The Dictator and violence

23 10 2020

We found the iron bars and violence that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha babbles about, and it is the royalists being violent.

The incident at Ramkhamhaeng University resulted in at least one injury to a young student.

PPT looks at the “break” from protests and sees the regime gaining time for organizing rightists and royalists. Thai PBS sees the lifting of the state of emergency and Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s sudden interest in parliament as a tactic. Thai Enquirer points out that The Dictator is not to be trusted or believed.

The unelected dross in the Senate have “rallied” behind the monarch.

The junta’s satanic seed, the Palang Pracharath Party has ordered its MPs to organize activities “in their constituencies to show loyalty to the monarchy.”

Regime-organized royalist rallies are popping up. Among the first in this recent round of mobilization saw soldiers and police disguised as loyalists for the queen. The video tells a story.

For more on the forces of the right, see this academic account.





With 4 updates: The Dictator’s response II

22 10 2020

At about the time that a mass of demonstrators began to march from the Victory Monument, via a couple of half-hearted police road blocks, to Government House, The Dictator, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha took over Thailand’s national pool broadcasters to explain how he was a democrat.

It may be stating the completely obvious, but we want to point out the contradictions in The Dictator-cum-fake-Democrat general’s speech.

That speech included accusations against the protesters (or their leaders) as violent, extremists, “unThai,” a minority and mob who seek chaos, and anti-monarchists. He didn’t use those terms, but everyone knows the code.

Listening but not hearing

It is Gen Prayudh’s failures, his repression and his lies that, as the pro-regime Bangkok Post reported, led to an ultimatum: “protesters have given the prime minister three days to release detained activists and step down, or face a new round of demonstrations.” We use the official text of The Dictator’s speech, released and published by Thai Enquirer. Protesters have dismissed his (fake) entreaties as too little, too late.

With demonstrators seeking to create a more democratic Thailand, Gen Prayuth calls on them to “sacrifice … their personal desires for the greater good of their country.” That is, to compromise with his illegitimate regime for something less than the protesters want.

He positions himself as “a national leader” who must look after “everyone in this country…”, while taking on the “very extreme” and protecting “the nation” from “dark forces that may seek to damage our country…”. He claims to speak and act for the “huge silent majority” and to rule the country “based on principle, the law, and the will of parliament as the ultimate representative of the people.”

Of course, this is a large pile of buffalo manure that paints the protesters as an extreme minority making “mob demands.”

Gen Prayuth speaks of the need to “step back” from a situation where “violence begets more violence.” But have the protesters been violent? Of course not. The violence has been from the regime and yellow-shirted stooges.

For Prayuth, his big lie is that the protesters who have been violent:

Last Friday night, we saw things that should never be in Thailand. We saw terrible crimes being committed against the police using metal rods and huge cutting implements in brutal attacks, with the aim of severely wounding fellow Thais. But when we look deeper, we can also see that, beyond a small group of ruthlessly violent people with bad intentions….

How high?

Go back and look. Really? Maybe he’s confused. PPT has reviewed all of our collected media reports from that day and there are no reports of such violence by protesters that we can find. All the reports are of the police and their harsh actions to disperse the crowd, which Prayuth does mention, and seems to back away from such tactics.

But then The Dictator switches to “offences against institutions that are held in the highest respect.” He means the monarchy.

His “solution” to the problems he faces is “to discuss and resolve these differences through the parliamentary process. It is a slow process, but it is one that best avoids injury to our nation. We must show the maturity and patience to take the middle path.”

There’s a couple of problems with this. First, Gen Prayuth was not prepared to do this in 2014. Then, he overthrew and elected government, did not support elections, ditched the constitution and imposed a regime of draconian repression, filling parliament with his cronies and rigged the constitutional and electoral system. Why believe he’s had a change of mind? Second, the parliament that exists today is the bastard child of the military coup. It is stacked with an unelected senate that was selected by the junta – and Prayuth himself – and the “election” was rigged. How does Prayuth’s parliament find a way forward?

So, when Prayuth babbles about “respect the due process of law, and then let the will of the people be resolved in parliament,” he’s being completely disingenuous.

Mind. Clipped from a Reuters photo

Prayuth continues to base much of his “conviction” around the monarchy. That’s why he tells protesters to “turn down the volume on hateful and divisive talk.” As the protesters know, real reform must involve the monarchy. It must be discussed. The ultra-royalists fear this. They fear, as Prayuth does, that the foundation of the ruling order will be lost.

Update 1: In a demonstration of how empty Gen Prayuth’s speech was, within two hours of protesters giving him “a three day deadline to step down or face more demonstrations,” the protester who made the announcement, Patsaravalee “Mind” Tanakitvibulpon, was arrested. The arrest was live streamed. Today, she was released, the court having “deemed the charges were not serious and that she still needed to attend classes and exams, so bail was granted without having to submit any guarantees.”

Update 2: Mind was released on bail today.

Update 3: The state of emergency “in Bangkok, and related orders,” has been revoked “effective from noon on Thursday,” with The Dictator saying that “the violence that prompted it is over.” We remain baffled by that claim.

Update 4: Prachatai has reproduced the letter/demand protesters presented for The Dictator last evening at Government House. It reads:

“Whereas I, Prayut Chan-o-cha, have used arbitrary power, bought and sold votes, threatened to impose a gangster’s constitution, traded benefits and positions and used the institution of the monarchy as a justification to get hold of the position of the Prime Minister,

“In order to maintain the dignity of my family, the dignity of the position of Prime Minister and the dignity of the country and to express my respect for the people who hold sovereign power, I, Mr Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister, hereby resign from the position of the Prime Minister.”





With 3 updates: The Dictator’s response I

21 10 2020

The Dictator, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, is tone deaf. So hard of political hearing that he’s doubling down against the students and other protesters, seemingly prepared to risk clashes and extreme violence.

Voice TV has been defiant on the court ordered shutdown. But Gen Prayuth has ordered state authorities to crackdown hard, especially on anti-monarchy statements and images, stating: “We are duty-bound to protect the country and eliminate ill-intentioned actions aimed at creating chaos and conflict in the country…”. He’s talking about the monarchy.

In a piece of good news, and in an act that goes against the judiciary’s pro-authoritarian bent, the Criminal Court on Wednesday “repealed a government order to close down a TV channel [Voice TV] who’s been broadcasting live coverage of the student-led protests…”.

Voice TV “representatives argued to the court that the shutdown order breached the constitutional protection of media freedom…. The argument was accepted by the court, who noted that the order did not cite any clear wrongdoing.”

But other parts of the judicial system acted against democracy. Many will have seen reports that several of those arrested had been bailed. Not so fast. A Bangkok Post report states:

Two protest leaders, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, were taken to the Criminal Court on Wednesday as Bangkok police pressed charges against them for their part in an anti-government rally at Sanam Luang on Sept 19.

Samran Rat police took the two pro-democracy activists from the Region 1 Border Patrol Police camp in Pathum Thani province to the court, ariving around 10.50am on Wednesday.

The two Thammasat University students were released on bail by Thanyaburi court on Tuesday afternoon, before police took them to the Region 1 Border Patrol Police camp in Khlong Luang district.

Mr Parit and Ms Panusaya were also wanted on arrest warrants from other police stations for their roles in anti-government rallies in Bangkok and other provinces.

In other words, the police and regime can continue to keep them on political ice.

More than this, the arrest continue, even in the fake case of “royal endangerment.” Suranat Paenprasert, a coordinator for children’s welfare and anti-drug advocacy group “Active Youth,” was charged with Article 110 of the Criminal Codes, which bans committing acts of violence against the Queen or [h]er [l]iberty.” It is a fit up, but the regime want to raise the temperature of ultra-royalists, while removing activists.

Meanwhile, the royalists are getting organized, with support from the state. Seeing the students and other protesters as “misled” and “duped” – terms also use when denigrating red shirts – Warong Dechgitvigrom warned of “the plot”: “pro-democracy protesters’ demands were not legitimate, especially those concerning the monarchy.” And, he added that there were hidden backers: “group leaders did not want to show themselves to avoid legal action.”

Helping him out, “Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin yesterday spoke about his Facebook post urging people in Chon Buri to exercise their power to protect the monarchy.” That’s a call to action and probably arms.

The state is now actively engaged in mobilizing royalists. The Bangkok Post reports:

Crowds estimated to number in the tens of thousands led by local administrators gathered in several in provinces on Wednesday in a show of loyalty to the royal institution.

The royalist demonstrations, staged in response to recent calls by some student protesters for reform of the monarchy, took place in provinces including Chiang Mai, Chon Buri, Lampang, Nan, Narathiwat and Songkhla….

Similar gatherings were planned in provinces before the end of this month.

Bangkok Post: An estimated 20,000 yellow-clad people march in Sungai Kolok district of Narathiwat on Wednesday morning to show their loyalty to the royal institution. (Photo by Waedao Harai). The Post always downplays and vastly underestimates the size of student rallies.

The states involvement is a dangerous turn of events and The Dictator seems to be digging in. We are not sure that can save him. How desperate can he become?

Update 1: The Bangkok Post appears to be aiding the regime. One of its latest “stories” is about continuing protests and the ultra-royalist marches mentioned above. It reports that “authorities are worried about possible clashes between the two groups in the future.” Again, the post goes full ultra by not pointing out that it is the authorities who are mobilizing the royalists. Indeed, many of those who marched were in civil service uniforms! The Post, by playing dumb, is aiding and abetting any violence that the state unleashes.

Update 2: The Nation makes it clear that the royalists were mainly officials.

Update 3: Social media reports that the first attacks on protesters by yellow shirted royalists took place at Ramkhamhaeng University around 5-6pm today.





Updated: Down with Feudalism, Long Live Citizens!

20 10 2020

Rallies today were not as high-profile as over the last few days. Despite a call from Free Youth for supporters to save their energy, large groups rallied in provincial cities and at a couple of sites in Bangkok.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

At the same time, the police look ed silly as they assembled in places where there were few protesters.

Supporters were urged to go to BTS stations and “flash a three-fingered salute after the national anthem ends at 6pm…”. They were also to shout “the protest’s slogan ‘Down with Feudalism, Long Live Citizens’!”

A Free Youth social media post declared:

Let’s rest for the day. For a week, we fought bravely together. But the government is not aware feudalism is about to collapse. Since they ignore out calls, they’d better wait for a big announcement on Wednesday….

On the topic of the regime’s political hearing impairment, readers are encouraged to peruse “The future of Thailand hangs in the balance,” an opinion piece by well-known academics Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker. We think the title slightly misrepresents the content, which really says that the future of Thailand is in the hands of the protesters rater than with the political dinosaurs.

On the topic of feudalism, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, secretary-general of the Progressive Movement, has called for “the House of Representatives to set up a committee on reform of the monarchy…”.

Piyabutr said:

“Like it or not. Agree with it or not. Until today, nobody can deny the fact that a large number of people have raised a proposal – for the reform of the monarchy.

“But since Gen Prayut (Chan-o-cha) said at a press briefing that he, as the head of government, is duty-bound to protect the monarchy, how can we find a common way out?

“I would like the House of Representatives to pass a resolution to set up a committee on the reform of the monarchy and make it a safe zone for discussing this matter. It is where the people’s proposal can be pushed for implementation to enable the monarchical institution to co-exist with democracy. This is the only way to protect the monarchy in this era.

“The protection of the monarchy does not mean coercion, suppression or intentional evasion of the issue.”

The challenge to the regime is clear.

Update: The Nation reports that “1,118 academics have signed the Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights’ petition demanding that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha step down.” More, they demanded that “the Constitution to be rewritten so it is more democratic and for the monarchy to be reformed.”





The regime goes lower II

20 10 2020

Dozens arrested – although it may be a lot more – and with protest rallies continuing, the regime is dipping ever lower into its dictatorial bag of repression tactics and dirty tricks.

As one experienced reporter had it:

Busy day for the Thai Ministry of Censorship [Ministry of Digital Economy and Society]. 300,000 bits of online content deemed threatening to nat[ional] security (monarchy mostly), Telegram app ordered blocked, 4 news organisations threatened with suspension and a publishing house raided. What next?

That’s an excellent question.

There have been some developments over the last 12 or so hours.

The regime has just released some of those held, but not those seen as long-term anti-monarchists. We would expect the released activists to further strengthen the anti-regime protests.

Panupong Jadnok was “detained for 12 days for sedition and altering a historic site.” The sedition charge seems to be a lese majeste charge in disguise and is “related to his participation in the September 19 protest…. The second charge was related to his role in the installing of the 2020 coup memorial plaque in Sanam Luang on September 20.”

But it is the response to repression that is most interesting.

Following the regime’s decision to investigate the Standard, the Reporter, Prachathai, and Voice TV, the editorial board of Thai Enquirer published the following statement:

Journalism is not a crime, censorship is not an option.

That the government of Prayut Chan-ocha would choose to censor free and digital media at a time of national emergency is indicative of the type of government that it actually is. Whether that censorship is in whole or in part, both are unacceptable to a free and fair society.

Instead of dialogue, opening up discussion and press, the government has chosen to embrace its authoritarian roots and censor, shutdown, and intimidate journalists working to present the news.

The government of Prayut Chan-ocha should, instead of censoring the press, read the content of new and digital media to understand the grievances and viewpoints of the people it claims to represent.

The Thai Enquirer calls on the government to rescind the gag order immediately and to engage in dialogue with the press, the opposition and the people.

Even the Bangkok Post seems to have found something resembling a spine, observing:

It seems this government is blind to the fact that truth can no longer be distorted nor narratives crafted by those in the seats of power. Blocked websites can be accessed by alternate means and social media transcends geographical boundaries.

Its efforts at censorship may ultimately be a bigger blight on its reputation than the already disseminated content it futilely hopes to redact.

The Post urges discussions between “student leaders” and the regime. PPT doesn’t think that there’s much point talking with a regime that includes heroin smugglers and corrupt and murderous generals, has engaged in enforced disappearances and a myriad of human rights abuses is worth talking with. It is a regime that came to power via a coup, changed laws to suit itself, came up with a rigged constitution and arranged a rigged election and rigged parliament. Talking with this regime is unlikely to be anything other than a waste of air.





What the king thinks

17 10 2020

Channel 4’s coverage includes a clip of the king speaking. Watch through to the end of the clip.





The Guardian on Thailand’s absolutist monarch

16 10 2020

The Guardian has an editorial on Thailand that deserves to be widely read. With apologies to the publisher, we reproduce it here in full (including hyperlinks):

The Guardian view on Thailand’s protests and the king: the end of deference

Demonstrations reflect a longstanding appetite for democracy – but challenging the monarchy breaches a taboo

Thailand is often described as coup-prone, given the numerous military takeovers since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932. It would be as accurate to call it democracy-hungry. Thais have periodically fought to determine their own future, despite the risks.

Early on Thursday, the government declared a “severe” state of emergency in Bangkok, in response to months of protests culminating in a mass rally on Wednesday. It banned gatherings of more than four people and the publication of information that could “create fear” or “affect national security”. Thousands immediately surged into the streets, angered by the arrest of protest leaders. The fear of a harsher crackdown is well-founded given the brutal repression of previous movements, including the 1976 massacre at Thammasat University. The UK and others must press the regime to respect the rights of protesters.

Prayuth Chan-ocha’s administration, a military junta that laundered itself into an elected government via a rigged system, is both incompetent and authoritarian. Even dissidents who have fled the country have been harassed, disappeared or killed. Unhappiness has been fuelled by Covid-19’s destruction of the tourism sector, on which the country is heavily dependent. Protestors demand the prime minister’s resignation and the redrafting of the constitution. But they have also broken new ground by demanding reform of what was previously taboo, thanks to heavy penalties for discussing it: Thailand’s royalty. Anon Nampa, the lawyer who helped kick the movement off and is now detained, warned: “If we don’t fix the monarchy, we can’t fix anything else.”

While his father, who died in 2016, was seen touring provincial development projects, King Maha Vajiralongkorn is better known for his personal life, including the ruthless treatment of ex-wives. He resides largely in Bavaria with a female entourage; Germany’s foreign minister says it has “made it clear that politics concerning Thailand should not be conducted from German soil”.

But the king has also centralised both wealth and power, taking direct command of troops, insisting on constitutional changes and taking personal ownership of the Crown Property Bureau’s holdings – estimated at $40bn [PPT: way too low]. While millions are unemployed, $1bn of this year’s government budget will go to the monarchy. Cue previously unthinkable scenes, with protestors giving a three-fingered salute to the royal motorcade in reference to the Hunger Games and to liberty, equality and fraternity.

Yet the institution’s revered status had already begun eroding. While the last king was seen as a pillar of stability, he consistently sided with the forces of conservatism. Anti-monarchism began to emerge among the largely poor and rural “red shirts” who supported the ousted and controversial prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Strikingly, however, there now seems to be a nascent realignment between this movement and another with which it has often clashed: the urban, largely middle class pro-democracy movement often rooted in universities and NGOs, and which most recently swung behind Future Forward, a now-dissolved pro-democracy party.

Thailand’s establishment has so far proved incapable of grasping that the age of deference is over. It is not surprising that the elites resist change in a country with possibly the highest wealth inequality in the world, where the richest 1% control almost 67% of assets. But nor is it feasible that the rest will be content with their meagre lot. Until a better political and economic settlement is reached, the strains will continue to grow. The monarchy’s position is now one of them.





The Economist on King Vajiralongkorn

16 10 2020

The Economist has a timely briefing on the king. With humble apologies to the publisher for taking it in full, but it is very good and deserves to be read by all. Here it is:

Battle royal
Thailand’s king seeks to bring back absolute monarchy
Maha Vajiralongkorn has provoked something new in Thailand: open criticism of a king

THE MONUMENTS disappear in the dark. In April 2017 it was a small bronze plaque from Bangkok’s Royal Plaza. It marked the spot where, in 1932, revolutionaries proclaimed the end of Thailand’s absolute monarchy. In December 2018 a statue was hauled away. It commemorated the defeat of rebels who attempted a coup against those same revolutionaries. Last month activists installed a plaque in the heart of Bangkok’s royal district to protest against the missing monuments. “The people have expressed the intention that this country belongs to the people, and not the king”, it stated. Within a day it was gone.

The world knows Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn as a playboy who has churned through four wives, lives among lots of women in a German hotel and relishes skimpy crop tops that reveal elaborate temporary tattoos. For Thais, his four-year-old reign has been more sinister.

The king makes elderly advisers crawl before him, shaves the heads of courtiers who displease him and has disowned several of his children. Worse, he has steadily amassed power, taking personal control of “crown property”, assuming direct command of troops and ordering changes to the constitution. He makes no secret of his hankering for the days of absolute monarchy (hence the disappearing monuments). But Thais began to protest in July. Can they prevent the removal not just of plaques, but of constitutional constraints?

On October 14th thousands of protesters marched through central Bangkok to camp outside Government House, where ministers’ offices are located. They also formed human chains to carry away potted plants that blocked the way to the country’s Democracy Monument. Not far away King Vajiralongkorn himself, in the country on a fleeting visit, passed by in a motorcade. Clusters of royalists gathered wearing yellow shirts to show their loyalty to him.

That night a spooked government issued an emergency decree banning gatherings of more than four people and prohibiting reporting on topics that could “harm national security” or “cause panic”. The government warned that protesters who insulted the monarchy would be prosecuted. Several prominent leaders of the protest were arrested the following morning. Yet tensions increased as protests continued in defiance of the decree.

Thailand defines itself as a democracy with the king as head of state. The monarchy is revered. Photographs of royals adorn public buildings and private homes. Father’s Day is celebrated on the previous king’s birthday. Thais hear a royal anthem before films start at the cinema.

Technically King Vajiralongkorn rules as a constitutional monarch. But ancient structures have never entirely disappeared. The king used to sit at the apex of society in a semi-divine role. Defenders of the vestiges of this order have long clashed with those claiming to represent an alternative source of authority: the Thai people.

The conflict helps explain why Thailand has endured 12 coups and 20 constitutions since 1932. Since the 1950s a symbiotic relationship between the army and the palace has bolstered the legitimacy of military regimes. For the past two decades the greatest foe of such elites has been Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist prime minister ousted by the army in 2006. His supporters, known as red shirts, battled their yellow-shirted foes in the streets on several occasions in the years after he lost power.

The generals engineered a coup in 2014. The commander who led it, Prayuth Chan-ocha, remains prime minister. An army-friendly constitution disadvantaged large parties, such as Mr Thaksin’s flagship one, Pheu Thai, in an election last year.

One supposed reason why the army seized power six years ago was to ensure a steady succession between the ninth and tenth monarchs of the Chakri dynasty. King Vajiralongkorn’s path to the throne was not simple. Thailand’s elites took against him while his popular father still lived. King Bhumibol Adulyadej was considered the richest monarch in the world, his wealth outstripping that of oil-endowed Middle Eastern rulers and Europe’s royals with their castles and palaces.

Aristocratic types fretted because the crown prince, as Vajiralongkorn was previously known, caused so many scandals. Even his mother likened him to Don Juan. After leaving his first wife, a princess in her own right, he disowned four of his five children with his second wife, an actress, who eventually fled Thailand. When the relationship ended with his third wife—once filmed almost naked and crouching before her husband with birthday cake—several of her family members went to prison. The prince spent lavishly and indulged in eccentricity, elevating his beloved poodle, Foo Foo, to the rank of “air chief marshal”.

Still, King Vajiralongkorn took over unimpeded after his father’s death. Whereas the father was publicly loved, the son is privately loathed. His coronation last year attracted tiny crowds compared with those at the late king’s funeral rites. Despite his co-operation with army regimes, millions of Thais felt King Bhumibol displayed the virtues expected of a Buddhist monarch.

King Vajiralongkorn does not even live in Thailand. He rules a country of 70m people from more than 5,000 miles away in Germany. One insider bluntly appraises his activities there: “Bike, fuck, eat. He does only those three things.” The German government finds his presence awkward. “We have made it clear that politics concerning Thailand should not be conducted from German soil,” the foreign minister, Heiko Maas, told the Bundestag on October 7th.

Money, money, money

The king’s militaristic harem inspires embarrassing headlines around the world. Just months after his fourth marriage to a former air stewardess last year, he elevated one concubine, a former nurse, to the status of “royal noble consort”. She is the first woman to hold this title since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy.

Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi fell from grace soon after her elevation. She disappeared from view. Then, in September, she was reinstated and declared “untainted”. Chinese netizens have likened Ms Sineenat to a crafty concubine from a popular television series, “Empresses in the Palace”.

In March 2012 permission from the Justice Department was published in the Royal Gazette for a temporary prison. A spartan map appears to show its location as possibly within the grounds of a palace owned by Vajiralongkorn. His bad books are a miserable place to be. Pictures allegedly of Srirasmi Suwadee, once his third wife, appeared in a German newspaper last year. Head shaved and tearful, she was reported as being under house arrest.

Airing such dirty linen in public in Thailand, however, is perilous. The country’s lèse-majesté law allows between three and 15 years in prison for insulting “the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent”. King Vajiralongkorn has instructed the government not to use the law. But this hardly reflects newfound tolerance. Critics instead risk charges for sedition or computer crime, among others. In July one man was sent to a psychiatric hospital for wearing a T-shirt that stated: “I have lost all faith in the institution of monarchy”.

Playboy antics distract from the more sinister feats of the monarch since he came to power. In political, financial and military matters King Vajiralongkorn has gained powers never possessed by his father. His interventions appear part of a larger strategy to push Thailand closer to absolute monarchy once more.

Take his finances. In 2017 he gained full control of the Crown Property Bureau (CPB), which manages royal investments (it was previously run by the ministry of finance). Its holdings are estimated to be worth $40bn. In 2018 the CPB declared that its assets would be considered the king’s personal property. As a result the monarch has stakes in some of Thailand’s corporate titans. He is the largest shareholder in Siam Cement Group, a conglomerate with revenues of almost $14bn in 2019, with a third of its shares. The head of the CPB, long a stalwart in the king’s circles, is a director of Siam Cement Group and of the 113-year-old Siam Commercial Bank, one of Thailand’s biggest, in which the king also has a stake.

In addition to the king’s private means, the Thai state showers the royal family with funds. For the 2021 fiscal year government agencies have drawn up budgets which allocate more than 37bn baht—over $1.1bn—to the monarchy. The Royal Office will receive 9bn baht of that directly. Much of the rest goes to government agencies, the police and the defence ministry for security and for development projects. By comparison, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth cost her taxpayers the equivalent of $87m last year. Precise details on where the money goes are elusive. Huge sums go to pay for royal transport alone (there are many planes and helicopters to maintain).

King Vajiralongkorn’s political interventions are another demonstration of his growing authority. In theory the monarch sits above parties, parliament and politics. But after a referendum in 2016, in which campaigners were banned from opposing the constitution put forward for approval, the monarch demanded changes to the charter. He altered it specifically to make ruling from afar easier.

He meddled even more audaciously ahead of last year’s parliamentary election. Mr Thaksin persuaded the king’s older sister to run as a putative prime ministerial candidate for a party with links to him. But the crown in effect came to the rescue of Mr Thaksin’s military foes. The monarch declared his sister’s ambitions “unconstitutional”. He also stated that royals should stay out of politics—yet the night before the election, he urged Thais to vote for “good people”, which was taken as an endorsement of Mr Prayuth and his allies.

Tomorrow belongs to me

This is just one example of how the palace and the barracks have continued to support each other since King Vajiralongkorn came to the throne. The king has a deep interest in military matters. Trained in an Australian academy, he holds the titles of admiral, field-marshal and air-marshal. The queen is a general and Ms Sineenat a major-general. The king has drawn military forces to his direct command. The Royal Command Guard has been created with some 5,000 soldiers. They are stationed in Bangkok, while other important army units, including an infantry regiment and a cavalry battalion which have facilitated past coups, have been moved out of the city. Overthrowing any government without advance co-ordination with royal troops would prove extremely difficult.

Why has the army permitted such manoeuvres? Defence of the monarchy is one of its central reasons for existing. Both the powerful army commander who retired in September, and his replacement, are deeply loyal to the king. They also rose through the ranks of the King’s Guard, in which Vajiralongkorn himself once served. Mr Prayuth and his closest allies, by contrast, emerged from the Queen’s Guard within the Second Infantry Division.

The prime minister can hardly counter the monarch’s power grabs. He depends on the king’s support for a semblance of legitimacy. Whereas the middle and upper classes of many countries contain democratic champions, those of Thailand “have never needed mass support to advance or protect their interests”, explains James Wise, a former Australian ambassador to Thailand, in his book “Thailand: History, Politics and the Rule of Law”. These conservatives would not stand for an army-linked prime minister rebuffing the royal institution.

Mr Prayuth is also weak: he wrestles even with his allies in the ruling coalition and lacks personal popularity. That hinders his ability to tackle the difficulties Thailand faces. Growth was slowing even before the coronavirus pandemic struck (see chart). Now the central bank expects the economy to contract by more than 8% this year—worse than the crash in the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

Why should I wake up?

A very few opposition politicians have resisted King Vajiralongkorn’s growing control. In October most MPs from the liberal Future Forward Party, founded in 2018, opposed an executive decree in the lower house of parliament. The decree, which passed anyway, facilitated the partial transfer of army units and related budgetary allocations to the Royal Command Guard. Even so, it was the first time that lawmakers had ever opposed a legal procedure linked to the monarchy.

Future Forward no longer exists. Its platform in favour of democratic freedoms and army reform, as well as the popularity of its charismatic leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, made it a threat to the establishment. The outfit grew from nothing to become the country’s third-largest party in parliament in little more than a year. Legal cases against the institution and its leadership started to mount. In November Mr Thanathorn was stripped of his status as an MP. In February the party was dissolved by the constitutional court and its executives banned from politics for a decade. The judges decided that a loan Mr Thanathorn gave the party was an illegal breach of individual-donation limits.

Flash mobs mounted protests, though social-distancing measures soon put an end to them. The lull was temporary. Social media have provided an outlet for audacious criticisms. So widespread was moaning over the traffic jams caused by royal motorcades, for example, that in January the king instructed police not to close entire roads for travelling royals.

Other grumbles could not so easily be sorted. In August, after legal threats from the Thai government, Facebook blocked access from Thailand to a 1m-member group criticising the monarchy. “Requests like this are severe, contravene international-human rights law, and have a chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves,” the firm stated. It is preparing to mount a legal challenge.

Popular anger has moved from screens to streets. Since July protesters have gathered to call for the dissolution of the government, reform of the constitution and an end to the harassment of opposition activists. Students’ demonstrations inspired a wider swathe of Thais to march, too. Their efforts mark an evolution from the feud between red shirts and yellow shirts. New battle lines are over democratic freedoms.

Maybe this time

The boldest protesters have called openly for reform of the monarchy. They object to the king’s financial set-up and his consolidation of military power. Mr Thanathorn has also called for transparency about how state funds are spent on the monarchy.

The situation grew more serious as the protests swelled in size. The great fear is that the bloody treatment of student protesters in the 1970s will be repeated. In 1976 police, army and vigilante groups attacked students after they staged a mock hanging in protest against the killing of two pro-democracy activists. A story spread among royalists that the figure hanged resembled Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. According to official figures, 46 students died and more than 3,000 were arrested.

So far the authorities have arrested a few dozen protest leaders. The government had claimed it wanted to talk to students about their grievances. “Having a peaceful and civil dialogue where we exchange our views is the best approach for moving forward,” said the education minister. However, this week the establishment ran out of patience. If the prime minister cannot bring calm he may be replaced. Any drastic intervention is unlikely, however, without the monarch’s foreknowledge.

But King Vajiralongkorn’s clout has come at a price: open criticism of the monarchy. “The ghost is out of the bottle and you won’t get it back again,” reckons one diplomat in Bangkok. The more brazen the king’s moves towards a more absolute form of rule, the more forceful the criticism. “We are trying to bring the king and monarchy under the constitution,” explains one teenage protester. “We aren’t trying to bring them down.” King Vajiralongkorn’s actions could determine whether Thailand continues to revere royalty, or starts to revile it.





Updated: Car trouble I

16 10 2020

There are lots of rumors and plenty of speculation on why the royal cavalcade on October 14 ended up in among the pro-democracy protesters. That error/provocation/royal order/dirty trick (as it variously appears) led to the hurling of abuse at these leeches on the taxpayer.

We have no idea why the regime allowed this to happen, but the scapegoating has been furious. Khaosod reports that “[t]hree police commanders, including an officer who oversaw the crowd control division, were transferred to an inactive post pending investigation on Thursday after a royal motorcade encountered a group of protesters…”.

Police spokesman Maj Gen “Yingyot Thepchamnong said three senior officers are under investigation into why they did not clear the route.” Maj Gen Yingyot observed: “It didn’t go according to plans…. They might have forgotten or misunderstood the details of the plans.”

He was asked the obvious question: “why the royal motorcade was not diverted to a different route”? Maj Gen Yingyot “declined to answer…”.

The report notes that “… reporters at the scene confirmed that they saw no protesters standing in the way of the convoy or throwing any projectiles to the vehicles, which were protected by layers of police officers…”.

That observation becomes critical when it is learned that:

… two prominent pro-democracy activists on charges of using violence on … the Queen.

Ekachai Hongkangwan and Bunkueanun “Francis” Paothong were identified as the suspects in the most serious charge filed by the authorities so far since the waves of anti-government protests began in February. If guilty, they face life in prison.

Both of them were charged under Article 110 of the Criminal Code….

PPT has never heard of this article previously. It turns out that there are six articles on crimes against the monarchy. Article 110 states:

Whoever commits an act of violence against the Queen or Her liberty, the Heir-apparent or His liberty, or the Regent or his/her liberty, shall be punished with imprisonment for life or imprisonment of sixteen to twenty years. Whoever attempts to commit such offence shall be liable to the same punishment.

If such act is likely to endanger the life of the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, the offender, shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life.

Akechai. Clipped from TLHR

Whoever makes preparations for committing an act of violence against the Queen or Her liberty, the Heir-apparent or His liberty, or the Regent or his/her liberty, or does any act to assist in keeping secret any intention to commit such offence, shall be punished with imprisonment of twelve to twenty years.

Akechai has a long history with the police for his opposition to military authoritarianism and has been attacked by “unknown” assailants several times. His arrest and detention, along with Bunkuenun, brings the known total of arrests over the last three days to more than 50.

Update: Thai Enquirer has more on the framing of Akechai and Bunkuenun. It states:

If you saw the videos, you will see that no one was blocking the royal motorcade; the protestors did not even know that they were coming….

If you watched live around 5.30 p.m. on Wednesday, you would have seen that Ekkachai Hongkangwan and Bunkueanun “Francis” Paothon were not doing anything to harm the Queen’s liberty at all….

Without warning, the police then charged at the protesters before people realized that it was the royal motorcade behind the police.

By that time, Ekkachai and Francis have already been pushed aside along with other protestors as the police formed a human chain to make way for the motorcade.

They were not near the car, and they were not throwing anything.

The opinion piece adds: “So to say that somehow the student protesters were responsible is laughable…“.





With a final update: Arrests and state of emergency

15 10 2020

Matichon reports that, early in the morning, Bangkok time, Parit Chiwarak and Arnon Nampa have been arrested.

Update 1: The Guardian reports that Arnon and Panupong Jadnok have been arrested; the report does not refer to Parit. That report also states:

Thailand’s government has banned gatherings of five or more people and the publication of news or online messages that could harm national security early on Thursday under an emergency decree to end Bangkok street protests….

“It is extremely necessary to introduce an urgent measure to end this situation effectively and promptly to maintain peace and order,” state television announced.

This declaration was made at 4am in Bangkok. It seeks to “ban big gatherings and allowing authorities to ban people from entering any area they designation.” In addition, it prohibits “publication of news, other media, and electronic information that contains messages that could create fear or intentionally distort information, creating misunderstanding that will affect national security or peace and order.”

Update 2: The Bangkok Post reproduces the above Reuters report.

Update 3: Prachatai reports movements of police riot squads and troops. It says that at “05.48 … at least 7 people reportedly [had been]… arrested.” They included Arnon, Parit, Panupong and Prasit Karutarote.

Update 4: Social media reports are that soldiers have closed parliament. Police are currently surrounding the Rajaprasong intersection (3pm) anticipating another demonstration. Plenty of people milling around after the students called for supporters to show up. Protest leaders there now facing off with police, using white bows. Social media reports that Panupong has not been captured. Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul has been arrested. With more than 20 now arrested, some are being transferred to Chiang Mai, and students there are organizing.

Update 5: Back at Rajaprasong, chanting continues, demanding the release of those arrested and the ouster of Prayuth.

Update 6: There so much going on that it is impossible to do more than watch it. Various online broadcasters are livestreaming the huge rally at Rajaprasong. Commentators say the crowd extends to from the Rajaprasong intersection to Pratunam and Paragon. The rally is a direct challenge to the regime’s declaration of a state of emergency. Students in uniform everywhere. This is a young crowd, sitting down peacefully waiting and listening. More than that, they are participating in a remarkable series of events over just more than 24 hours.

It is remarkable to hear them abuse the king, something only done privately a couple of months ago or on social media (with the associated risk of arrest).

The arrest of the movement’s most recognized leaders has had no impact. Other leaders mushroom, having cut their teeth in the many smaller demonstrations across the country in recent months.

What happens next? The next step is probably the regime’s. What does it do in the face of mass disobedience?

What’s the future for the monarchy? That depends on what happens next, but social media says the king and his family have decamped to a palace in Sakon Nakhon. (The last big change in government system came in 1932, when the king was an absolute monarch and he holidaying and golfing in Hua Hin.) Is it the beginning of the end?

Update 7: The rally ended without major incident, with a promise to come back together on Friday. Meanwhile, the regime is using the emergency decree to refuse bail for those arrested and it goes after others.