Busy king

4 12 2017

Over the past week or so, the king has seemed busier than usual, at least in terms of public reporting. As usual, the reporting is circumspect.

Khaosod reports that the king is engaged in two activities that have been defining his still short reign.

The first is his continuing intervention in the way the security forces appear in public. Readers will recall that he has ordered a new form of salute and forms of military posture for police and military, demanded new haircut regulations for the armed forces and police and has  transferred agencies responsible for palace affairs to his direct control.

Now the king has ordered that “police will be given new uniforms…”. A police spokesman Colonel Krissana Pattanacharoen said “that a single khaki shade, officially called Sor Nor Wor 01, will be implemented across the police force to display a sense of unity.” It seems that, over the years, different units have used slightly different shades of khaki.

No doubt this annoys the king as he has an almost obsessive–compulsive need for order and control. In fact, the king has already picked out the shade and has sent a “sample fabric and color pattern … to police commissioner Chakthip Chaijinda…”.

Krissana found himself having to dissemble: “Every police officer deeply appreciates it…”. All 230,000 of them.

When the new design is finalized, “Gen. Chakthip will be the first to wear it ‘as an example’,” and will no doubt sport the required haircut as well.

The second task has been the consolidation of royal control over all of the property in the so-called royal district. Readers will recall the stealing of the 1932 plaque and the closure of Ananda Samakhom Hall to the public. The former parliament building appears to have been returned to the throne.

The king seems to want to wipe out all references to the 1932 revolution and grab back “royal property.”

One major gap in the property is the Dusit Zoo. The zoo began as a private zoo for royals and it was in 1938 that  the “constitutional government asked King Rama VIII’s regency council to give this park to the Bangkok City Municipality to be open as a public zoo.” No doubt the king regards this as theft. To get the land back – all 189,000 square meters – the king has decided the zoo should move.

The zoo was not talking about the move to Pathum Thani and a larger plot, said to be donated by the king. An official stated: “His Majesty is very merciful…”. And, no doubt pretty happy with this deal that expands the royal area substantially.

This is a king with a sense of where the monarchy should be, and that marks out a restorationist monarch.





Updated: Shuffling the same military deck

26 11 2017

Readers may recall the columns of speculation about The Dictator’s cabinet reshuffle. There were all kinds of motives attributed to The Dictator. Pundits claimed he was trying to increase the dictatorship’s popularity, he was trying to boost the economic ministries, and/or he was civilianizing his military dictatorship in preparation for “elections.”

As far as we can tell, this was all wasted energy. What The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, did was maintain the dominance of the military. As we have said many times before, this is looking like a regime that is settling in for the long term.

The interesting thing in all of this for us was the position of the monarchy. In the past, cabinet reshuffles were announced by prime ministers and the composition of proposed cabinets was widely reported, with the king merely signing off. Of course, there may have been discussions with the king beforehand, but it was the executive’s political ground.

In our memory – correct us if we are wrong – it was only recently that the names involved in the reshuffle were withheld until after the king had signed off. As far as we can tell, there was plenty of discussion and even official announcements of the reshuffle list before the king signed off even under General Surayud Chulanont (see Bangkok Post, 3 October 2007). Again, and given Surayud’s previous Privy Council position, discussions may well have taken place with the palace and General Prem Tinsulanonda. Even so, the executive maintained its position.

Even under Abhisit Vejjajiva, put in place by the military in 2008, saw huge public debate over his cabinet but seemed to retain executive dominance (see Bangkok Post, 21 December 2008).

We have a feeling-cum-memory of the capitulation of the executive to the palace came under the military dictatorship. This means that it was all secret until approved by the king, giving even more political and constitutional power to the palace. Are we wrong?

Update: On the cabinet reshuffle, Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey has a view that it “can be seen as a very positive step for the gradual transition of Thailand towards a more democratic society…”. Seriously? He gives plenty of reasons for not believing him.





Updated: The impacts of lese majeste

25 11 2017

Somehow we missed an article by journalist Delphine Thouvenot who writes for AFP. “Trading Softly in Thailand” is interesting because it is an attempt to cut through the palace propaganda and show the impacts of the lese majeste law. It is worth reading in full, but here are some interesting bits:

In many ways, I should have been moved when some 300,000 people poured out on the streets of Bangkok in October for the days-long funeral of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol….

But as a foreign journalist, I was well aware of the other side of the monarchy, which is protected by one of the strictest lese-majeste laws in the world. People have landed in prison for posting an unflattering BBC portrait of a new king on Facebook, or posting comments deemed insulting to the late king’s dog (seriously)….

On the funeral: “All other coverage vanished from newspapers and television.”

When I first got to Thailand, I, like most Westerners, was also fascinated by the ceremonial rituals of the land….

But after four years of living here, the initial fascination had worn off….

I did not see anyone questioning whether the year-long mourning period, or its cost or impact, was justified….

Well, we had some comments, but back to the story:

Because of the lese-majeste, news outlets like AFP have to tread carefully about what they write about the royals. So reporting in Thailand has been tricky at times….

A few days before the funeral, I went to interview Sulak Sivaraksa…. He is a rare intellectual who dares to speak out, but still with extreme caution. The only thing that he accepts to have on the record is that, if past kings are also protected by lese-majeste laws, historians won’t be able to do their jobs….

Ahead of the cremation, I tried to find analysts to speak about the significance of the event. I got one refusal after another. Finally one, David Streckfuss, based in Thailand, agreed. He dictated his quotes to me word by word, changing them here and there to make sure the formulation was not too daring. Normally I would have found this nitpicking ridiculous. But here, I could understand his caution.

One of the things he told me is that other monarchies, like the one in Britain, could evolve because they were open to criticism from civil society. There is nothing like that in Thailand. On the contrary, the Thais are always careful what they say about the royals — there have been instances of people being denounced by a brother, a taxi driver, a neighbor….

Britain’s Daily Mail has been blocked in Thailand for years, after publishing embarrassing material about the new king….

The royal palace is a well-oiled [propaganda] machine. There are no news leaks here. Messages are transmitted in circuitous ways….

That’s not entirely true as there are leaks (think of the naked Srirasmi video), but the general point is true. And, under King Vajiralongkorn, expect efforts to prevent leaks as he attempts to control his image ever more carefully.

To understand what’s going on in Thailand, you need to become adept at reading nearly subliminal signals at times. For example, on the day of the cremation, I see a woman get down from the new king’s Rolls Royce. She is dressed in red, like the new king, and is a familiar face at official ceremonies, but newspapers never write her name or title. (Like they never write about sons who were products of the new king’s second marriage and who currently live in the US.)

A video colleague who had come from Hong Kong to help with coverage asks who the woman is, so that he could put it in the script accompanying his video. Thai colleagues get uncomfortable and tell him to forget it. We all know who she is, but we can’t write her name without official confirmation.

So I call the palace spokeswoman to ask this young woman’s title. After a long pause, she directs me to the office of the new king…. which never answers the phone. The identity of the mystery woman will remain for our clients just that… a mystery.

Of course, there was more than one consort-concubine involved.

Needless to say, neither I nor any of my colleagues have interviewed the new king. I made a request to do so last year, when he was still a crown prince. I was told to go directly to his palace, Ambarasathan, to deposit my written request by hand. I’ll never forget the guards at the palace, all wearing a pin with a portrait of the prince as a baby on their uniforms. I never did get that interview, but the trip was worth it just to see those pins. To me they spoke volumes about the personality of the next king who will head this nation.

We are left to assume that Delphine Thouvenot has left Thailand. Otherwise there would be trouble. There would be trouble because of revealing nothing other than the secrecy of the palace and its machinations.

Update: A reader pointed us to an Australian radio report as an example of the pathetic approach still taken by some reporters based in Bangkok and for who the initial fascination has not worn off. The bit on Thailand must please the palace propagandists.





It’s getting darker I

22 11 2017

The lights are dimming everywhere and Thailand’s lights have been starved of wattage for the years since the 2014 military coup.

The Dictator is in charge of turning the lights off, and he looks like he’s going for candle power.

The Bangkok Post reports that the military dictatorship has demanded that the Computer Crimes Act “be rigorously enforced against online media that distort facts and disseminate ‘fake reports and hate speech’.”

Thanks Donald and the alt-right for that idea, a redoubt of fascists. It means that General Prayuth Chan-ocha feels free to claim that any news story he dislikes is now considered “fake.”

The Dictator demands order: “society needs to function in an orderly fashion. No matter who you are, if you twist the facts, write what is not true or incite hatred, you will face legal action…”.

That’s a lie (or perhaps fake). We know that the military, the junta and their spokesman twist facts, speak untruths and incite hatred of their opponents and most especially those they accuse of lese majeste. None of these liars will face legal action because they control and manipulate whatever law the junta decides to invent (like Article 44).

The Dictator especially pointed to “his political critics [saying they ]were not immune.” He seemed to have Voice TV in his sights.

He’s been especially ticked off by speculation over his cabinet reshuffle. That seems stalled, somewhere between the junta and the palace. There’s still some horsetrading being done.

Government spokesman and perpetual purveyor of fake news, Lt Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said “the intention is not to monitor media who play by the rules but to monitor online media and netizens whose identities are usually unknown and operate in the dark.”

This suggests that the military junta is keen to wipe out all critics. It also suggests that another lese majeste crackdown may on the cards.

Lt Gen Sansern revealed that The Dictator demanded that “every ministry and the Government Spokesman Bureau … compel agencies under their authority to be vigilant in monitoring social media and online news entities that publish information relating to the government’s work.”

The Nation adds that The Dictator is concerned about any news or commentary that criticizes the junta’s performance and mentioned the “online dissemination of information ‘deemed controversial to national security’.” That’s usually code for the monarchy.

In making these demands, The Dictator claimed to be relying on recommendations by the King Prajadhipok Institute, which once claimed to support “democracy,” but is a royalist and anti-democrat agency.

The proposed political loosening was fake news. What we are really getting is deep, deep darkness.





Burning arches lese majeste “guilty” pleas

22 11 2017

About a week ago we posted on the sentencing of two men, held in jail until they pleaded guilty, for allegedly torching dead king arches in Khon Kaen province. They were said to be two among eight suspects and a 14-year-old who are accused of being involved in the burning.

Prachatai reports that “[f]ive teenagers and one adult facing royal defamation [lese majeste] charges for burning royal arches in northeastern Thailand have pleaded guilty.” Previously, the six had only agreed to plead guilty to destroying public property. They denied charges of criminal association and lese majeste.

Why did they change their plea?

One of the six said that they chose to plead guilty because the trial would be lengthier if they continued to fight the case, adding that he hopes that the sentence can be halved and that they will receive a royal pardon.

Nothing new there. This is now standard operating procedure in the Thai (in)justice system.

On 20 November 2017, the Provincial Court of Phon District “held a preliminary hearing for six suspects indicted for violating Article 112 … criminal association, and destruction of public property…”. The court is scheduled to sentence them on 31 January 2018.

The unusual thing in this case is that five of the defendants are teenagers.

In other words, the Thai state is prepared to keep children and youth in jail, without bail and limited access to lawyers in order to get its guilty pleas that avoid having anyone challenge the “sanctity” of the horrid monarchy, even in a real court case.

There is no such thing as a fair trial on lese majeste in Thailand. Legal procedures are fake and a farce.

The 14 year-old who is also charged will face the Khon Kaen Juvenile and Family Court later. We are unable to confirm if he is detained.





Updated: Making monarchy

19 11 2017

Sport360.com is not usually the subject of a post at PPT. Yet we felt there’s one point in an article about a middle-ranked Thai golfer that reflects something being seen more broadly in Thailand.

Readers will recall the widespread criticism of now King Vajiralongkorn as his father declined and his succession became a reality. There were suggestions that there was a succession crisis that might even split the country or bring down the monarchy.

We are not sure that the succession crisis was all it was said to be. Even so, thanks in part to the repressive military regime and its displays of loyalty to the monarchy, and despite the king’s grasping and threatening personality, he seems to be settling in.

This isn’t all that different from his father’s experience in the period when the royalist General Sarit Thanarat grabbed power and managed the early period of the royal restoration.

Part of the process of creating this new monarch is making a public image that can be used in propaganda.

This process has begun. He’s a “concerned” monarch: he reportedly expressed concern for people waiting for the funeral; he wanted more done for flood victims. We have no idea whether these “concerns” were real or concocted; the point is that they become part of building the image.

So how does golf fit? Under the deceased king, it became almost mandatory for athletes to display excessive loyalty, often handing over their trophies to the king and dedicating their victories to him and his claimed “inspiration.”

Many royalist Thais have come to see this propaganda as “normal” and even expect such displays. Some athletes seem to understand the requirement for regular expressions of loyalty, contrived or otherwise.

So when golfer Kiradech Aphibarnrat turned in a reasonable score in a recent tournament, it became a monarchy story: “Thailand and its proud people have gone through emotional turmoil this year [apparently because the king died last year] – but one of the country’s most beloved sportsmen has risen above it.”

The article claims that Kiradech “has flown the Thai flag high” and hopes for a good score in an event “to honour the late king’s memory.”

That’s all about the dead king, but then this from the golfer: “I’ve tried to do my job. It hasn’t been a good year for Thailand after we lost the king, even though we have a new, fantastic one…”.

There it is. The more it is repeated, the more likely it is to ingrained. Vajiralongkorn has many traits that saw him ridiculed. The military has banned ridicule and has tried to limit the reports. More statements like Kiradech’s will pile on the propaganda that the military and palace hope will overwhelm the negative past.

Update: A reader tells us that we should have mentioned Khaosod’s story of about a week ago, on the king getting in on the charity run for hospitals by Toon Bodyslam. The king is said to be Toon’s “biggest fan.” It was reported that: “To show his appreciation for Toon’s ongoing runathon for 11 hospitals across the country, … the [k]ing has arranged gifts to be sent to the 38-year-old singer on Wednesday when he arrives in Surat Thani province…”. He sent one of his top officials, a general, to hand over the gifts. There’s no news on how much money Thailand’s richest man is donating…. There’s probably a reason for that.





Burning arches lese majeste sentences

16 11 2017

Prachatai reports that on 15 November 2017 the Provincial Court of Phon District in Khon Kaen “sentenced Noopin, 64, and Chatchai, 25, (surname withheld due to privacy concerns) to five years imprisonment,” on lese majeste charges.

The two were also charged with “criminal association, and destruction of public property for attempted to burn an arch erected in honour of the late King Bhumibol in Khon Kaen.”

As usual, because the two were held until they agreed to plead guilty, the court halved the jail terms and “also confiscated a pickup truck from the two.”

The reporting is, however, somewhat strange. This is what Prachatai states:

According to Noopin, he was hired by a man named Pricha to burn an unidentified edifice at a specific location in the province and was told to invite another person for the task. Therefore he invited Chatchai.

When he arrived at the location, he discovered that it was the royal arch with the image of King Bhumibol. Therefore, he changed his mind and drove back to his house.

So it isn’t entirely clear if they did plead guilty as this sounds like a not guilty statement. Nor is this clear in these paragraphs what they agree they did.

It is clear that these “two are among the eight suspects and a 14-year-old who are accused of being involved in the burning.”

These persons have been held in custody since 17 May.