On Gen Prayuth’s coronation

8 06 2019

We thought it might be useful to provide some links to international media stories on Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s long-planned, craftily-manipulated coronation as prime minister.

Joshua Kurlantzick at the Council of Foreign Relations, “The Military Wins Big in Thailand.”

Prayuth’s victory was all but guaranteed. The military and its allies made certain of that by announcing criminal charges against opposition leaders and overseeing an unusual interpretation of electoral laws that helped the pro-military party gain the most seats possible. Prayuth essentially remains in power, with the military firmly behind him, and his unwieldy coalition….

…in parliament, the unified opposition—convinced that the election was stolen from them—will likely work to stymie Prayuth, defeat legislation, and try to investigate the military. With Prayuth facing challenges from parliament, it is not inconceivable that the military could stage another coup and retake total control of politics.

New York Times, “Thailand Junta Leader Named Prime Minister After Contentious Vote.”

The leader of the junta that seized power in Thailand five years ago, Prayuth Chan-ocha, was chosen by Parliament to be prime minister after an election marred by charges of manipulation….

Mr. [Gen] Prayuth, who is not a member of Parliament, chose not to address the joint session. [Opposition nominee] Mr. Thanathorn [Juangroongruangkit] was not allowed to speak before Parliament but delivered a speech outside the chamber.

Reuters, “How Thailand’s coup leader kept power through election.”

When Thailand’s former army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, was confirmed as prime minister by parliament on Wednesday, he completed his transition from coup leader to head of a civilian government under a system that all but guaranteed his victory.

Reuters quotes dopes in what might have once been considered revealing ways but which is simply reflective of the junta’s buffalo manure spread over the past five years:

Prayuth’s Palang Pracharat party bristles at any suggestion the new government it leads is anything but a reflection of the will of the people.

“We already had a democratic election, so you cannot say that this is somehow an extension of his power from before,” party deputy spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said of Prayuth.

“This is an extension of the aim to safeguard the nation, religion and monarchy, rather than an extension of the dictatorial power,” Thanakorn said.

AP, “Thai Parliament votes for coup leader to stay on as PM.”

The military-backed party that nominated Prayuth won the second-highest number of seats in the House of Representatives in a general election in March. But his selection was virtually assured because the prime minister is chosen in a joint vote of the 500-seat House and the 250-seat Senate, whose members were appointed by the junta Prayuth leads.

Michael Montesano writing at Today Online, “As Thai military holds on to power, a 1980 order by former PM Prem looms large.” This is a broader piece, considering Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, the junta-as-“new”-government and the fate of Future Forward, which looks like another popular party targeted for (military) destruction.





What next?

5 05 2019

AP reports that its pundits reckon that after more than two years on the throne, “[w]hat Vajiralongkorn … will do with the power and influence the venerated status confers is still not clear.”

We don’t agree. It seems pretty clear that this king is a politically interventionist rightist, legalistic when it suits him, craving a return to pre-1932 absolutism, greedy and unpredictable. Perhaps it is the last characteristic that befuddles the pundits.

They do note his “assertiveness” but we are confused when they say he has a “seemingly hands off approach in other matters…”. The report says this has something to do with his long stints in Germany, but perhaps they have forgotten his demanded change to the constitution that gives him hands-on influence wherever he is.

The argument that he “suddenly announced his fourth marriage, to a former flight attendant who is a commander of his security detail, and appointed her Queen…” suggests a “fresh commitment to his royal duties” is nonsense. He’s been at his “royal duties” – as he sees them – since well before his father’s death. He’s been regularly intervening in the work of the junta. Even a humble office worker the report quotes knows this.

In any case, marrying just before coronation is exactly what his father did.

“Vajiralongkorn is likely to remain burdened by old gossip about his personal life that has dogged him” for decades. But the propaganda is gradually erasing this. And, the king doesn’t care any more. He’s powerful and can do whatever he wants.

The report quotes the usually critical academic Paul Chambers results in the odd claim that the hands-on Vajiralongkorn’s style is “more hands off” is a bizarre claim with the report going on to contradict this silliness saying “he has brought more of Thailand’s administration directly under the palace.” How’s that for hands off!!

It quotes old royalist and conservative Sulak Sivaraksa who is closer to the mark: “The new king is a very decisive man, and he’s a very daring man, unlike his father…”. Sulak loathed Vajiralongkorn’s father for he ‘suffered fools (gladly)’ around him…”.

His “decisive” new king is intolerant, erratic, headstrong and dangerous. Think of all the people he’s had jailed on bogus charges in recent years. He’s often done this, as academic Michael Montesano notes,”bespeak an interest in gaining or exerting greater control over certain institutions,” and he uses his power to grasp what he wants. Think of all the buildings and land he’s been accumulating.

As the report notes, the “powers he acquired centralize royal authority in his hands and make explicit his right to intervene in government affairs, especially in times of political crisis.”

He’s also been publicly interventionist in politics, even directing how people should vote in the recent election.

Vajiralongkorn also seems to have the support of the royal family – despite previous claims of splits and the problem he had with his big and equally balmy sister recently.

At the coronation, Princess Sirindhorn “represented the Royal Family … in offering their best wishes to … the King” and declared “every member of the Royal Family was determined to uphold the truth and promised loyalty to the King.” That’s to be expected as they all benefit from the monarchy and its wealth.

In other words, Chambers’ hands-off king is a facile myth.

Vajiralongkorn has also brought the palace’s billions under his personal control, rolling back these arrangements many decades.

The article reckons that “Vajiralongkorn’s greatest challenge is likely to be sorting out the palace’s relationship with the military.” He’s already moving on that, and the shape of the appointed senate is likely to be a pointer. He’s already secured an Army commander who will polish his posterior. Once he sees off Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, his relationship to the military will be highly personalized and interventionist. He believes he’s a soldier and that other soldiers must obey him.

Even Chambers and Montesano agree that the balance of power has and is shifting to the king and his palace.

Another academic once referred to a kingdom of fear and favor. That holds more now than when the claim was made. Watch as he grasps more for himself, in terms of political power, wealth and status.





Generational change

21 06 2018

Associated with years of military rule and anti-democracy, the old men who have run Thailand for decades are dying off. But they are replaced another group of royalist military thugs who intend to maintain political control and repression for decades to come.

We say this after the announcement of the death of royalist policeman Vasit Dejkunjorn. Usually no one would take much notice of the death of a former deputy police chief. However, Vasit gets plenty of attention because he was seen as close to the dead king, a relationship Vasit played up.

A long time ago we wrote this of Vasit, citing Michael Montesano (where the link is now defunct):

“Briefer of CIA director Allen Dulles during the latter’s late-1950s visit to Thailand, veteran of anti-Soviet espionage in Bangkok, long the Thai Special Branch’s leading trainer in anti-Communist operations, and palace insider at the time of his country’s most intensive counter-insurgency efforts, Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn ranked among Thailand’s most important Cold Warriors.”

His background in the shadows of the Cold War did not prevent him from being of an office holder at Transparency International in Thailand. Vasit remained a warrior for the palace in his columns in Matichon and as a royalist speaker. For a very short time Vasit was deputy interior minister for Chatichai Choonhavan being raised from his position as deputy police chief. Vasit “retired” years ago, but kept popping up in strategic locations. His political views reflect the position of the palace. His royalism and extreme views were inflected with racism, extreme nationalism, support for lese majeste and the rejection of constitutional monarchy as being to constraining of his king.

He was associated with all kinds of rightist, royalist and nationalist efforts to eject elected governments.

As expected, his funeral will be a royal one, with Princess Sirindhorn presiding. That’s a sign of a man who did the palace’s work.

Several of the other old men are on their last legs, including Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, now seen in a wheel chair.

In recent years as Prem, Vasit and others schemed against elected governments and worked to mobilize opposition on the streets and in the barracks, they also managed a transition to “tough” military royalists, trusted to carry forward their preferred royalism and anti-democracy well into the future.

Think Meechai Ruchupan’s role in constitutional manipulation and Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha as military strongmen. This “new generation” of political manipulators are the legacy left by the departing old men.





“Election,” king and politics in 2018

3 01 2018

For the start of 2018, three academic commentators and a journalist have had a go at crystal-balling Thailand’s political future.

Academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun continues his recent lauding the dead king. We at PPT find this quite odd, but it seems Pavin feels that a good king-bad king scenario makes the bad king look badder still. We think he’s wrong to gild the previous reign.

He is right when he says: “Some analysts predicted that Vajiralongkorn would be a weak king dominated by a strong army due to his lack of moral authority and divinity. But the new King has proved these pundits wrong.” This assessment also seems correct:

King Vajiralongkorn has embarked on consolidating his power with the backing of the military. It appears that Thailand’s two most prominent institutions — the monarchy and the military — have attempted to establish a constructive working relationship in order to entrench their respective political standings (at least during this critical royal transition period).

The military king

That relationship has seen the “military … work[ing] towards achieving two goals: eliminating its political enemies and legitimising itself as a political actor.”

He concludes that “the future of Thailand is undefined. 2018 will test the longevity of the interdependent relations between Vajiralongkorn and the military. If such longevity is guaranteed, Thai democracy will be shouldered with another setback.”

Michael Montesano, also an academic, seems sure of a couple of things for 2018: a coronation and the junta’s “election.” But he backtracks on the latter, suggesting it may again be pushed back. He also gets into a bit of good king-bad king stuff, and like Pavin sees Vajiralongkorn as activist/interventionist:

Since the demise of his father, King Vajiralongkorn has been far from passive. But he has devoted his attention above all to matters relating to the management and reordering of royal affairs and to the relationship of the monarchy to the government…. He has not yet begun publicly to define an overarching mission for his reign.

His musings on the future of the monarchy are not particularly convincing to us. But his discussion of the military junta’s role is. He refers to “an ideological orientation” that has the military and junta seeking “to integrate Thai citizens into national affairs without reference to political parties and elections.” On the junta’s “elections,” Montesano sees them as a test of the military regime’s “effort to introduce a political order of lasting quiescence in Thailand.”

Academic Duncan McCargo, acknowledging that The Dictator is “always seems to be trying to wriggle out of it [the junta’s election],” is also unsure about the political future, suggesting five post-election “scenarios.” For all the rumors about new parties – the junta’s and splits from the Democrat Party – and the junta’s more than three years of attacks and repression, McCargo reckons the Puea Thai Party vote could hold up. Even so, “[t]he dice could be loaded the against a pro-Thaksin victory in 2018.” Strikingly, McCargo says almost nothing about the monarchy.

Journalist Shawn Crispin thinks that military regimes that try to stay on tend to be unstable and face civilian uprisings. While he tends to ignore military and military-backed regimes that have had considerable longevity in Thailand, he is the only commentator in this group who considers a civilian uprising against the military a possibility.

He is right that “Thailand’s enterprising but repressed media” seems prepared to “to press the current generation of military coup-makers to hold elections as promised in late 2018 and for coup leader cum premier General Prayuth Chan-ocha to refrain from clinging to power after the polls.”

Crispin notes that “while the media has exposed [the junta’s] massive irregularities” – corruption – the relatively united regime has been able to cover-up using repressive measures:

… the junta’s ironfisted grip on power, underwritten by a hard ban on political association that deems any meeting of more than five people illegal. Invasive state surveillance has also ferreted out and suppressed potential anti-junta agitators before they can mobilize and take to the streets.

He also sees “Thaksin is circling again” as an “election” is anticipated:

Prayuth and Prawit [Wongsuwan] clearly sense an electoral scenario where Thaksin’s coup-ousted Peua Thai is resoundingly restored at the ballot box and their plans to sustain a political role for the military are challenged as illegitimate.

While he says precious little about the monarchy, Crispin does foresee scenarios that involve the king in further delays to an election if the regime feels threatened.

2018 will be interesting.





Academic and other stuff of interest

18 03 2015

Several readers have alerted PPT to some recent publications.

The first is a new article at the Journal of Contemporary Asia website by Duncan McCargo and Peeradej Tanruangporn. It examines the Nitirat group, who have intervened in legal issues resulting from the country’s decade of coups and protests. “Branding Dissent: Nitirat, Thailand’s Enlightened Jurists” examines, according to the abstract:

… the political role of a group of academic lawyers based at Thammasat University who have been seeking to reform various aspects of the Thai legal and judicial system. The seven-member group started out by criticising the illegality of the 2006 coup. After the 2010 crackdown against redshirt protestors, the group named itself Nitirat and started to hold seminars, draft legal proposals, and campaign to amend various laws. Nitirat has repeatedly challenged the legal and constitutional underpinnings of three key elements of the Thai state: the judiciary, the military, and the monarchy. In doing so, the group has gained a mass following, drawn mainly from those sympathetic to the “redshirt” movement which broadly supports former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Informally led by scholar Worajet Pakeerat, Nitirat has created a popular branding which is reflected in huge audiences for public events, and the sales of souvenirs. The article aims to answer the following questions: How does Nitirat combine the roles of legal academic and political activist? How does it differ from the traditional mode of Thai public intellectuals? How significant is the Nitirat phenomenon?

The article is behind an expensive pay wall.

The second article is “Thailand: Contestation over elections, sovereignty and representation,” by Kevin Hewison, and is behind the pay wall at the journal Representation. The abstract states:

Thailand’s politics in the early twenty-first century has seen considerable contestation. Underlying the street protests, military interventions and considerable bloodshed has been a struggle over the nature of electoral politics, popular sovereignty and representation. The military and monarchy have maintained a royalist alliance that opposes elections, popular sovereignty and civilian politicians, proposing Thai-style democracy as an alternative. Those who promote elections and popular sovereignty argue that these are a basis for democratisation.

The third publication is free and is a book review. The review is by Michael Montesano and looks at Innovative Partners: The Rockefeller Foundation and Thailand, published by the Foundation, allegedly detailing its 100 years of collaboration with mainly military regimes and royal interests. The blurb for the book, which can be downloaded for free, states:

For nearly a century, the Rockefeller Foundation and its Thai partners have been engaged in an innovative partnership to promote the well-being of the people of Thailand. From the battle against hookworm and other diseases to the development of rice biotechnology and agriculture, the lessons learned from this work offer powerful insights into the process of development. On the occasion of its centennial in 2013, the Rockefeller Foundation has commissioned a history of this innovative partnership.

The book is packed with royals and conservative royalism. It promotes minor royals as important and tends to ignore civilian politicians as if 1932 didn’t happen. This is another example of how royals capture and use willing foreign institutions to promote royalist ideology and control. The Foreword is by royalist scholar and anti-civilian politician activist Prawase Wasi. In one sense, though, the detailing of the links between the Foundation and the monarchy is revealing, if nauseating.





With 3 updates: Some reactions to the verdict

9 05 2014

A Wall Street Journal editorial:

Thailand’s Aristocratic Dead-Enders
The royalists who can’t win an election stage a judicial coup.

Royalist forces struck another blow against Thai democracy Wednesday when the country’s Constitutional Court staged a judicial coup and removed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office. Her supposed crime: having impure motives when she transferred a bureaucrat three years ago. For the third time in a decade, this unaccountable institution controlled by the aristocracy has removed an elected leader for dubious reasons.

The justices’ meddling rewards the bad behavior of the ironically named royalist Democrat Party. It boycotted the general election in February after several of its leaders led street protests aimed at overthrowing democracy and installing a ruling council made up of the country’s elite….

The Constitutional Court’s decision this week is a last gasp of the old regime, discrediting itself as it fights to hold back the forces of democracy. One can hope that a wiser leader will emerge from the royalist camp who will realize this and stop trying to overthrow democracy…. For now, though, it appears the aristocracy is not ready to give up its claim to a divine right to rule Thailand and accept the more modest role of loyal opposition.

Academic Paul Chambers:

“This court has a tradition for making ridiculous decisions…. Thailand has become a juristocracy.”Chambers - Copy

Chambers at Khaosod:

“I think once again we have a judicial coup in Thailand,” …

“Thailand has a form of democracy [sic.], but there is no real balance or checks…. What we have here is juristocracy – the judicial branch is head and heels above the legislative and executive branches of the government, and it’s supported by traditional institutions.”

… “This constant replay of courts issuing ridiculous verdicts may cause people who have believed in Thailand’s democracy to stop believing in it,” said Professor Chambers.

Chiang Mai University law lecturer Somchai Preechasilpakul:Somchai - Copy

“The verdict appears to indicate that all Prime Ministers who do not come from the Democrat Party will be eventually removed by the so-called independent agencies…”.

Professor Kevin Hewison at The Conversation:

Because the country’s judiciary is so highly politicised, decisions that defy legal logic have become the norm, with the judiciary consistently acting against elected governments. In essence, such decisions, sometimes based on flimsy accusations and charges by opposition activists, undermine the very democratic processes the judiciary is supposed to protect.

There was never any doubt that the Constitutional Court would oust Yingluck once the case was referred to it. Indeed, the court reached its decision – which took almost two hours to read – within a day of hearing the last of Yingluck’s evidence and witnesses. That is evidence enough that the court had its verdict before hearings were concluded.Hewison - Copy

Such obvious political bias also suggests an orchestration with those opposed to the government. The decision will reinforce views among the government’s supporters that Thailand’s political system is inherently supportive of the royalist elite. They see this elite as not just opposed to the will of the majority as expressed in elections but also as manipulating law and politics to protect their economic and political power.

South China Morning Post:

Ultimately undone by Thailand’s courts, Yingluck Shinawatra laboured under claims she was a stooge for her exiled brother. Yet the kingdom’s first female prime minister also displayed unexpected resilience during a turbulent stay in office….Montesano - Copy

“History will give Yingluck great credit for her conduct since November,” said Dr Michael Montesano at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

“She has scrupulously avoided the use of state violence … maintained the dignity of her office and displayed humanity rather than arrogance while under great pressure.”

Update 1: Duncan McCargo at FT:

The conflict is pitting an entrenched elite that is destined to lose power against new political forces whose rise seems inexorable. Ousting Ms Yingluck on a technicality was an act of desperation, not a show of strength.

Update 2: A Coup by Another Name in Thailand By The Editorial Board of The New York Times:

It was the third time the justices have removed the head of the government in recent years using dubious legal reasoning…. Thailand, which has managed to grow despite its chaotic politics and frequent coups, appears to be approaching a breaking point.

Update 3: The Daily Beast:

An ‘iron triangle’ made up of the army, senior judges, and royalist supporters continues to deconstruct Thailand’s democratically elected government by means of a rolling judicial coup,” says a retired U.S. diplomat. “It is this iron triangle rather than the country’s electorate that determines who will govern here in Thailand. This iron triangle has deposed three democratically elected prime ministers since 2006 and is on the cusp of deposing a fourth.

 





Updated: Yale and censorship

9 04 2012

Readers will likely know Michael Montesano as a historian and frequent commentator on Thailand’s politics. PPT’s attention was recently drawn to another debate Montesano is engaged in, related to the establishment of a Yale University campus in partnership with the National University of Singapore.

The debate taking place seems long and convoluted for outsiders, but in making the point that Yale’s management has been compromised and in pointing to censorship and self-censorship on Singapore’s politics and how Yale will slot into that, what caught PPT’s eye was that a part of Montesano’s argument drew attention to the Yale administration’s role in the publication of The King Never Smiles. This is what he says:

… chillingly, in early 2006 Yale’s current president caved in to pressure from the government of Thailand to allow representatives of the Thai monarchy, whose supporters would just months later mount a coup d’état in Bangkok, pre-publication review (just “for accuracy,” but they always say that, don’t they?) of a biography of the Thai king already in the process of publication by Yale University Press… [by Paul Handley]. While the late Yale law professor Alexander Bickel turned over in his grave, publication of the book was thus delayed long enough so that the world’s media had no access to it as they reported on the gala celebrations marking sixty years of the king’s reign in June 2006. This episode leaves little doubt about the impact, on Yale itself, of the current Yale president’s weak commitment to academic freedom where Southeast Asia is concerned. Its implications for Yale scholarship relating to Singapore are clear and ominous. After all, Yale was not even employed by the government of Thailand when the episode occurred.

That this Thai episode elicited so little protest from Yale faculty was hard to understand. Nonetheless, it was in itself a one-time event. Should such episodes, or even the suspicion of them, become routine in matters concerning Singapore, however, the resultant regime of self-censorship in New Haven would surely prove unsustainable. It would poison both the relations of many of Yale’s humanists and social scientists with Yale’s leadership and the intellectual climate at the university. It would thus also undercut the ability of Yale, especially under the leadership of future Yale presidents, to serve as an effective partner of the PAP government and NUS.

For those who have forgotten the details of the pre-publication efforts by the Thaksin Shinawatra government and the palace to stop the book, and the U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce’s role, there is a useful summary in the first few pages of this article (a PDF).

Update: A reader tells us that Montesano’s claim that it was “a one-time event” is not accurate. Yale has a longer record of freedom of speech challenges than indicated just by the events over The King Never Smiles. The reader points to cases here, here, here and here.





Updated: Politicizing a national disaster II

28 10 2011

In addition to the comments in PPT’s earlier post, there are a couple of stories that reflect on the way that the attacks on Yingluck Shinawatra reflect on the broader political conflict in Thailand.

Michael Montesano has a story at the Jakarta Globe that reflects on how the “floods have triggered a political and ideological contest concerning the role of the Thai monarchy.” He adds that “Thais unreconciled to the victory of Yingluck’s Red-Shirt-supported Pheu Thai Party in July’s polls have in recent weeks tried to turn her government’s current struggle to partisan political advantage. ” He notes how they have used fake and dated photos to convince themselves that the palace is hard at work on floods.

Related, it is interesting that Army boss Prayuth Chan-ocha seems to have become official spokesperson for the monarchy. We noted his earlier comments here. Now, at The Nation, it is he that tells the media that “Their Majesties the King and Queen have been concerned about the plight of flood victims…”, noting that the king is monitoring the floods. Why wouldn’t he be?

Prayuth then goes on to say that he is “pledging full military efforts on rescue and recovery.” What were they doing before this? Half-hearted efforts? Prayuth adds that “Their Majesties told the soldiers to take good care of the people…”. In Bangkok, yellow-shirt speak, that is saying (again) that Prayuth and the military’s loyalty is not to the government, but to the monarchy. Prayuth seems back on political course, posing the monarchy-army alliance against Puea Thai. The watery coup idea holds water, so to speak.

Andrew Spooner has a cheeky post that asks a relevant question of the HRW staffer in Thailand who seems to have a political concern about portable toilets….

For those saying that the government has been partisan in its efforts, this story is a kind of mild antidote.

Update: A reader draws our attention to a story in The Nation:

The military will deploy another 50,000 troops, 1,000 vehicles and 1,000 boats to fight off floodwaters from Bangkok, the Defence Ministry said yesterday.

The First Army Area will defend Bangkok, and the Navy Siriraj Hospital, where His Majesty the King is receiving treatment, and Thawee Watthana district….

The Air Force will be in charge of Don Mueang airport compound and the government Flood Relief Operations Centre, said ministry spokesman Colonel Thanathip Sawangsaeng.

There are around 10,000 troops already deployed throughout the country, he said. Military reservists may be mobilised as extra helpers to assist regular troops when needed.

It does seem seem odd that the report only has 10,000 troops in places other than Bangkok. Given that almost all deaths and injuries have been beyond Bangkok and that the flood in Bangkok will, in all likelihood, be less than further north, the question of priorities needs to be raised.





Jory and Montesano on lese majeste

1 06 2011

Australian academic Patrick Jory and his Singapore-based colleague Michael Montesano have an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that warrants careful consideration. The article is entitled “End the Gag on Thailand’s Citizens.”

They note that the “Electoral Commission recently warned that discussion of the monarchy will not be tolerated in the lead up to the July 3 general election.” They add that this is just the “latest in a series of warnings by government authorities designed to shut down debate about the role of the Thai monarch.” Before this, the Abhisit Vejjajiva Government had “blocked more than 100,000 websites,” imprisoned “numerous Red Shirt leaders and sympathizers” on lese majeste charges and has locked up critics and popular red shirt and leading opposition politician Jatuporn Promphan.

The latter is “as a result of a speech that he made at a rally on the anniversary of the April-May 2010 violence, in which he accused military units attached to the palace of firing on and killing Red Shirt demonstrators.”

The authors note that every attempt to close discussion leads to a growing debate. Why? They say, and PPT agrees:

This is mainly a result of the belief among large sections of the public that the ties between Privy Council Chairman Prem Tinsulanonda and the soldiers who carried out the coup of 2006, along with the subsequent appointment of a privy councilor as prime minister, mean that the palace was directly involved in the coup. Further, in the political turmoil of the past five years, the palace has on numerous occasions appeared to side with the royalist Yellow Shirt protestors, the military and the Democrat Party.

They also note the growing chorus calling for reform of the monarchy “to make it more democratic. The proposals include reforming or abolishing the lèse-majesté law and ending the constitutional prohibition on criticism of the king and the royal family.”

Some of the proposals they mention include:

abolishing the Privy Council, which is appointed by the king and widely believed to intervene in the country’s politics, military promotions and judicial decisions; ending the relentless promotion of the monarchy in the Thai mass media and education system; bringing the monarchy’s extensive assets and business interests under the direction of the government, … ending the practice by which the king makes speeches on politically sensitive subjects, military affairs and judicial decisions without the approval of the elected government of the day; and abolishing the custom whereby commoners are obliged to prostrate themselves before members of the royal family in Thailand—the only place in the world where this custom still exists.

They also note that the specter of republicanism lurks. The authors reckon that “royalists ought to welcome open discussion of the monarchy and its place in national life” as the monarchy’s role needs to modified to meet modern-day realities. They note that “continued suppression of discussion makes impossible” any rational discussion of the monarchy’s future.

The authors conclude that “Thais have a right to debate freely and openly the reform of the monarchy to suit a more modern and democratic future.” PPT agrees but it seems pretty clear that the royalists so not acknowledge any such right.





Academic freedom challenged

25 05 2011

Simon Montlake comments on declining academic freedom in the Christian Science Monitor. Of course, this relates to the lese majeste case brought by the Army chief against history professor Somsak Jeamteerasakul at Thammasat University.

The report begins: “An outspoken historian is facing the threat of a criminal trial for his writings on the Thai monarchy, spurring an international appeal by scholars for the protection of academic freedoms in Thailand.”

Some useful quotes from the story:

“Watchdog groups say Thailand’s widespread use of repressive laws such as lèse-majesté to silence critics has undermined its democratic rights. US-based Freedom House recently ranked Thailand with dictatorships like China and Cuba for its ‘substantial censorship’ of political debate. Thai authorities continue to shut down media outlets allied to the opposition red-shirt movement. Armed police raided several red-shirt radio stations on April 26 for airing anti-royal speeches.” PPT thinks there should be an “allegedly” associated with “anti-royal speeches.”

“Somsak is among a group of intellectuals who have called for root-and-branch reform of the monarchy to diminish its political influence.”

David Streckfuss: “If charges are brought against him, it would really put a dent in Thailand’s image as a place where general freedoms are observed…”.

“For academics, this creates a ‘black hole’ in the study of Thailand’s modern history, says Michael Montesano, a fellow at the Institute for Southeast Asia Studies in Singapore. While some studies have simply echoed official hagiographies of the current ruler, others have resorted to coded language or bitten their tongues…”.

Montesano: “In recent years, this caution has ebbed a bit. But Somsak has really pushed the envelope…”.

Prime Minister “Mr. Abhisit [Vejjajiva], who was educated at Oxford University, has said that non-partisan scholarship on the monarchy is permissible.”

Kevin Hewison: “said Somsak’s case was a test for Abhisit. ‘He has stated several times that academic comment on the monarchy is acceptable. If it now isn’t, [his] reputation will be in tatters for scholars who follow Thailand’…”.

PPT thinks it worth noting that there are now reformist and abolitionist perspectives on lese majeste. Somsak’s case is a clear over-step by an enraged Army boss. Arguably, this is also the case for Somyos Pruksakasemsuk, who continues to be held without bail.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha has shown that he is unable to comprehend Thailand’s current political climate and the changes that have taken place in recent years. So while the action against Somsak is an act of repression, it has thrown open a door that the royalists can’t shut. The more “liberal” amongst them must press for reform of the lese majeste law. If they don’t do this, as Sulak Sivaraksa says, time and again, they risk the monarchy itself.