Is the regime in trouble?

24 02 2020

Shawn Crispin at Asia Times had a few things to say before the Future Forward dissolution that deserve some attention. He was writing of the military and its regime after the Korat massacre.

He says the “killings have cast the military’s persistent overarching role – including over ex-coup-maker [Gen] Prayut[h Chan-ocha]’s elected coalition government – in a new dim light as critics blast the brass for being more engaged in politics and business than overseeing their barracks and ensuring security.” He adds:

If that criticism gains momentum while the economy tanks and the government’s big business backers visibly thrive, a new era of political confrontation pitting the conservative forces now propping Prayut and new genuinely progressive ones coalescing in the political opposition could break into the open sooner than most expect.

While a political crisis might be seen off in the usual repressive ways, an economic decline would test the resolve of the big businesses that prospered under the junta. Thailand’s big banks “are unevenly exposed to a handful of big borrowers, namely the ‘five family’ corporations that contributed generously to Prayut’s Palang Pracharat Party’s (PPRP) election campaign…”. At the time of writing, Crispin argued that:

Those corporate links will come under scrutiny if the opposition Peua Thai and Future Forward parties deliver as avowed at an upcoming no-confidence debate that will target PPRP ministers, including Prayut, while looking past other parties’ ministers who, with a shift in political winds, could jump to join a future anti-PPRP government.

That might be less likely now that the Constitutional Court has done its job, but the threat remains that deals done with the Sino-Thai tycoons could be revealed.

Matching Ties: Prayuth and CP Group chairman Dhanin Chearavanont (2nd R) and ThaiBev founder billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi (L). Photo: AFP Forum/Chanat Katanyu (clipped from Asia Times)

Some of the deals included “a land deal involving an alleged subsidiary of ThaiBev created just a day before it purchased Bangkok land from Prayut’s family for 600 million baht ($19.2 million), a sum [that] … far exceeds the land’s underlying market value.”

The Sirivadhanabhakdi family’s investments include “One Bangkok” an “integrated development being built in league with the Crown Property Bureau…. The 120 billion baht ($3.5 billion) development … is the largest ever undertaken in the kingdom.” The Sino-Thai tycoons, the military and the monarchy have dominated politics and business for decades.

Meanwhile, at The Nation, economist Anusorn Tamajai, the director of the Economic and Business Research Centre for Reform at Rangsit University’s Institute of Economics, commented on the dissolution of Future Forward:

He said that the case “showed that Thailand’s semi-democracy is being interrupted by anti-democracy elite.” He observed that “most democratic countries did not dissolve political parties because they were institutions of citizens that maintained the stability of the country’s democracy.” In Thailand, however, “[t]he anti-democracy elite’s attempt to maintain its authority shows that this country does not have the rule of law…”. He reckoned this “has caused a heavy impact on the economy and will cause more impact in the future, especially on investment.”

He further explained that “[t]he Constitution, laws, regulations, and independent organisations arose from the coup d’etat, so the legal form has been always questioned in terms of justice…”, adding:

If the Constitutional Court is able to rule based on justice and treats all parties equally, the conflict will be resolved. But if it is not, the dissolution of political parties and the revocation of political rights will occur continuously, resulting in conflict in society.

How much trouble is the regime in? Much depends a lot on the reaction of Future Forward’s supporters.





Military business

18 02 2020

There’s quite a lot of useful discussion of military business following the Korat shootings.

The Bangkok Post has a story on the remarkably – almost unbelievably – quick transfer of a range of land and business holdings to the Treasury:

The army has struck a deal with the Finance Ministry’s Treasury Department on the management of its commercial welfare projects and its commercial use of state land to ensure transparency and regulation compliance.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed on Monday will pave the way for the transfer of state land and commercial businesses to the Finance Ministry and allow most of their revenue to go into state coffers.

Among the assets under the MoU were more than 100 petrol stations, retail shops, flea markets, boxing stadiums, golf courses, horse racing tracks and hotels — located on army land leased to it by the Treasury Department.

The Treasury Department is also expected to step in to tackle problems of encroachment on 700,000 rai of army land by the public. The illegal occupants will be allowed to continue to use the property but be required to pay rent under a three-year contract.

This is all a bit too startling to believe, not least because all other reports have been that money would continue to flow to the Army. And the, in the same report, we read:

army chief-of-staff Gen Teerawat Boonyawat said the MoU paves the way for the discussions about how these commercial entities will be managed going forward.

We hope some investigative journalists are watching and tallying this exercise.

Meanwhile, Prachatai has two excellent reports on the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) project. As one of the two headlines has it, “No coup, no project.”

While there’s a lot that’s wrong with the EEC, one element of it has been the land grabbing by the military and the conversion of military facilities into commercial ventures.

Much more needs to be known about the role of the military in the EEC.

And then there’s the Bangkok Post comment about Deputy Dictator PM Gen Prawit Wongsuwan:

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, … has turned a gigantic army welfare housing into the Office of the Five Provinces Bordering Forest Preservation Foundation under his long-standing chairmanship. The 75-year-old deputy prime minister defiantly disputed claims that he resides there, saying he is only using it as the foundation’s office. Is this correct? Or is Gen Prawit enjoying undeserved privileges? The army has to clarify this, too.

The military only seems to be revealing what it feels it needs to in a PR exercise. There needs to be independent oversight of exactly what’s going on.





Updated: The military and monarchy post-Korat

17 02 2020

The criticism of the military is missing  an essential point: the role of the monarchy. More realistically, it is being censored and suppressed. This is the parasitic relationship between monarchy and military. It is a relationship that has been mutually reinforcing for decades, and both monarchy and military have reached their current political and economic power through this relationship. Neither can do without the other.

The previous king built that relationship.

Bhumibol promoted the military as the monarchy’s military and the military promoted itself as the “protectors” of the monarchy and royal family. The relationship remained strong from the late 1950s, with the royal family militarizing itself.

As Bhumibol and his acolytes gained control over the promotion of the top military brass, he populated his Privy Council with retired generals, allowing the growing aura of the monarchy to envelop the military and protect its criminality and corruption, while in times of political crisis, Bhumibol intervened in ways that prevented the military being brought down. Promotion came to those military men who could best satisfy members of the royal family.

King Vajiralongkorn was trained as a soldier from his earliest days and being a soldier has been one of the few constants in his life. He appears to love discipline, bullying and uniforms. As a fellow student explained:

what marked him most was his enthusiasm for the Combined Cadet Force…. Here, he so excelled in the meticulous wearing of kit, the parade-ground drills, the shouting and saluting that he was promoted to some sort of officer status, allowing him to lord it over the rest of us….

Like others whose sense of superior status is toxically combined with insecurity and isolation, Mahidol could suddenly drop his pretence of amiable normality and become a vile bully: indeed, his behaviour might now be described as bipolar….

With few academic skills, his training as a soldier continued at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. The Bangkok Post has the officially approved story of Vajiralongkorn as soldier, described as a “fondness for military affairs.” It adds that he has:

served as a career officer in the Royal Thai Army (RTA) and attended the Command and General Staff College in 1977. He also served as a staff officer in the Directorate of Army Intelligence, and later became head of the King’s Bodyguard Battalion in 1978.

Part of that military service has been lauded by Gen Apirat Kongsompong. In one of his more deranged haranguings he pointedly connected military and monarchy, saying the king had:

helped soldiers fight against communist troops in … Loei province on Nov 5, 1976…. His Majesty was in the operation base, ate and slept like other soldiers. His Majesty visited local residents, gave moral support and fought shoulder by shoulder with brave soldiers.

He added:

The royal institution, the military and people are inseparable. In the past, kings were on elephants surrounded by soldiers. Those soldiers were the people who sacrificed themselves in battles beside kings….

The point he makes is obvious: the military and monarchy are bound together. That obvious relationship is currently being ignored/avoided/censored.

Yet everyone knows that Vajiralongkorn holds the ranks of general in the Royal Thai Army, admiral in the Royal Thai Navy, air chief marshal in the Royal Thai Air Force and is constitutionally he is “Head of the Thai Armed Forces.”

The silence is deafening.

And Princess Sirindhorn should not be let off this particular hook either. She’s also a general in the Army, admiral in the Navy, and air chief marshal in the Air Force. As a uniformed instructor at the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy she has been an enthusiastic supporter and shaper of the current military-monarchy relationship and of the sordid mentality that allows Gen Apirat to consider the Army as “sacred institution.”

Her most recent military boostering was reported in Indian newspapers as she enjoyed yet another taxpayer-funded tour right after the Korat massacre. With a 20-member delegation, she visited the Indian Military Academy “to strengthen engagement and defence cooperation between the two countries.” Sirindhorn reportedly “expressed keen desire to take defence cooperation with India to the next level,” (This might have her Chinese sponsors a bit concerned.)

Interestingly, all the royal family seem to have been too busy to do much about Korat. In what should be a PR disaster – except that in feudal Thailand no one can gripe – the king skipped the funerals and ceremonies, sending “representatives from the Privy Council.

The king’s message seems to be that he’s either not really interested in dozens of deaths and injuries and/or that he’s throwing his support (again) behind the current belly slitherers who pass for the military brass.

But he did send his 904 volunteers for the clean up at Terminal 21. More accurately, according to the t-shirts in the picture, the Army deployed them for him.

Clipped from Prachatai

That all seems rather too mechanical and uncaring. But, then, the royal family and the king in particular are never keen for the military to get too much criticism.

Update: Prachatai has a summary assessment of 2019’s politics. Among other things, it says this: “Put concisely, the most important theme of 2019 is how the power of the monarchy and military in Thai politics persists or changes…”.





Further updated: Going backwards I

23 01 2020

Earlier this month we pointed to another effort directed by King Vajiralongkorn to erase all symbols of the 1932 revolution.

We pointed to reports that memorial statues to two leaders of the 1932 revolution – Phraya Phahol Pholphayuhasena and Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram – were to be removed at a military base in Lopburi.

This was just the latest in a string of secret, then semi-secret and now brazenly open re-feudalization efforts by the palace to de-memorialize 1932 and replace it with symbols of the monarchy.

We observed that history is being re-constructed as we watch.

This dirty deed has now been done, in the depths of night, as shown in social media posts of before, during and after the official vandalism.

What’s next? The Democracy Monument? Changing street names? We think anything is possible under a king who wants more absolutism and mad military monarchists who cravenly lick his boots.

Update 1: There’s now some confusion on social media about this removal of statues. The photos above referred to a statue of Phahon Pholpayuhasena being removed. Some reports had it as a statue of Phibun. It seems the latter’s statue remains. If we see any further news on this we’ll update.

Update 2: The confusion on statues seems to relate to a Phibun statue in Bangkok, which is still in place. The social media commentary on statue removal referred to Lopburi. Prachatai has a graphic summarizing the destruction and memory erasures:





National security means monarchy

2 12 2019

We recommend two brief reports of recent days on Thailand’s new National Security Plan and Policy Guideline for 2019-2022 that was announced in the Royal Gazette on 22 November.

Both Prachatai and Supalak Ganjanakhundee at ISEAS have accounts that deserve to be read for information on this important document.

The latter observes:

The guideline foresees global geo-political changes presenting insignificant threats to the country in the years ahead. But it regards domestic issues, notably declining faith in the monarchy and political divisions, as greater concerns.

The Plan argues “the monarchy remains the main pillar of the country” – what else could it do? – while observing “that domestic and international developments pose risks to the institution [elite lingo for monarchy].”

Supalak points out that the documents worry:

that some elements in Thailand — perhaps meaning young activists and dissidents — “have linked the [monarchy and political conflict] for their political benefit, providing false information [sic.] and spreading misunderstanding [sic.] to undermine the national institution [monarchy]”. It notes, “The new generations have not had a bond to the monarchy since they lack understanding [sic.] and correct awareness of the importance of the royal institution as the national soul of the country [sic.]”.

The plan “admits that the bond to monarchy remains weak among the new generation.”

That latter bit is certainly true, but much of the fear is royalist nonsense and we guess it also reflects King Vajiralongkorn’s position.

The one-item security plan has to be read as a statement of a military that has become entranced by its own propaganda about the monarchy. This makes both “institutions” extremely dangerous.

At least the military royalists admit that “people have lost faith in the judicial system and at the same time want to participate more in government decision-making and to exercise their political rights.”

The only answer from the military and royalists is more propaganda:

The new security plan maps out policy guidelines to safeguard and strengthen the royal institution [monarchy] by providing it with more protection, and by glorifying and exalting it further. The authorities are to take more effective measures to defend the monarchy and to improve [state-sanctioned] understanding of the institution.

To these ends, the government agencies … are to campaign for public awareness and understanding of the role and value of the monarchy as the centre of the nation’s spirit. The authorities will use all possible means to preserve the monarchy. Thailand will apply King Bhumibol’s Sufficiency Economy philosophy for sustainable development and propagate such royal thinking domestically and internationally.

Vajiralongkorn’s fingerprints include the erasing of lese majeste:

In a change from the previous plan, concern over the lèse majesté law has been removed. The previous plan said the use of the lèse majesté law was important but caused concern over the violation of human rights. So appropriate use of legal measures without affecting the monarchy has been added as an indicator. Only one case has been prosecuted under Section 112 during the reign of King Vajiralongkorn, but laws relating to sedition and computer crime have been increasingly enforced.

More significantly, all activists have been threatened by bloody beatings of domestic opponents and the torture, murder and disappearance of exiled activists, probably ordered by the king.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Erasing 1932 from the collective memory is a part of this royal strategy.





Plowing the taxpayer’s back II

29 11 2019

Just in case you missed it, a couple of days ago the Bangkok Post reported that t”he armed forces and the police are preparing a joint show of strength and security capabilities to mark the King’s coronation in Saraburi on Jan 18″ at the Royal Thai Cavalry Center.

Kind of normal you might think. After all, since the 1960s, the military has been putting on shows of support for the monarchy as the political aims of the two forces came together. But, this event is something different. It marks another step in the capitulation of the military (and police) to King Vajiralongkorn.

The reports states the “event includes parades and displays involving military hardware with 40 battalions of soldiers and police officers participating.”

A battalion can be 300 to 800 service personnel.

The capitulation ceremony will include “tanks and armoured vehicles, while a flypast of air force fighter jets will include F/16s, F/5s and Gripens.”





Mad, bad and out-of-control

22 11 2019

Strategy Page has an article on what it calls a civil war:

The civil war between the military/royalist coalition and democrats continues. The struggle has not escalated to violence yet, but it is getting more intense.

It notes that the military, the military-backed government and their royalist supporters are:

… fighting against the possibility of the pro-democracy parties eventually gaining enough allies in parliament to take power and reverse some of the damage the military government has done in the last five years.

In part, this explains the effort to smash Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and his Future Forward Party.

Self-crowned

On King Vajiralongkorn, the article concentrates on the knowns, underpinned by the unknowns. It begins with purges, saying the king is:

conducting a purge of the palace staff along with a “loyalty training” program for thousands of officials serving the monarchy in one way or another. During October the king fired at least a dozen palace officials for misconduct. No details were provided. Also dismissed and stripped of all official honors was his recently appointed royal concubine. All this palace intrigue appears to have something to do with the king’s fourth wife, who is the queen and does not want to become an ex-wife like her three predecessors. In Thailand, discussing such palace activity publically is illegal. Nevertheless, the gossip describes a very “truth is stranger than fiction” situation.

What’s missing from the article is the way the king is accumulating power, changing laws, taking over military regiments, grasping vast swathes of state property in Bangkok and making himself wealthier. A powerful but erratic king is a threat to Thailand’s politics.