Observing the funeral

27 10 2017

There’s now a ton of reports about the royal funeral. Much of it involves repetition of the kind of unduly reverential stuff we have posted on of late. Funerals don’t tend to get much critical attention.

While we haven’t looked at every report, one of the most bizarre from the foreign media was an Australian reporter’s effort to find a link with his country. Not the king having been to military school in his country. No, the link to the funeral was found in the horses, said to be from Australia.

Some international reports were visually interesting. A couple mentioned lese majeste, including one at Al Jazeera. Yet this report is schizophrenic in that it is headed by a wholly hagiographical video that is among the most hopelessly useless repetition of palace propaganda we’ve seen. The written report below it is at least a little more insightful. Much better is a BBC report that at least attempts to provide some critical assessment of situation and event (the report is difficult to find at the BBC website, but Andrew MacGregor Marshall provides the link via his Facebook page.

As the BBC report states, many who wanted to attend the funeral were kept out of the area. We assume that many watched the live broadcast of the funeral, which went at a snail’s pace and dragged on all day and night. It concluded by not showing the cremation at about 10 pm. In place of the cremation, well-worn footage of the dead king in the field was shown. Most Thais will have seen these exact images hundreds of times in recent years and more times over several decades.

One thing that was odd about this failure to show the cremation is that the live stream did not advise viewers that it would not be shown (at least that we heard, and we didn’t watch it all). It did repeatedly state the time of the cremation.

The Bangkok Post states: “Live broadcasts were not allowed for the real cremation among the royal family, scheduled to take place at 10pm after another religious rite at 8.30pm at the Song Dhamma Throne Hall.”

One can only wonder as to the reason for this. The cremation was a family event? There’s a taboo about it? Commoners can’t watch such royal events? Or, as some of the more scurrilous social media accounts have it, the  queen, who was not seen during the events of the day (at least not by us), was not to be seen in her sadly incapacitated state.

Whatever the reason, many Thais may well feel that, after a year of official mourning and calls to be “involved” in the funeral, they were short-changed.

Some other events of the funeral deserve mention.

It was noted that the “royal cremation ceremony organising committee” allowed “157,778 people” enter “the Sanam Luang area as of 1pm to attend the royal cremation ceremony.” These people “were separated from the invited VIPs and distinguished guests, who were in the inner area, by fences.” Apart from foreign guests, the VIPs were mostly minor royals, senior bureaucrats and military.

There was some social media discussion of the fact that the (dead) king’s body was not in the ceremonial golden urn. We were bemused by this discussion as this was well-known from the time of his death and reported several times. The urn has become a ceremonial throwback, not unlike the monarchy itself.

We also noticed that all of the officials involved seemed to have the now standard throwback short back and sides military-style haircut that the new king demands of all of his minions.

Meanwhile, we also noticed some of the king’s concubines in full military kit and heard several shouted orders to assembled troops from them. One, presumably (General) Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya, acting as head of the king’s guard, hopping in and out of his several cars as the king went to and from the ceremonial grounds.

The overall image of the funeral was its militarization. The funeral was essentially a military parade, including several iterations of the Colonel Bogey March. The king, all those of the royal family who could, and civilian officials all marched in military style, punctuated by numerous gun salutes from soldiers firing rifles and cannon.

Religious and ceremonial aspects of the funeral were subordinated to its martial tone. The Dictator and the king appear united on Thailand’s military future, just as the dead king appreciated the symbiotic relationship he had with military strongmen.





It feels like 1962

2 10 2017

Back in 1962, General Sarit Thanarat had his boot on the neck of Thailand’s politics. He had taken control of everything, including police and personally meted out “justice” against “communists,” “elected politicians” and others.

In other words, the military dictatorship had strong control over the bureaucracy, the military, the police and over broader society. One academic referred to Sarit’s rule as “despotic paternalism,” but the emphasis was really on despotism.

It feels like that now, and recall that Sarit’s military regime went on for a total of 11 years.

What prompted these observations is the story in the Bangkok Post where it is reported that the Minister for Defense and Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan has is now putting himself in charge of crime-fighting.

He has “ordered widespread crackdowns on mafia gangs to stop them causing trouble to Thai and foreign tourists across the country.”

It seems that the Defense Minister is now controlling Pattaya (which is supposed to have its own administration), “key police agencies, including the Crime Suppression Division and the Immigration Bureau…”.

Following their “success” with political repression, “joint investigation between military officers and local police” will become common.

Nothing will escape the Deputy Dictator: the drug trade, prostitution, extortion, visa overstays, and down to bag snatching. After Pattaya, the Ministry of Defense plans to cover the country.

The militarization of Thailand continues apace.





When the military is on top X

22 08 2017

We haven’t highlighted the normalization of military rule in Thailand for a while. Our last post on this was in early July and in addition to all the repression going on, which is now standard practice, we notice three stories worthy of attention as showing what to expect when military regimes are in place.

First, it is reported that yet another army recruit has dies in suspicious circumstances. The military, which usually “investigates” itself and compliant cops walk along with them, says, “no foul play.” His family says something different:

The soldier’s family found him unconscious in his bedroom and bleeding from the nose and mouth, according to his mother, Malaiporn. He was rushed to Surat Thani Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

Ms Malaiporn said her son had returned home with two other conscripts on Saturday night, and had complained he was feeling tired. She said the two other conscripts had told her daughter that Pvt Noppadol had been physically disciplined in the camp.

This is not the first instance. We reproduce a Bangkok Post graphic here. When the military is on top, justice goes missing.

Second, and related, military officers become more or less untouchable when the military is on top:

National police chief Chakthip Chaijinda has been asked to speed up an investigation into the disappearance of a senior education official in Si Sa Ket after two new findings: suspicious activity on the woman’s Facebook account and a report that a female corpse has been found near the Thai-Lao border.

The mother of the missing official, Juthaporn Oun-on, 37, lodged a petition Monday with Pol Gen Chakthip at the Royal Thai Police Office asking for better progress in the case, which has already been going on for over a month.

Because a prime suspect is an army officer, “we’re afraid we’ll not receive fair treatment,” Ms Juthaporn’s mother Laem said, referring to the potential for a cover-up.

Third, when the military is on top, dictators become king-like/god-like in being “skilled” in almost everything. In Korat, The Dictator is claimed to have made decisions about railway design:

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has decided the Chira-Khon Kaen double track railway will be partially elevated when it passes through downtown Nakhon Ratchasima, ending local people’s worries the city would be divided by a giant wall according to the original plan….

The original design of the section, which would cut through roads in Muang district in 15 places, was due to be fenced by 2-metre walls….

“The premier’s order will result in changing the design, with a new round of construction bidding due to open,” he said.

”The budget will be increased by 2.2-2.6 billion baht,” he added, adding this will be on the agenda of the mobile cabinet meeting in Nakhon Ratchasima today.

The change might cause delays to the project of about 12 months, he said.

General Prayuth as populist rail designer? That’s what you get when the military is on top.





Taxpayers squeezed

13 07 2017

The royals and the military are in cahoots in ripping off the Thai taxpayer.

The military is the biggest spender at present. The most recent bit of kit added to the ever-expanding list of big-ticket item for the military is a flight of Korean jets. That follows submarines, tanks, helicopters and armored personal carriers. In total, the bill under the current military dictatorship is is tens of billions of dollars.

The royals aren’t spending that much, but it is the wealthiest royal family in the world, according to Forbes. It is also dragging in hundreds of millions of baht each year from state coffers. Think of the two jets the king uses, dozens of expensive cars, his many residences, his jail, pets, girlfriends, antiques, security, and far more. It is far more than a gravy train.

Then there’s the other members of the family, each sucking at the taxpayer’s teat. One of the king’s daughters has been bathed in money for all of her foibles and fancies. The latest report on her gives a brief view into the lifestyle of this selfish royal:

If there were a prize for most enthusiastic fashionista on this list, the Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana of Thailand would undoubtedly get the title. As it is, she’s been crowned Most Stylish Princess In The World instead. A regular on the front row at couture, a designer in her own right (she showed in Paris a few seasons ago) and with a wardrobe that boasts pieces by Chanel, Balmain and Hermes, shrinking violet and modest style maven she is not. Unafraid to experiment with more out there, non-princessy looks – including exaggerated shoulders, leather and tuxedos – she’s definitely changing the face of modern royal fashion.

Taxpayers screwed again.





A triple threat?

11 07 2017

Academic Nicholas Farrelly, who runs New Mandala, has produced a report for Australia’s Lowy Institute, sometimes described as a “think tank.”

Quite a lot of the Thailand commentary at Lowy has been bland and not particularly analytical, but Thailand’s Triple Threat (only three?) deserves a reading. The abstract is:

King Vajiralongkorn’s elevation to the Chakri throne comes after decades of whispers that he is an unsuitable king for Thailand. Despite these concerns, the military leadership has swung behind their new monarch. But the potential for future turbulence under the government led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha is high. The fluid situation in Bangkok is complicated by the potential escalation and expansion of separatist violence in southern Thailand. The question is how will Thailand respond to the triple threat of King Vajiralongkorn’s ascension, the entrenchment of military rule, and the potential escalation of separatist violence emanating from the southern provinces?

The most likely future for Thailand is one in which the authoritarian instincts of the military and the monarchy reinforce their mutual survival pact. Nevertheless, at the core of Thailand’s triple threat is the possibility that the untested nexus between the new king and the powerbrokers in the military will prove insufficiently strong. Even if everything goes according to plan, today’s authoritarian establishment in Bangkok risks inspiring new challengers to its interests. And if everything goes bad at the same time, Thailand would struggle to maintain its position as one of Southeast Asia’s most successful societies.





Release Pai XIV

26 06 2017

We are pleased to pass on the news that Jatupat Boonpattaraksa, or Pai Dao Din, is said to have “passed the last subject of his undergraduate course last Friday…”.

He’ll be celebrating in his jail cell where the military thugs have had him locked up for six months on a trumped up lese majeste charge.

But celebrate he should. This young man, through his stoicism, intellect and commitments, makes the knuckle-draggers in the junta look more ridiculous each day they lock him up. He’s no threat to them or to the monarchy. Indeed, the monarchy and military are more dangerous for each other than a new graduate in Khon Kaen can ever be.

Jatupat’s father, Viboon, also a lawyer, pondered “what his son would do if or when he is released.” He thought:

Perhaps he will go into the field to collect information about human rights violations. Or perhaps, he will return to Loei province where he will offer legal assistance to local communities….

Well, we guess he is a threat to some. By helping the downtrodden he threatens the elite and their comfortable lifestyles, built on the backs of good working people, exploited mercilessly for decades.

Viboon “gathered with dozens of others at Chit Lom BTS station on Thursday to call for the release of Mr Jatupat.” That effort was broken up by 50 thug-police.

With his son, the family remains determined to “be strong and fight for [Jatupat] in the way we know best…”. After all they have faced, it is remarkable that the family still thinks that there is a better Thailand, buried below the injustice muck and detritus of the military dictatorship.

The only way to be sure is to get rid of this corrupt military regime that goosesteps in time with the monarchy.





Guns and grenades I

5 06 2017

Over the past several years, we have had several posts on military involvement in weapons trafficking. Often this trafficking is one of the money-making ventures used by senior commanders  to produce illicit loot and unusual wealth. In short, arms trafficking is a perquisite of rank, using underlings to move and sell the weapons.

Of course, such actions can involve rogue soldiers but it is the impunity they get from their uniforms and the political dominance of their bosses that allows them to engage in illicit money-making.

There are two recent reports worthy of note about military gun-running and weapons trading.

The first is of a mail-order weapons scam. Military grenades were being sent via couriers. This came to light when “eight M67 grenades were found with a courier” in Bangkok.

The military were involved in the investigation. That seems odd in itself, although police are mentioned later in the report.

As usually happens, they were able to immediately blame “a network of 30 people including a Bangkok-based soldier…”. It is said that “a source” claims “the military had been tracking as many as 30 people suspected of trading in grenades by taking orders from customers in many provinces.”

The “source said the real sender was an engineering sergeant in Bangkok who had stolen grenades from a Bangkok army unit with the intention of selling them.”

The 1st army commander Apirat Kongsompong reportedly “ordered tough actions against any soldier behind the thefts and illicit grenade trade, and against any supervisors who failed to prevent the crime.” Yet it is claimed the “network” has been highly active. Army boss Chalermchai Sitthisart had “ordered army units to cooperate with the police investigation into the grenade sales and check their weapons stocks.”

Any “connection between the illegal grenade sale and three recent bombings in Bangkok” were denied.

The notion that soldiers and officers have long been involved in arms trafficking is not addressed.

The second story is of an ISOC officer running guns. This case came to light after a pickup ran off the road in Trat.

The story is that “local residents and naval paramilitary rangers rushed to help the slightly injured driver from the badly damaged vehicle” when they found weapons and ammunition, in the pickup, being driven by “an air force officer…”.

The officer is said to be “in custody.”Again, he’s held by the military and the police seem not involved, although they too are mentioned later in the report.

The pickup was carrying “29 AK-47 rifles, four 7.62mm machine guns, 4,147 AK-47 bullets, and 53 grenades to be used with launchers inside the vehicle.” In addition, it is reported that “[a]uthorities also found a rocket-propelled grenade, 42 machine-gun magazines, a hand grenade and ten 9mm bullets.”

(We do recall that “investigations” of 2010 events by the military stating that the military didn’t have AK-47s.)

The air force officer driving “was identified as Flt Sgt Pakhin [or perhaps Manas] Detphong of Wing 2 from Lop Buri, attached to the Internal Security Operations Command in Bangkok.” He is said to have “refused to make a statement about the weapons and authorities had yet to find out what his destination was.”

ISOC is an internal security agency that reports to the prime minister and which is under the command of the army’s boss, General Chalermchai. ISOC has been involved in numerous operations to undermine people’s sovereignty and has undermined several governments. No one in it may be trusted.

Very interestingly, “Vice Adm Rattana Wongsaroj, marine commander for Trat and Chanthaburi provinces,” rushed to the navy site where the officer was being held.

An alleged civilian accomplice was given VIP treatment in moving through military border checkpoints, immediately suggesting high-level backing.

This report does note that this “case is the latest in an innumerable series of incidents that expose what appears to be lax security at Thai military facilities where weapons are stored.” That makes Apirat’s gruff statement seem all too tame. He knows as well as everyone else that weapons trading is lucrative for many in the military and makes generals wealthy.