Neo-feudalism and the military

23 08 2019

In most countries that have a professional military, the forces have become hi-tech and high-skilled that are generally focused on providing security of borders and beyond borders.

Thailand’s military is far from that professionalized military. In fact, it is a force that is mostly concerned with internal security, making it a highly politicized organization, led by bureaucrats rather than well-trained professionals and bent on molding the political order to its preferred shape. Coups, torture, repression, military-backed political parties and corruption are its stock-in-trade.

Monarchs and military

For most of the last 70 years, the military’s politicization and political dominance has involved the monarchy. And, for most of that time, the military has been the dominant partner in that political coalition.

But that balance has been changing as the monarchy has aggregated ideological, political and economic power to itself.

That change has seen the military requiring the ideological support of the monarchy in pulling off its most recent political interventions. In this reign, while so far short, there has been a rapid development of royalist neo-feudalism. We have posted on this several times, most recently, here.

Clearly, King Vajiralongkorn considers himself a soldier and he no longer sees his constitutional position as head of the Thai Armed Forces as symbolic. He’s given the military special attention and he’s taken control of several now-former military bases and of some forces. According to Khaosod, the king is now engaging in efforts to stamp his mark on the military more broadly.

That report, reflecting its source, is somewhat vague, but reveals that a “team of 100 soldiers will be introducing a new training program devised by … the King to the army nationwide…”.

Suthida in the uniform, earrings and makeup of a General

It is claimed that these 100 officers “were trained under the new protocol by the King’s royal guard corps…”. The royal guards are claimed to be an elite corps, mainly through their proximity to the palace rather than for any particular military skills or training. It is better known for its brightly colored uniforms, spiffing ceremonial hats and for having the heavily decorated king’s wife and official concubine as leading generals (neither with any military background).

It is claimed that the “novel program” of 10 weeks’ duration and which comes without any detail, “was reportedly introduced by King Vajiralongkorn in order to enhance soldiers’ physical endurance, nutrition, psychology, and motivation.”

It is “added that the policy was endorsed by army chief Apirat Kongsompong.” Would he do anything else? He’s also a neo-feudalist but we wonder if his military ancestors are somewhat taken aback by having a now aged part-time soldier, trained mostly in the late 1960s and early 1970s, directing how the “modern” army should be trained?

As the report points out, “[s]ince taking the throne in late 2017, … the King has been introducing changes to the armed forces, such as new salute, new haircut for police, and new police uniform color.” All that is window-dressing, but this seems rather more “interesting” as the king seeks to make the army his army.





Denying constitutionalism, affirming neo-feudalism

21 08 2019

“Modern” Thailand is looking increasingly like a neo-feudal kingdom. We know that the moniker “Kingdom” has become increasingly common as a kind of affirmation that Thailand has a monarchy. but that has usually meant a constitutional monarchy.

In the previous reign, the monarchy was steadily moved to a position of greater ideological, economic and political power and influence. In the current reign, which began under the military junta, more changes have been made that have further empowered the monarchy, including land grabs, new laws and constitutional changes.

Many of these changes have been enshrined in laws made in secret session by the junta’s appointed and puppet National Legislative Assembly. Others have a dubious legal basis in palace announcements (which the Constitutional Court has interpreted, in one case, as law).

Neo-feudalism enshrined

There’s also been the secretive destruction of symbols of the 1932 revolution. Such historical vandalism has been rightly interpreted as “announcements” of neo-feudalism.

The most recent “announcement” of neo-feudalism was Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s “solemn declaration before the King” legally meant to be made under Section 161 of the junta’s constitution. That section states:

Before taking office, a Minister must make a solemn declaration before the King in the following words: “I, (name of the declarer), do solemnly declare that I will be loyal to the King and will faithfully perform my duties in the interests of the country and of the people. I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect.”

As everyone knows, Gen Prayuth read a different declaration:

I, (name of the declarer), do solemnly declare that I will be loyal to the King and will faithfully perform my duties in the interests of the country and of the people. I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect.

Just for interest, a (random) look at other constitutions – here, the 1974 version – showed no difference in the required oath:

As far as we are aware, that oath has never previously been denied (at least when constitutions have been in place).

So, despite denials, this oath to the king rather than (also) to the constitution, is highly significant.

It is also clear that, if they can get away with it, Gen Prayuth and his regime (and the palace) are seeking to make the discussion of the unconstitutional oath go away, with no rectification and no winding back of this act of embedding neo-feudalism.

The Bangkok Post reports an opposition demanded parliamentary debate on the neo-feudal oath “will likely occur next month…”. This announcement came from the government’s Deputy Parliament President Supachai Phosu. It is said that it is “up to Parliament President [and member of the government coalition] Chuan Leekpai to fix a date for the debate, which will proceed without a vote.”

Whether it happens is open to debate. What is clear is that the parliament’s bosses are trying to delay and quieten things so that Gen Prayuth, his regime and the palace can get away with unconstitutional actions and the further embedding of neo-feudalism.

Meanwhile Gen Prayuth said “he is too preoccupied with work to explain” his actions.

Gen Prayuth made his oath ashe and the king intended. They seem confident that they can break the most basic law. As it was under the junta, Thailand remains essentially under a lawless regime.





Updated: Targeting anti-monarchists

11 08 2019

A few days ago AFP reported (and here too) on the travails of the anti-monarchist, anti-junta and pro-democracy band Faiyen, living in self-exile in Laos. As is well-known, most of the other high-profile anti-monarchists who were in Laos have fled, been forcibly disappeared or murdered.

 

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Because of this, the band members live in fear and regularly receive threats. “Taking turns to keep watch at their hideout in Laos … ‘Faiyen’ believe they are on a hit-list like eight fellow dissidents who have already disappeared.” Singer Yammy states: “There’s not a single night that we can sleep. A dog’s howl gives us the chills…”.

She adds: “All the firebrand activists have gone, disappeared…. We are the last targets.”

For a time, Faiyen members could stream their political commentary and music: “We could say what we want … but then the hunting started…”. A tearful Yammy worried: “There might be no tomorrow…”. The group “now fear time is running out for them … and are seeking asylum in a European country.”

While Thailand’s royalists and regime will cheer the success of the murders and disappearances – in quieting anti-monarchism – let’s hope that a country with real laws and protection for human rights decides to receive them.

Helpfully, in following Faiyen’s situation, the Thai Alliance for Human Rights has a List of English-language articles on the Faiyen Band during the #SaveFaiyen Campaign. While at that site, it is also worth reading the spine-chilling account of the enforced disappearance in 1954 of Haji Sulong and its resonance with the torture, murder and disappearance of anti-monarchy activists in Laos.

Update: Thankfully, the band members are now in France.





With 3 updates: Constructing the monarch

29 07 2019

As we have pointed out previously, when succession came in 2016, there were some commentators who had been predicting a crisis and an unraveling of the monarchy. Part of the “crisis” had to do with King Vajiralongkorn’s vengeful, thuggish and nasty persona, well known in Thailand. Those characteristics, along with his lust for women and loot, defined his life as crown prince. He was also known to think of himself a military man and imposed “military discipline” on those around him.

Self-crowned

There was no crisis, and King Vajiralongkorn has established his reign and palace in a series of moves that were marked by a legalism that saw him establish clear personal ownership of royal wealth, clear out those he distrusted or felt insufficiently supine, and establish greater constitutional powers for the throne.

Many international commentators regularly make the trite observation that the current king does not have the same esteem as his long-serving father. This is obvious, but this seems a way of pointing to the king’s checkered past and odd personality.

But, as this year’s king’s birthday demonstrates, the palace propaganda machine is hard at work, concocting an image for the still new king. For all of his personal foibles and the great fear associated with his erratic and narcissistic behavior, for the palace propaganda machine, nothing much has changed and it uses familiar and tried and true methods.

For example, he is now “our father,” just as his father was, continuing the paternalism that marks monarchy and which is, when required, used politically.

Yesterday, the newspapers were drenched in palace propaganda. In propaganda, that which is false and concocted can become “truth” if repeated often enough. And there’s plenty of that in the invention of Vajiralongkorn’s image. We won’t go through it all as there simply too much.

One example is the creation of the king as “sportsman.” Of course, this links to his father’s image, based on his making and sailing in tiny yachts for a time in the 1960s. Vajiralongkorn, who once played some football with minions and who, late in life, took up cycling. That, as far as the propagandists are concerned, makes the king “majestic in sports.” This concocted story will be repeated year after year and people will come to accept it and perhaps believe it.

The other thing to note in the current flood of propaganda that constructs the monarch is the king as military man. His father took on this persona in the 1960s and 1970s, but he was not military trained. The new king is, and is proud of this.

The propagandists say the king has “specialises in military affairs, thanks to his illustrious military background.” They mangle politics with claims that “Thailand is a democratic country with the King as the head of state and for a large part of the nation’s history, the head of the armed forces as well.”

The politics of this – in a country dominated by military politicians – is emphasized:

Thai soldiers hold His Majesty in high regard and are ready to give up their lives for his cause because there is no higher honour for a Thai soldier than to serve the country, people and the King.

We may be forgetful, but we do not recall these claims being made for his father. In an era of military and military-backed government, an armed forces drawn ever closer to the king means a more interventionist king. It also means that the military and bureaucracy are those at the top of the political heap and are ever more closely intertwined with the throne.

We have previously posted on the Jit Arsa 904 “volunteers” that have been created as a force for the king and to burnish and propagandize his image. A couple of the “tributes” to the king play up this group. Such activities have multiple winners, with the king seen as a great man and the “volunteers” getting reflected merit. But, another of the stories reveals – we don’t recall this in past reporting – that the Jit Arsa scheme is a military operation. It states:

The Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) serves as the coordinator of the project. It has set up a regional coordination centre in each of the four regions: the Central Plains, Northeast, North and South.

Given ISOC’s political role, taking over from the junta, and its history of political destabilization, surveillance, repression and murder for various military regimes and for the military itself, the overt linking to the throne is cause for considerable concern.

Update 1: As if there hadn’t been a succession, the king’s birthday message reflected his father’s mantra of “prosperity” flowing from doing one’s “duty.” The king was only addressing the already prosperous – “royal family members as well as senior officials led by the parliament president, prime minister and the Supreme Court president” – but the message is carefully relayed to the hoi polloi. The report also recounts that the king further elevated his first daughter, changing her royal title from the relatively undistinguished Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendiradebyavati to the breathtaking Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendiradebyavati Krom Luang Ratchasarinee Siripatchara Maha Watchara Ratchathida. Tucked into the end of the report is the news that the king also “granted Maj Gen Thanpuying Sineenart Wongvajirapakdi the title of Chao Khun Phra Sineenart Pilaskalayanee.” That’s his favored consort.

Update 2: The regime gave the king a very expensive birthday present. Reuters reports that the king “will be exempt from tax on some of his land property…”. It wasn’t that long ago that there was some fanfare when the Crown Property Bureau lost its tax-free status as its assets came under the king’s direct ownership. However, a new announcement now says “some of the king’s lands and establishments will now be exempt from tax…”.

Lands and establishments that are “used in state affairs, royal affairs, or used by agencies under the king” will be exempt as will properties “used in other affairs by the king or members of the royal family, for public interests, or used as religious places. Royal properties that “do not fit the above descriptions” will also be tax exempt for those “… parts that are used for non-profit purposes…”. Millions and perhaps billions will be kept in the royal pocket.

Update 3: Some time ago the then crown prince let it be known that he wanted to be a more “traditional” king. Since Vajiralongkorn has been king he’s been realizing that ambition, grabbing land and making royal wealth more obviously his, wringing increased powers from the junta and gaining command over thousands of troops and police. Now he’s gone a step further. When we mentioned above that he gave a title to his favorite consort, this act was more significant than we thought.

Khaosod reports that the title bestowed is “Royal Noble Consort,” making Sineenat the first official consort taken by a king since King Chulalongkorn Vajiravudh. That the event was televised, with the king anointing her while seated with the queen tells Thais that neo-feudalism is upon them.

Sineenat also received a bunch of royal decorations: “The Most Illustrious Order of Chula Chom Klao, 1st Class; The Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant, Special Class; The Most Noble Order of the Crown of Thailand, Special Class; and Rattanaporn Medal, First Class.”





Still using monarchy

16 07 2019

As is to be expected, anti-democrats and ultra-royalists continue to make use of monarchy for their own political purposes and benefit.

Conservatives have for some time been warned off using lese majeste, the current king apparently believing that it does him damage and that it has not been effective in silencing all critics – murders and enforced disappearances have worked a treat.

But the conservatives have found other means of using the monarchy against political opponents. Khaosod reports that serial complainer Srisuwan Janya, “filed the royal defamation complaint against Future Forward Party’s Pannika Wanich in June,” but that is not all it seems. In fact, the complaint is not lese majeste but a complaint to the National Anti-Corruption Commission. He wants “Pannika removed from office, on allegations that Pannika mocked the late King Bhumibol in a 2010 graduation photo.”

The newspaper reports that the NACC, which seldom seriously investigated complaints against the military junta, seems to be actively pursuing the case.

Monarchy remains a useful tool for anti-democrats and ultra-royalists in defeating political opponent.





Updated: Junta’s government goes, repression retained

16 07 2019

According to the Bangkok Post, the “outgoing junta government held its last meeting on Monday…”. We are not sure whether that means the junta has held its last meeting but guess this means the depleted cabinet met one last time. Anti-democrats will be in tears.

But this means little in terms of political repression. That continues, mostly run by the military and the Internal Security Operations Command.

As reported by Khaosod, junta legal fixer for the junta and who will be the fixer for the junta’s “new” government, Wissanu Krea-ngam “told reporters the power to detain people without warrants will rest with the counter-insurgency agency operating under the Prime Minister’s Office [ISOC]…”.

While he says that this power “won’t be invoked,” when political push comes to shove, watch this change. Wissanu added that “those who pose threats to national security or the monarchy will merely be questioned and warned.” In other words, they will “have [their attitude] adjusted.” He said they would not be detained.

Wissanu defended retaining these repressive powers: “It’s okay to retain such power, however, because it’s a power to oversee peace and order.”

Look forward to more of the same from the “new” government.

Update: The Bangkok Post quotes ISOC spokesman Maj Gen Thanathip Sawangsaeng who seems to contradict Wissanu. He stated: “I insist that the Internal Security Act does not authorise any detention or order for anyone to undergo an attitude change…”. The detention bit seems to match Wissanu’s claim, but not the attitude change bit. What’s going on there?





More threats against Faiyen

13 07 2019

More death threats, claiming to be from elements of the Thai military, have been received by members of the anti-monarchy, pro-democracy band Faiyen, who live in exile. Read about it here. Whether true or not, you get the picture of the constant harassment endured by those who have fled royalist Thailand.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website