will face the court and almost all of them have been kept jailed since 19 May.

A red shirt lawyer says: “There has never been a case like this before in Bangkok…. It is unclear how the court will proceed with this case.” The first step seems to be the submission of a list of witnesses.

Marwaan notes that the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime’s claims to be a democratic administration (see here and here) is looking rather flimsy: “The nexus between the government and the powerful army has also undermined the Abhisit administration’s claims to upholding democratic values…”.

The government’s terrorism charges have been criticized by legal experts like Somchai Preechasilpakul, a former dean of the law faculty at Chiang Mai University as has the political nature of the trial which is seen to have resonances with the Bangkok 18 of 1976-7. Red shirts see only political charges by a repressive government that wants to crush the movement.

Red shirts assassinated

19 09 2010

The Australian Links online journal had a report a few days ago regarding the presumed assassination of red shirts in Chiang Mai. On 29 August, a 21-year-old local red shirt activist Krissada Klaharn and his girlfriend Nongnuch Kampor were driving home at about 1.15 am were targeted by assassins.

Krissada had been a guard for “DJ Aom” Kanyapak Maneejak, a popular radio host. He also served as a guard during the Bangkok protests. “Local Red Shirts allege that this yet another extrajudicial killing carried out by the Thai military against their movement. Bullets and bullet casings found at the scene were from a US-made M16A1 military assault rifle used by the Thai military. This is the fourth Red Shirt who served as a guard in the mass protest camp in Bangkok to be killed since May but as yet there have been no prosecutions of their killers. In addition, there have been many disappearances according to human rights activists from the Mirror Foundation quoted in an August 21 IPS report by Marwaan Macan-Markar.”

PPT observes that human rights defenders and organizations have so far ignored such attacks on red shirts, demonstrating their support of the current regime and their failure as human rights advocates.

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