New queen, new positions

16 06 2019

The royal couple may never be in Thailand all that much, preferring Munich, Tutzing and Zurich, but that doesn’t stop the royal tank grinding on.

The Bangkok Post reports that the king has “commanded” – oh, so feudal! – that six royal agencies be placed under new queen Suthida:

Suthida in the uniform, earrings and makeup of a General

The six agencies are Her Majesty Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother’s Private Secretary Division; Her Majesty Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother’s Royal Household Division; Supplementary Occupation Programme Division; Sirikit Institute; The Foundation for the Promotion of Supplementary Occupations and Related Technique of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand; and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother’s ladies-in-waiting.

With Sirikit incapacitated for several years, this is generational change but it also represents the rise and rise of Vajiralongkorn.

Suthida also carries an multi-syllable name, Bajrasudhabimalalakshana. Quite a change from the family name Tidjai or even from the previous Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya.

Showered with “honors” and having moved up from second lieutenant to full general in just six years of military “service,” she holds military command positions with the Royal Thai Aide-de-camp Department and the large force that “protect” the king and royal family.





Deep harassment for the monarchy

13 06 2019

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have released a report that must be read in full. “Silent Harassment: Monitoring and Intimidation of Citizens during the Coronation Month” is a brave and important account of how royalism is enforced.

Of course, there are many loyalists and royalists in Thailand, with the most fanatical ever eager to harass, attack and slander. But this is a report of how perceived “opponents” are identified and repressed.

Here, we simply quote some bits of this seminal piece of work on “violations of personal freedom through constant monitoring and intimidation by state authorities … [conducted] in secret throughout the course of the [coronation events” for King Vajiralongkorn.

Authorities involved in harassing included “police, military, and special branch police…”. They “identify” groups categorized as “target groups” or “monitor groups” and “track their movements and restrict their political activities…”.

TLHR reports at least 38 instances “of monitoring and intimidation…”. In addition, activists have also been harassed.

In fact, “the groups of people being monitored during this period were quite diverse, as they had not necessarily previously expressed anything about the monarchy.”

The harassment has included home visits by authorities who ask about travel plans, take photos and are seen by other family members and neighbors. They are:

warned by the authorities not to do anything during the coronation period. Some were threatened by the police and told that if they did not comply, they would be handed over to the military and that the military might “abduct” them. In some cases, if the wanted person was not home the authorities talked to his/her family member instead.

Monitored groups get more regular harassing visits and are tracked and followed. For some “special” individuals, the harassment is continuous and involves family and harassing phone calls often from an officer assigned to trail and monitor. Former Article 112 prisoner Somyos Prueksakasemsuk found his residence monitored around the clock. On 5 May 2019, activist Akechai Hongkangwarn revealed that “police took him to the cinema in order to keep a close watch on him all day.”

All were warned not to do or say anything during the coronation period.

Vigilantes were also at work, on the internet, tracking “people who posted their opinions about the coronation online” and reporting them to the authorities.

Royalist Thailand in 2019 is a dark and fearful place.





Updated: Assassins and other thugs

9 06 2019

PPT has posted a lot on the most recent tactics employed by the military junta in silencing opponents: murdering them and bashing them.

We can be pretty sure that these gruesome murders and repeated assaults are the work of the regime and its associated thugs because it does nothing to investigate the attacks. That some activists were reported as extradited to Thailand and have then gone missing also suggests high-level collusion with the regime on enforced disappearance.

The reason for these murders and attacks is to frighten and silence political opponents and critics of the monarchy.

In recent weeks, the international media has taken up these stories and especially those associated with the radical band Faiyen.

Over the weekend, a syndicated report in Australian newspapers on these events and their links has been widely circulated on social media. “They sent an assassination squad: Thai exiles speak of life in fear” by Michael Ruffles is well worth reading. One particular point, by Faiyen band member Worravut “Tito” Thueakchaiyaphum was striking:

I am not a criminal, and thinking differently about the monarch is not criminal. Criticising the monarchy should not be a death sentence….

We are not criminals. We want our struggle to be known internationally. This is a liberty and freedom people should have to think differently. We hope the brutality and barbaric acts of the Thai junta will be condemned.

Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch is also quoted:

They are [seen to be] enemies of the palace….

There’s no evidence because there’s no investigation….

Laos has responded as if nothing has happened. What has made them turn a blind eye? When the bodies appeared it should have been a red light. What happened? Nothing.

All the combined signals, even though there’s no clear evidence, suggest someone significant enough to put them under the rug. It has to be someone really powerful to influence authorities in two countries.

Royalist Thailand, under a military junta, is increasingly lawless. The use of violence is likely to continue under a shaky government led by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha who will rely heavily on the king for maintaining his “new” regime.

Update: Read Human Rights Watch on the recent attacks on junta critics. It urges Thai authorities to “urgently and impartially investigate [these] assaults…”. It also reveals that the regime is ignoring these attacks: “Police told Human Rights Watch that security cameras in the area were either broken or blocked by trees, so they have no footage of the assailants…”. Even if there was, the police would do nothing. Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, makes the obvious point: “The failure of Thai authorities to seriously investigate these assaults both encourages future attacks and suggests a possible role by officials.” We suspect that this is a preview of the way the junta-cum-Palang Pracharath plans to “manage” its regime.





Does parliament matter?

9 06 2019

That may seem like an odd question given that there was a first election in eight years not that long ago. But it’s 11 weeks since that election and the country still doesn’t have a government resulting from that election. And, that election was rigged, even if the result was not exactly what the junta planned and hoped.

Then there’s Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, who now claims to have been anointed by a parliament that he scorns by not bothering to deal with, probably something that will probably be common going forward, if “forward” is the appropriate word for the troglodyte regime and its spawn.

Most symbolic of the deep, dark trench that has been scoured by the monarchy-military regime, trying to excavate a politics that was meant to have been buried in 1932, is the homelessness of parliament. The previous parliament house has been acquired by King Vajiralongkorn before the new parliament house has been completely built.

A story at The Nation adds more information on the new parliament house. Not that long ago the public was told that the king’s takeover of the land and building would mean that parliament would remain homeless until the middle of next year. Now, it seems, “the current completion date leaning towards the end of 2020.” The date remains rubbery. It could be that parliament remains homeless well into 2021 or even longer.

As The Nation says, “In the meantime legislators will continue meeting at various large venues around Bangkok as needs dictate.”

While the new parliament building is heralded as a splendid piece of architecture, the building for the people’s representatives is also built with the monarchy in mind – indeed, a special royal functions hall – and will also house, for now, the unelected swill of the junta’s Senate.

Gen Prayuth is hoping that parliament doesn’t matter all that much, but the electors have (repeatedly) shown it does matter (even if rigged). Their votes have presented The Dictator with a nopposition that he can’t simply ignore, harass, jail or silence with the ease afforded by Article 44 and military power.





Faking it

7 06 2019

The Bangkok Post reports that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and his minions are claiming some kind of democratic process and mandate from the rigged election and the even more obviously rigged vote for The Dictator as premier.

Deputy government spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak conveyed Gen Prayuth’s buffalo manure babbling that Gen Prayuth, the political crook who rigged both votes, “stressed that the majority votes first came from House of Representatives and then were combined with the votes from senators, creating a total of 500 votes. This goes along with a conventional rule…”. This seems to mean that Gen Prayuth is claiming to have been democratically elected.

Of course, this is utter nonsense, but the general has always craved the opportunity to make such a (banal) claim. Like a babbling but loyal dolt, The Dictator “promised to do his best for the country, religions, the monarch and the people.” We are not sure how anything is different from yesterday or a week ago, but there it is. As usual he demanded loyalty and order.

For a more realistic assessment of the rigged election and the rigged vote for premier, try the editorial at Khaosod, “Prayuth’s PM Victory is a Sham” or the Bangkok Post’s editorial “This is not democracy.”

The Khaasod piece is particularly good as it lists many of the efforts by the junta to rig the election and Thailand’s political system.

It gets more dangerous now as the irritable general seeks to ignore parliament or to buy off MPs while his minions use violence against opponents. Prayuth will need to rely heavily on the king’s support, so look for all kinds of ingratiation and a king with a big appetite.





Lese majeste verdict overturned

30 05 2019

Khaosod reports on a lese majeste case we do not think we have heard of previously. A search of our site and of iLaw did not pinpoint previous reporting of the case (that we could find).

Khaosod explains that a “former monk accused of fabricating ties to the monarchy was on Wednesday convicted of fraud but acquitted of royal defamation” after previously having been convicted of under Article 112.

Wankasat Promthong, who is now 31, was arrested in 2016 and was originally convicted of fraud and lese majeste in November 2017, and sentenced to five years and nine months in prison.

He was found guilty of “selling amulets with forged royal insignias and dishonestly claiming the trinkets were sponsored by the palace.”

On appeal, only his fraud conviction was upheld, resulting in a sentence of two years and nine months.

The Appeals Court ruled that “the defendant claimed false ties to the monarchy only to pursue monetary gain, and not to defame or insult the royal family.”

It was said that “Wankasat, formerly Phra Wankasat, told other monks at his temple that he was raised in the royal palace and anointed into monkhood by the late [then alive] King Bhumibol.”

He sold his amulets “emblazoned with the royal insignia under pretensions that they were sponsored by the Royal Household Bureau, according to the prosecutors.”

If this is a “new” revelation of a lese majeste case, we wonder how many more there have been that have not been publicly revealed.





Guarding the king

30 05 2019

Over the past few years the number of police and soldiers assigned to the palace has reportedly ballooned. Part of this has to do with the military credentials of the current king. Some of it has to do with the great fear that is generalized among the elite over challenges to its control.

Some might ask why the king, who spends most of his time in Germany, needs an ever larger force of “protectors.” Again, part of the answer probably has to do with the king’s training and his desire for pomp and circumstance and his personal need to command. Notice that he’s incessantly promoting people – especially wives, concubines and dogs – and demoting. It may also reflect, as the media sometimes has it, that the king is establishing his own force to contend with the martial power of the military.

It was in October 2018 that PPT first posted on reports about a new and special police unit for the “protection of the monarchy.” At that time, the new unit of 1,600 personnel, was said to be made up of “police commandos transferred from the Crime Suppression Division.” It is said to be “providing security to the Royal Family” as well as “collecting information on ‘individuals or groups whose behaviors pose a threat to the national security and … the King’.”

A later post recounted that this represented a quadrupling of the police force assigned to the palace and was costing the taxpayer a minimum of 300 million baht for salaries alone.

At that time, the force’s commander, then Pol Col Torsak Sukvimol (ต่อศักดิ์ สุขวิมล), “explained” that this huge increase in security, including intelligence units and additional “patrolling” is required when the “king visits different parts of the country.” This seems like blarney. We haven’t detected any particular increase in any royal trips, except to and from Europe.

A few days ago, the Bangkok Post carried yet another report on now Pol Maj Gen Torsak and the renamed “Ratchawallop Police Retainers, King’s Guard 904.”

Torsak

Maj Gen Torsak seems to be well-connected. He is reported to be the “younger brother of the King’s highly trusted Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol (secretary to the Crown Prince, Director-General of the Crown Property Bureau and the Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household Bureau).”

That ACM Satitpong has served the prince/king for many years and that he is “trusted” is confirmed by his rapid promotion not just in the palace but within the king’s businesses.

Obviously assisted by his family connections, Torsak has been moving up for several years.He now finds himself in demand for all manner of activities and clearly enjoys the limelight. One of the most intriguing reports we located was his association with the Chinese-Thai Global One Belt One Road Association, formerly known as Hokien International Chinese Cultural Association, formerly chaired by the Democrat Party’s Alongkorn Ponlaboot.

But back to the recent report in the Post.

Pol Maj Gen Torsak explained that “his team is responsible for the advance surveillance of areas which the King will pass through as well as guarding the monarch and his family.” He added that the unit “will not be deployed to deal with crime suppression, so it can focus on protecting the monarchy at all times…”.

Yet he claimed a populist role for the unit, being sent to “ordinary duties to capture those who have long been wanted under warrants, particularly in cases in which they made trouble for the public.” That populism is also seen in the report when, lapping at Torsak’s boots, it portrays him as a benevolent autocrat.

All officers undergo stringent anti-terrorism training and get the most up-to-date weaponry. As Pol Maj Gen Torsak explained, “I believe that we also must have the best weapons for our officers…. They must protect themselves along with the VIPs and to do that they must be well-armed.”

It is never made clear which people or groups constitute the threats to the king and royal family. We wonder about the unit’s international operations.

Having ealier spoken of lese majeste, he is was again quoted on Article 112:

Speaking of the lese majeste law, Pol Maj Gen Torsak said the King gave guidance that he does not want to see anyone prosecuted under the lese majeste law as it can be “a double-edged sword”, adding the monarch has always shown mercy.

Some people may misjudge the situation from things they have heard, he noted.

“The King gave guidance that no punishment should be made in relation to Section 112 [of the Criminal Code] since some people may have misunderstood or listened to false information,” Pol Maj Gen Torsak said.

The monarch wants authorities to treat the matter on a case-by-case basis with a committee investigating the intentions behind supposed breaches, he said.

Not short of ego, Pol Maj Gen Torsak said “his nomination to the top job at the new division did not happen by chance…. ‘I have earned the King’s trust by working hard for him,’ he said.”

King’s Guard 904 needs to be carefully watched as it expands as a power center within the palace but with the potential for widespread influence and action.