Updated: Military and monarchy II

14 10 2022

We were interested in some aspects of a royal report at the Bangkok Post. It was one of those formulaic reports on royal doings – yet another monument to a dead king, presided over by his daft son. But a couple of lines caught our collective eye.

One was the “making up” of the apparent snub of the dead English queen.

More eye-catching was that the spokesperson cited by the Post was Col Wanchana Sawasdee, who is a deputy spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence. Does the park come under the Ministry’s purview? We don’t know, but events like this certainly cement the ties between military and monarchy, as the “soldier king” appears to promote and lead the military.

He chortled about King Vajiralongkorn having “turned the Royal Turf Club of Thailand (RTCT) into the Chalerm Phrakiat Park in Dusit district in remembrance of King Rama IX and to bring about a huge new green space in Bangkok…”. The park is an ode to the dead king and covers 279 rai in Dusit district, and when finished will have “thousands of new trees will provide the capital with another much-needed ‘green lung’.” It is also going to be a large car park for a nearby hospital….

Col Wanchana is then credited with an unlikely quote: “Thursday’s historic ceremony reminded him of the ceremony conducted during the unveiling of the equestrian statue of King Chulalongkorn at the Royal Plaza…”. That was in 1908, so we guess the colonel is saying it is the start of a process of further deifying the dead king.

Col Wanchana also giggled about “rumours spread by some groups with an intention to provoke dislike against the monarch [who] claimed a new palace would be built on this land. The presence of the new park has proved them wrong, he said.”

There was indeed rumor about a “palace,” but as academic Duncan McCargo observed in 2018, the palace’s opacity led to “talk of a public park, a hospital or even a museum, [but] the Bureau’s plans for the spectacular 79-acre site remains unclear.

In the end, while Col Wanchana said rumors had been scotched, in fact, the expanded palace precinct that several speculated on, is coming to fruition. We can’t help thinking that Buckingham Palace and its precinct is a model, surrounding the palace with parkland as a giant vinaigrette.

Update: Very swiftly, a reader points out that we may be reading too much into the story citing the colonel. After all, that reader writes, the story is by the Post’s military reporter, Wassana Nanuam. True, but why is she reporting this event rather than the usual royal reporters?

Funny numbers

31 07 2022

We noticed some funny fumbling with numbers over the last couple of days.

Clipped from Bangkok Post, attributed to the Defense Ministry

Last Thursday, a metal statue of a mythical Kotchasri, a symbol of the Defence Ministry, was stolen. The effigy was one of a pair installed in front of the Defence Technology Institute.

The Bangkok Post later reported that the thief had quickly been arrested. It stated that the thief, Thongchai, “reportedly told investigators that he stole the statue because he wanted it to rescue the country from its troubles.” Then it was added: “The suspect also admitted that he was hallucinating after taking drugs when he took the sculpture from its plinth in front of the Defence Technology Institute in Pak Kret district of Nonthaburi province.” Interestingly, it was then reported: “Police said Mr Thongchai later left the statue outside a noodle shop on Lat Phrao Soi 112. The shop owner called police to retrieve the statue, which is now at Wang Thong Lang station.” Such reporting was confirmed in other media.

This seemed interesting, with 112 seemingly not a random number when the thief seemed to have political motives.

But then the Bangkok Post reporting changed and the numbers got jumbled.

Thongchai  was now reported to have “admitted to stealing the sculpture and said he used it as part of a ritual at his home…”. Rescuing the country was lost from the report, although it is mentioned that “the sculpture … was covered in candle drippings,” suggesting some kind of ritual.

Then the address where the statue was left is changed, going from Lat Phrao Soi 112 to Lat Phrao Soi 122. Funny that.

Adding to the funny numbers, Thongchai is reported to have “a record for possession of ya ba (methamphetamine) four times from 2015 to 2517.” Four cases in 502 years? Yes, we know, just a failure to change from BE to CE, but still….

King’s men II

28 09 2020

A couple of days ago, the Defense Ministry’s assistant spokesman Col Wanchana Sawasdee announced the outcomes of the Defense Council’s most recent meeting, chaired by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha.

The Bangkok Post reports that there was apparently little that relates to the usual military missions. Col Wanchana “said the premier emphasised two issues at the meeting: the monarchy, and the mission of the armed forces.” There seems little to distinguish the two.

Thailand’s military is not a regular military force. Rather than focused on the defense of the countries borders and so on, this military is more concerned with the defense of the monarchy and the ruling class it personifies.

So, the big news provided was that the “armed forces plan to arrange a grand event to commemorate the passing of … King Bhumibol Adulyadej … on Oct 13.”

More taxpayer funds down the drain.

Gen Prayuth is reported to have “instructed the armed forces to also support activities organised by other units in promoting … the King’s work which benefits the country and reflects the long-standing bonds between the monarchy and the people.”

More taxpayer funds down the drain, spent for ideological gain.

Further, Gen Prayuth “urged government agencies to promote … the King’s royal projects, particularly the applied New Theory Agriculture based on agricultural concepts initiated by King Rama IX.”

As everyone knows, the “king’s projects” are almost entirely dependent on taxpayer funding.

With Wikipedia reporting that the military has 360,850 active duty and 200,000 reserve personnel and a budget of 227.67 billion baht, it is a powerful force for the monarchy and Thailand’s ruling class.

With 3 updates: Media, students and monarchy I

22 08 2020

The mainstream media has lost touch with political events. Some say this is due to political censorship/owners’ censorship and the rightist political alignment of many outlets. Others say that it has to do with the lack of resources and skilled journalists. Whatever the reason, it is mainly social media that is carrying the news.

The missing news is even greater in the English-language media, despite efforts by Khaosod English, Thisrupt and Thai Enquirer.

Look in vain for workers protesting in solidarity with students, for those protesting workers being threatened by thugs dressed in black and with military-style haircuts, for Parina Kraikup essentially calling for state violence against school kids and for continuing critical discussion of the monarchy.

One story that promises to rile ultra-royalists has appeared in the rightist media is Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s questioning of the Budget Bureau on the huge and growing flow of taxpayer funds to the palace. He pointed out that even in a declining economy, the palace was getting almost 17% additional funding.

As far as PPT knows, this is the first time for decades that anyone has raised questions in an official forum about the funds flowing to the palace.

Update 1: A reader pointed out that we had posted nothing from the Khon Kaen rally a few days ago. That reader recommended Isaan Record and this video:

Update 2: While not reporting on the rally, Thai PBS now reports that the black-attired thugs shown above were “contracted” to “Thawatchawin Kopatta, a former candidate for the Kao Klai Party,” who “admitted that he had taken the two men to the protest to make sure that speakers did not touch on the Thai Monarchy, as he had promised the Superintendent of Samrong Nua police station he would do.” Thawatchawin added:

Thawatchawin said the incident was a misunderstanding by the two men in black shirts, who thought the speaker, Ms. Chuthatip Sirikhan, president of the Student Union of Thailand, was referring to the Monarchy, when she talked about the budget of the Office of the Royal Household, and they tried to stop her by seizing her microphone.

The question of who the thugs are has not been made clear. Police? Military?

Update 3: Better late than never, Thai PBS has also reported Thanathorn’s questioning of the Budget Burea. We reproduce most of the report below:

Thanathorn did something unprecedented on Thursday as an advisor of the House committee scrutinizing the 2021 budget bill.

He questioned the justification for an increase in the budget for agencies under the Royal Office – the organization directly under His Majesty the King. Thanathorn described the increase as “alarming” given the current economic situation and wanted an answer….

Normally, budgets for royal agencies are approved with little or no deliberation out of respect for the monarchy. But not this time — with Thanathorn’s presence in the budget committee.

Thanathorn is known for his strong stand on the monarchy which he believes should be more accountable.

Thanathorn noted in his Facebook post on Thursday that normally, top executives of government agencies would be required to be present to defend their budget before the House committee. But traditionally, no administrators of the Royal Office have ever appeared before the committee. And in line with past practice, the Royal Office was on Thursday represented by officials of the Budget Bureau.

Thanathorn said the budget allocated for the Royal Office for 2021 is 8.9 billion baht which he noted would be a significant jump of 16.8 per cent from the 7.6 billion baht for this year.

He described the increase as “alarming”, considering the fact that the overall national budget for 2021 represents an increase of only 3.1 per cent. He noted that the Budget Bureau officials spent only two minutes presenting the budget and without giving any details.

And looking back over the years, the outspoken politician said budgets for the Royal Office have been increasing at startling rates, outstripping those of inflation and economic growth.

Thanathorn said he questioned the officials of the Budget Bureau whether such increases would be appropriate. And whether they would in any way diminish the honour of the monarchy.

“As the people are still suffering from economic impact from the coronavirus pandemic, such a sharp increase in the budget for the Royal Office would only have a negative impact on the honour of the monarchy,” he said.

Thanathorn said he recommended that an increase in budget for the Royal Office be limited to 3.1 per cent – the same increase rate for the overall national budget.

“My intention is to help make the royal institution to continue to be held in high esteem by the people,” he explained.

He said by agreeing to cut down the budget for the Royal Office, the royal institution would be seen as sharing the suffering of the people – and that would further enhance the honour of the monarchy.

Among the major agencies within the Royal Office are Office of His Majesty’s Privy Council, Bureau of the Royal Household and Royal Security.

However, despite his plea, Thanathorn said the House committee endorsed the budget for the Royal Office without any changes.

Further updated: Military and the virus

4 08 2020

Yesterday, PPT saw a Reuters report that “Thailand has suspended plans for its army to undertake joint training with the U.S. military after nine Thai soldiers tested positive for coronavirus upon returning from Hawaii…” That was from the Defense Ministry on Sunday. To be precise Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantawanich stated: ““The army has suspended all plans to bring forces abroad until the situation improves…”.

It seems that last poor expression was crudely accurate as within hours US troops have arrived in Thailand for exercises. But no Thai service personnel have been “abroad.” At present, the situation is: “More than 100 U.S. troops were put under a 14-day quarantine when they arrived in Thailand on Monday…”. Two Thai military officers are watching over them at each of two Bangkok hotels. Hopefully they get replaced over the 14 days otherwise they are on long shifts.

Wondering who is paying? The two hotels listed are on the Alternative State Quarantine list and they aren’t cheap. As a The Conrad offers a “Deluxe Room (41 sq.m) starting at 137,000 THB per person for 15 nights.” The Anantara Riverside Bangkok’s cheapest is “Deluxe Room 73,000 THB per person per 14 days.” Another hotel listed is The Idle, which offers a “Superior 50,000 THB per person per 14 days.”

They all arrived, from Guam and Japan, at Utapao, so were transferred to Bangkok. None of this sounds particularly “safe” in a context where Thais still deal with restrictions.

“Thoughtfully,” Gen Nathapon Srisawat, a “special adviser to the Royal Thai Army (RTA) and director of the RTA’s Centre for the Management of the CCSA,” explained that “the RTA and the US army had jointly agreed on the military exercises prior to the pandemic, before adding that the exchange of military experiences will benefit the army.” He was asked why the Army “chose not to postpone the exercise despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Gen Nathapon played down the matter, saying the RTA will do its best to comply with health safety measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.”

Update 1: According to a Thai PBS report of Senator Kamnoon Sitthisamarn’s questioning of the need for Army exercises with US troops, it is mentioned that these exercises will occur despite objections by the CCSA. We can only assume that, as usual, the military does whatever it wants.

Update 2: A Bangkok Post editorial taunts the military:

For the army to suddenly allow foreign soldiers into the country for a mission that is generally deemed as not that urgent is inconsiderate of the sacrifice that Thais have had to make to cope with the outbreak….

Worse, the decision that seemingly goes against popular sentiment could put the army in an unfavourable light not just as an organisation that seeks privileged treatment for its own affairs but also as one that is out of touch with the public and reality.

Further updated: It is still a military regime IX

4 07 2020

It seems amazing to PPT that so many commentators still lament the loss of democracy under the current regime. Are they bonkers? When was this regime ever interested in democracy? Since 2014, there has been no democracy. There’s only authoritarianism in a rigged political, constitutional and judicial system.

So it is that Khaosod reports that police have “summoned the crew behind a recent light spectacle marking the army’s 2010 crackdown on anti-government protests…. Pannika Wanich, the leader of The Progressive Movement, said the contractors involved in the stunt were instructed to report to a police station for questioning.” And to add to that threat, “security authorities visited their homes…”.

This is the group that “[i]n May, … projected the slogan #SeekTheTruth onto various landmarks across Bangkok, including the Ministry of Defense headquarters.”

Pannika said that this amounted to an infringement of free speech, adding that the authorities “are intimidating the artists.”

It is the Ministry of Defense that has lodged the police complaint.

Update 1: Related reports are of internet tracking by the regime. At New Mandala, “Internet providers are helping the Thai government track down dissidents” is a disturbing account. It includes some suggestions on how to skirt some of the tracking. In a similar vein, “Protect our web browsing history against snoopers” also has some suggestions on avoiding the snooping.

Update 2: Prachatai reports on the the police and the light works team. It makes it clear that the police are engaged in harassment, with “… Pol Maj Gen Methee Rakpan, Commander of the Metropolitan Police Bureau’s Division 6, [saying] that he could not tell whether the campaign had broken any law.”

It is still a military regime VI

10 06 2020

All the nonsense about splits in the Palang Pracharath Party over who get access to the biggest bags of loot pales into nothingness when its considered who really runs the country.

In a report that is framed in terms that do not draw attention to the significance of the event, the Bangkok Post tells of how the military treats parliament with such utter disdain that opposition lawmakers “walked out of a parliament meeting on Tuesday…”.

The report says that this was “to protest against a lack of details in the government’s plan to reallocate 88 billion baht to a central fund to fight Covid-19 and rehabilitate the economy.” In fact, it was also a protest about the “Defence Ministry for hampering the panel’s work…” and acting as a law unto itself.

Defense Ministry officials had submitted to the committee a document which was marked “classified.” Shortly after these officials withdrew the document from the committee, collecting up all the copies.

Benja Saengchan, a committee member from Kao Klai Party, said the military officials claimed “the document was classified and … [they] took it back immediately; we did not manage to thoroughly examine the document.” Benja added: “The defence [ministry] is somehow ‘untouchable’…”.

The opposition “walkout was led by Worawat Ua-apinyakul, who sits on the ad-hoc committee vetting a draft bill on the budget transfer. The MPs abruptly left the meeting and accused the government coalition of trying to prevent them from doing their job.

As Ji Ungpakorn has pointedly observed: “No one should be under the illusion that Thailand has returned to democracy, despite recent elections. The military is still very much in charge…”.

It is still a military regime V

9 06 2020

There’s been some very strange reporting on military snooping.

Yesterday, Khaosod reported that the “Ministry of Defense on Monday confirmed a proposal asking mobile phone operators to give up the location data of those who were in close proximity to coronavirus patients.”

Today, the Bangkok Post reports that the “Ministry of Defence has denied requesting mobile phone location data from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to monitor the Covid-19 outbreak in Thailand.”

The Khaosod report states that in a “leaked document published by academic and activist Sarinee Achavanuntakul, mobile phone operators are asked to provide location logs for the past 14 days of users who are found to contract the virus…. They are also told to provide mobile number information of the users who shared the same location with the patients.”

The Post report states that “Defence Ministry spokesman, Lt Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich, said the ministry has no authority to demand private mobile phone information…”. It said he was seeking to counter “reports that the ministry had asked mobile network operations to send in their customers’ location data to assist with efforts to curb the spread of the disease.”

In both reports, Gen Raksak Rojphimphum, director of defense policy and planning office, is quoted as confirming the actions. He said: “We have good intentions…. We collaborated with different agencies to see whether the plan is possible. We concluded that it is executable, so we sent that letter out for the benefit of outbreak investigation.” In the Post report he tries to backpedal, saying other agencies lead on this. So why the letter? No answer.

Gen Raksak then went on to “explain” that the data was needed “to track mobile phone users by citing the cluster of infections at Lumpinee Boxing Stadium.” The tone deaf general said: “If we had the mobile phone information of all 2,800 people at the stadium, we would have been able to send a text to warn them immediately…”. In fact, if the Army boxing stadium had followed instructions, there wouldn’t have been a cluster.

Increased surveillance seems to be tried and occurring in many countries. However, only in the most authoritarian of countries does the military do this. Again, the regime demonstrates that it is the military running things in Thailand.

Updated: Dangerous military

4 12 2019

The Bangkok Post reports on Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan”defending” all the off-budget money the Ministry of Defense following criticism from Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.

Gen Prawit said the “off-budget money was used to provide welfare benefits for its troops, low-income state employees and the general public and its disbursement was transparent and under scrutiny at all levels.”

So why is it off-budget? No answer.

The corrupt general, best known for his luxury watch collection that was “borrowed” claimed there was no need to explain the billion in off-budget funds.

As usual for this regime, Gen Prawit turned on the questioner, “question[ing] the motive behind the criticism of the off-budget spending, saying the move was simply to cause misunderstanding among members of the public.”

There is no misunderstanding as the public knows the military is corrupt.

Future Forward is also pressing for an end to conscription, and Gen Prawit seemed to threaten Thanathorn when he declared “the FFP leader should abide by the law” when campaigning against the military.

The Defense Ministry said scrapping of conscription … was unlikely to happen soon because there are not enough volunteers signing up for military service.”In addition, the Ministry spokesman warned that it was necessary to “consider the impact on national security among other aspects.”

Of course, it is already known that the Ministry sees no external threat and wants conscripts as servants for senior military figures who use them both for personal service and for making money.

The Bangkok Post also reports on a speech Thanathorn made to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand that will have caused the regime heart trouble.

He’s convinced that the military and the “establishment” see him and his party as dangerous and seems convinced the Constitutional Court will soon dissolve the party. Thanathorn accused the regime of “undermining parliamentary democracy…”. This regime has been doing that since the coup in 2014.

He observed that the establishment “consistently use fake news and misinformation to discredit opposition.” He added: “They are branding us as traitors, branding us as anti-monarchy, installing hatred that divides the people of this country…”.

The Post report has “Colonel Artcha Boongrapu, a member of the Committee to Return Happiness to the People at the Royal Armed Forces HQ” who “accused Mr Thanathorn of hypocrisy and troublemaking.”

The military-constructed and backed Palang Pracharath Party attacked Thanathorn.

By attacking the “establishment” and doing so by pointing to military corruption and capitalist monopolies, Thanathorn is defined as “dangerous.” In fact, it is the military and its allies who are dangerous.

As many before Thanathorn have said for years, it is the military that is dangerous. It has the guns and a track record of anti-democratic interventions, arming thugs and forming gangs to maim and murder.

The military will stop at nothing to ensure the status quo.

Update: The Bangkok Post’s editorial on this topic is worth considering. It observes that Gen Prawit and the Defense Ministry provided “explanations” were “arguments [that] lack any real substance.” It adds that “off-budget spending” is not “subject to external audit and public disclosure…”. The corruption is clear.

Updated: Open-mouthed disbelief I

11 07 2019

Several stories caught PPT’s collective eye over the past couple of days.

The first is about Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the Watchman,” who has been clearing his office at the Ministry of Defence to make way for Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha.  But little else seems to have changed for for Gen Prawit.

A story at Khaosod of another bit of “casual corruption” associated would be funny if it wasn’t so reflective of a regime that has descended into old ways of military-bosses-cum-politicians.

Serial complainer Srisuwan Janya, who operates off social media posts in making his hundreds of petitions, has “filed a complaint to probe the police’s purchase of a 1.14 billion baht jet for ferrying deputy junta chairman [Gen] Prawit Wongsuwan and his entourage…”.

Srisuwan’s complaint plagiarizes social media “outrage at photos of the junta’s second-in-command exiting a private [police] jet with a flight attendant in tow…”.

The little bit of tycoon lifestyle for Gen. Prawit tripping about in a Dassault Falcon 2000S is said to have been purchased “by the police … [for] about 350 million baht more than the global market price.”

The price for a new one is about $30 million. That is a lot of taxpayer loot for a force that usually buys vehicles like the Toyota Camry and, for its pampered bosses, a BMW 5 or a Mercedes 600. Its aviation division has a Fokker 50 turboprop airliner in addition to the Falcon and more than 70 helicopters.

Srisuwan asks – we presume rhetorically – “Why does Thailand like to buy things at a higher price than other people? Or was there some special [deal] that they haven’t revealed to the people?”

Clipped from Khaosod

The jet is said to have cost 1.14 billion baht, which seems about 159 million baht over the list price. Expect the police to say that the extra cash went to fit-out, training and/or spare parts rather than into any boss’s pocket.

So far, the efforts of the police spokesman are laughable, claiming the “plane was a sound investment,” and saying it carried not just Gen Prawit and “the police commissioner and other high-ranking officials.” What a life! They don’t have to deal with the hoi polloi in regular planes or put up with noisy turboprops. The spokesman adds that the new plane can fly when helicopters can’t (but so can the Fokker).

Not only that, but the Falcon can be used for other “important assignments … like government inspections, drug raids, and to follow up crucial investigations.” A $30 million business jet for “investigations”? Right, but probably not investigations of police corruption.

While on the police, we notice that they have, as claimed several times, been hard at work on the cases involving the assault of political activists. Indeed, they have brought charges! Khaosod reports that police have

arrested … eight Facebookers accused of spreading [allegedly] false reports on social media that the police were behind the attack on June 28 that left pro-democracy campaigner Sirawith [Seritiwat] in critical condition. All of the suspects were charged with cybercrimes….

The report adds that police claim that the eight “confessed to claiming on Facebook that deputy police commissioner Chaiwat Ketworachai sent four men under his command to attack Sirawith.”

No one expects the police to arrest the thugs responsible for the cowardly attacks but the Facebookers, slapped with computer crimes charges that can mean up to seven years in prison.

As PPT predicted, “investigations” into the attack on Sirawith is being “hampered” because “some cameras were out of service and failed to capture the assailants’ flight from the scene…”. That’s the usual excuse when a cover-up is underway.

A third story that causes open-mouthed disbelief is also at Khaosod. Just confirmed as Deputy Minister for Agriculture is “dark influence” Thammanat Prompao, a member of the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party.

Deputy Prime Minister under the junta and now under the “new” junta-engineered government, Wissanu Krea-Ngam has said that Thammanat’s “eligibility for a seat in the cabinet is not in question because he is not being prosecuted by the Thai judiciary.” The story continues, with Wissanu claiming:

In the past, there was an MP who had been prosecuted in Hong Kong for drug trafficking, but his status was not affected in Thailand…. Although his reputation among many things might have been impacted, his deeds and ethical standards have to be considered separately.

On Thammanat, it is known that he’s allegedly been involved in all kinds of activities that many consider “shady.” As the report states:

Thammanat was once stripped of his military rank for alleged involvement in a murder case in 1998, but was reinstated after the court acquitted him.

The latest allegations against Thammanat came after an opposition politician claimed he was previously convicted of a crime in a foreign country. No public records of such conviction could be found as of publication time.

Now that a government has been formed – it still has to present its policy to parliament – look to all kinds of internal jostling for a place at the trough.

Update: In another report staggering under a mound of buffalo manure, police claim that they have not – yes, they haven’t – demanded an exchange of police protection for Sirawith being politically silent. Not only that, but the police claim they would never, ever, never ask a political activist not to engage in political activity. Well, it wasn’t the police saying it, but Deputy Defence Minister Gen Chaichan Changmongkol. But we guess that the Army speaks for the police these days. But, really, this is just the usual lies from senior figures. This kind of buffalo manure will only cease to flow when such idiocies and the dolts who make such claims are called out, again and again. The truth is out there, but these fools work with manure rather than truth.

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