Protecting itself

17 04 2018

The military dictatorship has been consistent in protecting itself and its bosses, almost as assiduously as it does the monarchy.

As “more than a hundred people have been charged in the past two months for exercising their right to freedom of expression by calling for an election to be held this year after almost four years of coup-installed rule,” and it proceeds to drag them before the courts, the Bangkok Post reports that “two political activists were detained briefly by the police Monday for announcing their intention to carry out a symbolic gesture of protest at the residence of Deputy Prime Minister [Gen] Prawit Wongsuwon.”

Akechai Hongkangwarn and Chokchai Phaiboonratchata were briefly abducted “from a house on Soi Ramkhamhaeng 109 in Bang Kapi district at about 5.45am” after the former “posted earlier on Sunday on his Facebook account his intention to travel to Gen Prawit’s residence on Soi Lat Phrao 71 Monday, as a Thai New Year bathing rite was held.”

Akechai has repeatedly protested and lampooned Prawit’s luxury watch problem.





Updated: An old lese majeste case

15 04 2018

As we read stuff about Thailand’s political past we sometimes come across little stories that throw some light on more recent events. In reading about the period around the time of the two coups engineered by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, we came upon this translation of a story from Khao Phap, on a lese majeste case. We do not know the outcome:Update: Somsak Jeamteerasakul writes about this case:

The accused was found guilty and sent to jail.

The interesting thing about this case is: the incident happened before the 1957 coup. At the time, the Pibul-Phao government ignored it, because Phibun-Phao had a plan to revive the King’s Death Case (also they wanted to attack the palace circles). It’s only after Sarit took power in the October 1957 coup, with the support of the King, that the case was brought to trial.

This is quite a well-known case. Suphot Dantrakul published the verdict of the case (or at least the summary of the verdict) in his famous 1974 book on King Ananda’s Death Case. I don’t have the book in its various editions at hand. But if my memory serves, only the first edition contained the verdict (or its summary) in the appendix. Subsequent editions don’t.

We appreciate the update. We are not at all that sure that the case is “well-known.” We also agree that the sequence of events is important. Another reader adds that the case has resonances with recent lese majeste cases where people have been convicted for implications drawn from speeches rather than what was actually said.

 





Elbowing Abhisit

15 04 2018

The Democrat Party has been in trouble for years. We could go back to its founding as a royalist party founded by an alliance of disgruntled, restorationist princes determined to undo the political reforms of the People’s Party. But let’s just look at its time under current leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Abhisit, a scion of an elite royalist family, became leader of the party in 2005, following two crushing losses to Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party. The party hierarchy believed the ambitious Abhisit could bring the party some better election results. There were elections in 2006, 2011 and 2014, with Abhisit losing badly in 2011 and boycotting elections in the other two years. In both boycotts, Abhisit aligned his party with radically royalist street movements. Despite never winning an election, Abhisit became prime minister in late 2008. He managed this with the help of the military and judiciary, which engineered the ouster of an elected government and its replacement by a hastily cobbled together Democrat Party-led coalition. In addition, Abhisit supported two coups against elected governments in 2006 and 2014.

If that record isn’t bad enough, while resisting calls for elections in 2009 and 2010, Abhisit was premier when the military fired on demonstrators from the red shirts, killing dozens and injuring thousands. Because he was the military’s loyal ally in this murderous politics, he has not been held responsible.

That record makes Abhisit politically toxic for many Thais who prefer to vote in elections for the government they prefer.

The Nation reports that aged former party leader and former prime minister Chuan Leekpai has revealed that “there is an attempt within the party to replace current leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and that he and Supachai Panichpakdi were being considered” as replacements.

Chuan, who is about to turn 80, has led two governments. The first followed the 13 September 1992 election where the Democrat Party won 79 of the 360 seats and led a coalition. The second time in power came from an election defeat but the fall of a government beset by  economic crisis. Backroom deals saw Chuan becomes premier leading a hastily cobbled together Democrat Party-led coalition.

Supachai Panitchpakdi is almost 72. He has limited political experience, having been appointed as Deputy Minister of Finance in 1986-88, before becoming president of the Thai Military Bank. He briefly returned to politics in 1992 and became Deputy Prime Minister until 1995. In November 1997 he became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce, implementing IMF policies that were widely despised. He then went off to become head of the WTO and the of UNCTAD. In both positions, despite his claims to the contrary, he was more or less inactive and invisible.

So the Democrat Party looks to has-beens for a new leader in an upcoming (?) “election” where the big issue is how to get The Dictator back in the premier’s chair. We do not doubt that any of these three quislings can cooperate with the military. However, Abhisit is seen as both an electoral liability and too ambitious for the premier’s seat.

Chuan says the party needs “to pave the way for new people.” The problem for the party in “election” terms is that the “new blood” is anti-democratic and military supporting. Such an electoral profile is also likely to further stain the party.

Once the military junta’s ban on the activities of established political parties is lifted, “Chuan said that the party had to vote for a new leader following the new rules imposed by the [junta’s] new organic laws.”

As usual, the Democrat Party is in a political mess and will be as opportunistic as ever. An alliance with the military seems most likely (again).





The slow death of the amart’s judiciary

14 04 2018

PPT remains somewhat confused as to why the miltiary junta sorted out the judiciary’s luxury housing project on the side of Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai. Perhaps there are some hints in Wasant Techawongtham’s Bangkok Post op-ed.

The housing project “is said to be 98% completed at a cost of more than a billion baht.” The “project was ill-conceived. Some might even argue it was unlawful.”

He then acknowledges that the project “will certainly go down in the history books for setting a precedent that sent tremors through the establishment.” Why’s that? Shooting down dozens of demonstrators and jailing hundreds seems not to bother the “establishment,” sometimes known as the amart.

Apparently, it was “unrestrained public criticism of the judiciary” that was shaking the establishment to its (judicial) foundation. Wasant says that such criticism “was almost unheard of before this case exploded on social media.”

We are not sure that Wasant has been listening. What of all that talk of double standards? He wasn’t listening because he has the royalist position on judiciary. He says:

Courts are normally held in awe as judges are believed to perform their duties with the King’s authority. Any slight against a judge is taken to be a slight against the monarch.

Lawyers and laymen alike observe strict protocol when making comments about judicial decisions or conduct so as to avoid being cited for contempt of court….

The mountain is part of Doi Suthep–Pui National Park, which is also where the Bhubing Palace, the winter residence of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and family, is located.

Is this the reason for the junta’s rapid decision to solve this issue?

If these links are important how is it “the judiciary became the receptacle for the masses to vent their frustration and anger at all that has gone wrong under the regime — the lack of freedom, double standards, blatant inequality, cronyism, corruption and all those other social and economic ills affecting the majority of citizens.”

Yet Wasant is pretty sure the foundation of the establishment can be “saved”: “Despite widespread criticism, I believe the judiciary remains the most respected part of the bureaucracy.”

Think again. The umbilical cord from judiciary to establishment, monarchy and military dictatorship is one negative. But the politicized nature of the its “work” has undermined the judiciary.





Rolling back 1932 one piece of property at a time III

12 04 2018

PPT has been posting on the king’s and Crown Property Bureau’s efforts to (re)secure the so-called Royal Plaza, rolling back changes that were made when the monarchy was put in its (proper) place as a constitutional monarchy rather than a grasping, absolutist and despotic regime.

While the CPB “declined to confirm reports Wednesday that it was evicting two state universities built on land it owns in Bangkok,” Khaosod reports that the CPB was “formulating a response to reports the palace would terminate leases with Suan Sunandha and Suan Dusit universities when they expire in five years.” Apparently, the big shots were flummoxed that “the news got out.”

The report continues:

A former residence for King Rama VI’s family members, Suan Sunandha was turned into a university by the civilian government following the 1932 revolt that overthrew absolute monarchy. The same revolution also gave birth to Suan Dusit University in 1934.

The land abuts other plots the CPB has been reclaiming for the monarchy.

We should add that we think the final claim in the report is in error. It sates that with “more than 16,000 acres under its oversight, the Crown Property Bureau is the largest landowner of Thailand.” In fact, while its lands may well be the most valuable landholding, we believe the largest landowner title belongs to the Sirivadhanabhakdi family of beer and whiskey fame.





Updated: How’s the new king looking?

7 04 2018

Each year, the academic journal Asian Survey has articles which provide brief country summaries of the previous year’s significant events. For 2017, well-known analyst and commentator Duncan McCargo has completed the article on Thailand (opens a PDF).

The article is necessarily short but has some comments on King Vajiralongkorn that merit posting here, not least because they mesh with some of PPT’s comments a few days ago.

In the abstract, McCargo states that “…King Vajiralongkorn is untested and lacks popular legitimacy.” True enough, although it has to be said that almost all those who succeed to thrones are largely “untested” and that popularity is no qualification for monarchy, where it is bloodlines that matter. Like a few other commentators, including some who are anti-monarchists, there’s a tendency to unfavorably compare Vajiralongkorn with his deceased father. Unfortunately, some of these comparisons required considerable retro-acceptance of palace propaganda about the dead king.

When he deals with the new reign, McCargo observes:

New King Vajiralongkorn’s detractors have long dismissed him as a playboy who takes little interest in serious matters, but since ascending the throne on December 1, 2016, he has proved to be an activist and interventionist monarch.

This is an important point. The areas where he has intervened, however, have been mostly about the monarchy and its privileges and the control of the palace. Clearly, Vajiralongkorn has been planning his succession maneuvers for some years. McCargo continues:

King Vajiralongkorn apparently pays very close attention to government policies and matters of legislation, especially where they may affect the legitimacy or privileges of the monarchy, or touch on matters of religion. He carefully monitors promotions and transfers inside the bureaucracy, especially the upper echelons of the military and the police force.

His interest in religious matters goes back to the 1990s and we know about his intervention in police promotions. Readers may recall that the last police intervention was in favor of Pol Gen Jumpol Manmai. Later Jumpol was made a Grand Chamberlain in Vajiralongkorn’s palace. That didn’t go well and, as far as we can recall, nothing has been seen or heard from Jumpol since…. Which reminds us, if legal infractions cause the king to disgrace a senior aide, can we expect that Gen Prem Tinsulanonda will soon be sacked from the Privy Council by the king?

Presumably the upcoming military reshuffle will result from a junta-palace consensus. One report reckons the reshuffle buttresses The Dictator’s position.

But back to McCargo’s commentary. He says:

… the new king remains neither popular nor widely respected; crucially, while his father never left Thailand after 1967, King Vajiralongkorn spends much of his time in Germany. His private life is the topic of constant gossip and speculation. The prospect of his coronation—and a raft of associated symbolic changes, such as new banknotes, coins, and stamps—fills many Thais with apprehension.

In fact, Bhumibol visited Laos in April 1994 (an error also made officially), but this slip doesn’t diminish the point about Vajiralongkorn’s extensive periods away from Thailand. On the bit about gossip, that’s been true for several decades and the king seems to have accepted that he is a “black sheep.” That there is “apprehension” over symbolic changes may be true, but if a report in the Bangkok Post is to be believed, that apprehension seems to be dissipating. It says:

Large crowds formed long queues at provincial offices of the Treasury Department to exchange cash for the first lot of circulated coins bearing the image of King Rama X on Friday, the Chakri Memorial Day.

Palace propaganda continues apace, the military junta has crushed republicans, and monarchists are remaining adhered to the institution if not the person.

Update: Another measure of apprehension dissipating might be seen in the report of “traditional” clothing sales. While the report refers to the influence of a hit soap opera, the influence of the king’s efforts at a revival of all things pre-1932 are having an impact too.





The royal(ist) mess that is Thailand

3 04 2018

The success of palace propaganda, reinforced by decades of fascist-military domination, promoted by a royalist lapdog media, both state and private sector, and buttressed by draconian laws and belligerent royalist agencies like the military and ISOC, has been so sweeping that there’s little overt opposition these days (we note the linked article is no longer free to download). That which does exist has been firmly under the military boot in recent years.

Some wondered if the succession would temper there would be some cutting of the strings that tie Thais to the palace. Wonder no longer. Almost nothing has changed. As evidence, we cite two news stories from the last day or so.

The Nation reports that “Thai Heritage Conservation Week” is upon us. Like the recent noe-feudal celebration of the repression under pre-1932 absolute monarchy, this week royal posterior polishers get another chance to dress in feudal style – “traditional costumes.”

The useless Culture Ministry “kicked off the week with Thai Heritage Conservation Day on April 2…”. That day “has been celebrated annually since 1985, honouring … Princess … Sirindhorn, who was born on April 2, 1955, and her contributions to the conservation of the nation’s heritage.”

We can’t immediately recall her “contributions” but there must be plenty claimed for her by palace propagandists.

More worryingly, The Nation also reports on the kerfuffle in Chiang Mai over the mansions being built on forested – now deforested – hills that will be handed out to judges and others in the Ministry of Justice.

What do the people opposing this project do to protest? They “will petition … King … Vajiralongkorn for help.”

A network of those opposed to the project will gather signatures before petitioning the king.

Why? Get publicity? Look doltish? Look loyal? Who knows and who can blame them in the current ideological straitjacket of royalism.

Apparently they “would also lodge a complaint with the Administrative Court in early May,” which seems far more grown up.

Yellow shirts among the opponents blame Thaksin Shinawatra and his clan for the problem. Perhaps that says something about the feudal fawning.