Journalists do the state’s work

18 08 2017

The Associated Press’s report on Red Bull family is worth reading in full. It is getting considerable international attention for issues of tax avoidance and the unaccountable power that comes from great wealth in Thailand (and elsewhere).

We won’t repeat it all here. We do recall that, back in May,

“Red Bull scion Vorayuth Yoovidhya, the suspect in a brutal hit-and-run case in which a police officer was killed, gave authorities the slip once again by leaving Thailand for an unknown destination on April 25, just two days before he was due to answer charges over the 2012 incident.”

Five years after the allegedly coked-up and drunk rich kid ran over a cop and drove off, dragging the body along, to hide from the law in his gated and guarded family home. Lawyers and fixers got to work.

Five years have produced no justice. How can that be? Vorayuth lived the high life around the world as he avoided justice. Some police and others with power in Thailand were obviously complicit.

PPT said that this case demonstrated how Thailand’s (in)justice system doesn’t work, except for the junta when it wanted to lock up the poor and political opponents.

Vorayuth’s flight and high life around the world was revealed by AP (not the Thai authorities) back in March. It was AP researchers and reporters who tracked him down in London.

Why is it that journalists do this investigations while Thailand’s leaders and state agencies remain silent.

AP’s pursuit of the Red Bull killer and the continuing (manufactured) failure of the Thai authorities to track down a scion of one of Thailand’s richest ($12.5 billion) and most influential families has led to the latest AP story.

Thai authorities will probably now issue statements about how they have been “investigating,” but then go back to their legal slumber, induced by the influential.

AP has trawled the Panama Papers for this story and investigated the Yoovidhya family’s secret money trail, its tax avoidance minimization and its extraordinary efforts to conceal all of this. Their concealing of ownership even baffled Mossack Fonseca, the company that managed its international transfers and concealing.

On Thailand’s failures, the AP story makes that wider than just the Red Bull family:

While other governments were swift and aggressive in responding to Panama Papers revelations, that has not been the case in Thailand. More than 1,400 Thai individuals were identified in the documents, but the government calls the reports rumors with no evidence.

Last year, Thailand’s Anti-Money Laundering Office said it was investigating more than a dozen of those individuals — unnamed current and former politicians and business people. To date, that office has not reported any crimes, however, and it would not answer AP’s questions.

The rich and powerful in Thailand can get away with murder. Readers will soon realize just how scary these plutocrats can be when the AP story interviews Viraphong Boonyobhas, the director of Chulalongkorn University’s business crime and money-laundering databank. It is added:

Viraphong would not speak directly about the Yoovidhyas or any other Thai person or company, saying he feared for his legal and physical safety, but added that his expectations for accountability in the military-run government are low.

Thai authorities have vowed to fight corruption, but “wealthy people in Thailand are influential people,” Viraphong said. “Maybe the government can’t untangle such a complicated network.”

That’s a story about how Thailand is actually run. The whole system is not just built on double standards, but is structured to funnel wealth to the top Sino-Thai tycoons through corrupt military and bureaucratic machinery that, for a fee and reflected “barami,” covers money trails. Ideological devices associated with the obscenely rich monarchy are in place to make the greedy appear among the “good” people who slosh about in troughs of money.





Updated: Royalism undermines popular sovereignty

14 08 2017

Everyone knows that the prince, now king, began his purges of the palace from late 2014, when he “divorced” Srirasmi. Dozens of her family and associates were jailed. Then there were the clearances that saw “unreliables” ditched, deaths in custody, lese majeste jailings and the use of a personal jail. Some fearful palace associates, now out of favor, fled the country.

This was followed by an aggregation of control to the palace. The constitution was secretly changed to accord with the king’s desires and then secret meetings of the puppet assembly gave him control over formerly state bureaucratic departments and the vast wealth of the Crown Property Bureau to the king.

Has he finished? Probably not. Fear and favor mean that an erratic king will lose interest in some people and some things and will need to be rid of them. Then he’ll desire control over other people and things.

But one of the other things that is noticeable is the “normalization” of the reign, as if nothing has changed or that the changes made are in line with the normal activities of the king and palace. Yet even this “normalization” has been a process of promoting a heightened royalism.

The media has been used recently to promote royalism. The excuse has been the queen’s 85th birthday, with a series of “stories” about “people nationwide” celebrating her birthday. Many of the photos showed military men and bureaucrats doing the celebrating.

The Dictator was especially prominent, leading the junta in an alms-giving exercise for 851 monks at the Royal Plaza, claiming it was also a tribute to the dead monarch.

More specific propaganda pieces have dwelt on “merit” and filial piety. For example, the Bangkok Post has run pictures of the king, his mother and Princess Sirindhorn making merit together.

Other royal stories include a donation to of 100 million baht to Siriraj Hospital, with the king thanking the hospital for taking care of his father. The money is said to have “come from revenue from selling his diaries featuring his drawings…”.

While we might doubt that so much money can be made from the sale of a collection of childish drawings, the junta’s support for the king has been strong and maybe it bought many diaries and distributed them.

But back to deepening royalism. The Nation reports on a “revival” of Kukrit Pramoj’s restorationist story “Four Reigns.” Kukrit was an incessant promoter of royalism, ideologue for the dictatorial General Sarit Thanarat, booster for King Bhumibol and diplomat for royalism translated for foreigners.

The Four Reigns is now Six Reigns. According to The Nation, the “restaging of Thailand’s most commercially successful musical play is more pro-absolute monarchy than ever.”

The play opens with the scene in which the spirit of Mae Phloi starts to recount her life story and confirm her unwavering love for “kings”, and the background is the familiar image of people gathering outside the wall of the Grand Palace paying respect to the late King Bhumibol.

And with the last scene showing Thai people paying respect to King Vajiralongkorn, the play now covers six, not four, reigns.

Clearly, the play … tries, more clearly than the original novel, to prove … that Thailand was much better before 1932 than after. This outdated attitude doesn’t sit too well in 2017 Thailand, as we try to build our political system from “military junta under a constitutional monarchy” to “unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy”, a kind of democracy that is already difficult to explain to our friends from many countries.

This royalism can only deepen as the cremation of the dead king approaches and as Vajiralongkorn and the junta further embed his reign and undermine notions of popular sovereignty.

Update: The new king is the old king propaganda continues, with two stories at The Nation of the king’s donations to 300 flood victims and 39 students in the south. We should add that there is no evidence provided of where the funds come from. Like royal projects, it may be that “donations” are all taxpayer funded.





Ultra-nationalism opposed

11 08 2017

PPT wants to draw attention to a thoughtful op-ed by Paritta Wangkiat, a young reporter at the Bangkok Post. She takes on Thai nationalism, which she sees as increasingly malicious.

It has come to the point where, like other countries where rabid nationalism is promoted, it is virtually impossible to criticize any aspect of Thailand or Thais society without engendering a nasty ultra-nationalist backlash. Thailand, like pretty much everywhere else, has problems. Ultra-nationalists don’t want them discussed and go bananas when someone suggests that Thailand isn’t the greatest place on Earth.

In politics, Parrita notes that “colour-coded political conflicts pitting the yellow shirts against the red shirts, malicious nationalism plays its role. The former pride themselves on their ‘mission to save the nation’ while rebuking rivals for ‘not loving’ Thailand enough.” And, she’s right to note that “vengeful nationalism” is not new in Thailand’s politics. After all, the military, running coups and murdering citizens, claim to be saving the nation. Look at the claims of the latest bunch of military fascist-nationalists. “Saving the nation” has a lot to do with “protecting” the monarchy, which has also promoted ultra-nationalism in its own political interests.

Parrita is right when she says that ultra-nationalism’s “hidden agenda has been to maintain the status quo of the rulers and bureaucrats.” She continues”

No matter what definition is used, this kind of tainted nationalism will lead to deeper political divisions, not a “stronger” nation.

This is the kind of nationalism that blames others for not loving the nation enough.

A kind of nationalism that demands the rural poor hand over land they have lived on for generations to the state for development.

A kind of nationalism that calls for transparency in state expenditure, but condemns the use of tax money to promote equality through social welfare schemes.

A kind of nationalism engrossed in the glory of independent Siam that can’t tolerate opposing views.

She concludes: “The haters will only instil conflict and lead us nowhere. To march forward, we must first conquer the enemy within ourselves.”





Catching up on the monarchy

8 08 2017

PPT has been posting regularly and yet we have not been able to post on all the stories in the media we’ve found interesting on or related to Thailand’s most feudal of institutions. Thus, this post is a catch-up. We will list several of these stories, from the past week or so, with little comment and just a quote of interest from each one:

Thai dissident’s lonely fight to keep history alive

Carrying a bucket of cement and a heavy bronze plaque, Ekachai Hongkangwan set out across Bangkok’s heavily-policed Royal Plaza in late June to perform a solo act of D-I-Y dissent.

But the 42-year-old was quickly bundled into a police van before he could lay down the metal disc – an exact replica of a monument that was mysteriously removed in April, sparking fears officials were trying to whitewash history.

The attempted restoration was a dangerous and rare act of subversion in a country smothered by an arch-royalist military and where criticism of the monarchy is being purged at an unprecedented rate.

Silencing dissent: digital capitalism, the military junta and Thailand’s permanent state of exception (we are not exactly sure how an exception becomes permanent)

In the last three years of military rule in Thailand, arrests and prosecutions for defamation, sedition and offences under the Computer Crimes Act have soared. Human rights advocates, democracy campaigners and ordinary citizens have been threatened, harassed and detained in military camps. The junta have sought to silence public discourse on every conceivable aspect of their rule. Global social media platforms are ground zero in this repression, and each month citizens are arrested and detained for what they post, share and like on Facebook.

Thai King’s Birthday Celebrations Mark Consolidation of Power

Thailand to celebrate birthday of assertive new King

The new monarch has shaken up the palace. A law quietly passed in April by Thailand’s interim assembly allowed him to consolidate control over five agencies which handle palace affairs and security. These agencies, which previously reported to the prime minister and defence ministry, remain funded by the state, but need not return revenue to the treasury.

A Straits Times examination of over 100 notices published on the Royal Gazette website since January shows the palace has promoted over 200 employees, removed or demoted over a dozen, as well as appointed over 100 more – many of them senior government servants.

All these moves have taken place amid tighter enforcement of Thailand’s lese majeste law, under which individuals have been jailed not just for insulting or defaming royalty, but also for trying to profit from their connections to the palace. Open discussion about the king, already constrained under the previous reign, has withered.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn expands his territory – but at what cost?

Change is afoot in Thailand. Amidst continued instability and uncertainty, King … Vajiralongkorn asserts more control. This move puts the ruling military junta in check.

The king now has full control of the agency that manages the holdings of the monarchy. Details about the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) are shrouded in secrecy. But it is worth at least US$30 billion thanks to significant holdings and investments, estimates suggested.

The Frontlines of Cyber Repression: Thailand and the Crop Top King

This post is the first of many in which we will begin the process of documenting the digital frontlines of cyber repression. By building better awareness about cyber repression, we hope this blog series will help illustrate current examples from across a wide spectrum of states and highlight actions being taken to push back on repression.

Trial of Yingluck sparks deeper crisis for Thailand

Why must she be eliminated at this point in time? The political elites are increasingly concerned about their position of power now that King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away last October, is no longer on the political scene. Under Bhumibol, their political interests were firmly secured through the monarchy network, which had dominated political life for decades. Without Bhumibol, Thailand has moved into an uncertain phase under the new controversial king, Vajiralongkorn. Those political elites fear that the Shinawatras might exploit political uncertainties to regain power.





Release Pai XVIII

4 08 2017

As has become standard for lese majeste cases, Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa’s case began in secret at the Khon Kaen provincial court.

On 3 August 2017, the court heard the first plaintiff witness. No one from the public was permitted in the court room to hear this.

The usual buffalo manure “explanation” was that the secrecy was required because it involved “national security and the monarchy.” Of course it involves the monarchy, that’s why it is called lese majeste. Yet in the not too distant past, trials were open.

The national security claim is mad. Ask the more than 2000 other people who did the exact same Facebook share that Pai did. They are somehow outside the national security dragnet.

The first “witness” is the thug military officer, Lt Col Pitakpol Chusri, who filed the lese majeste complaint against Jatuphat.

We don’t expect the court to make any contribution to justice in Thailand. Rather, this is a fit-up and the court is complicit.

Jatuphat is accused of “sharing on his Facebook account a controversial biography of King Vajiralongkorn published by BBC Thai.” In fact, because it was truthful, it is “controversial.” Truth and monarchy are two words that can’t be used together in Thailand.





Rolling back 1932

19 07 2017

The period since the accession of King Vajiralongkorn has seen a very rapid unwinding of arrangements regarding the relationship between crown and state that were put in place following the 1932 Revolution. In fact, these were relations were to establish a separation of state and crown, not least in terms of the state’s funds and the those of the crown and the monarch.

The military junta’s agreement that King Vajiralongkorn could have total and personal control of the Crown Property Bureau is just the most recent of the changes that have granted extensive control of power and wealth to the monarch not seen since 1932.

A few days ago, Peter Morris had a story at Ozy on the events and impact of 1932. Readers might find this article of use in understanding what it is that King Vajiralongkorn is winding back.

Over the years, it has been widely assumed that Vajiralongkorn was little more than a dumb hedonist. The efforts he has made to challenge decades-old arrangements that have long annoyed the royal family suggest that he has imbibed the anti-1932 bile that has circulated in the family. He’s showing that he follows a line of royal relatives who plotted and schemed against the People’s Party and its legacy.





More retroactive “law”

14 07 2017

One of the most significant acts by the military-backed regime put in place following the 2006 military coup was the dissolving of the Thai Rak Thai Party through the application of a “law” applied retrospectively.

That application of a junta decree indicated and demonstrated double standards in the judicial system and promoted the further politicization of the judiciary. Today, almost all arms of the judiciary are politicized and biased. In lese majeste cases, the law is not even considered important in gaining convictions.

We are not saying that the judicial system in Thailand was ever independent, unbiased and fair, but the deterioration under the influence of military regimes and their civilian clones has been precipitous.

Whatever one thinks of Thaksin Shinawatra, the Bangkok Post’s report that several court cases against the former prime minister “are expected to be resumed in absentia following a new organic law endorsed by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA)” is another example of the manipulation of the law and the politicization of the judicial system.

It is no surprise that the reduced puppet NLA “voted unanimously … to pass the controversial draft organic law on criminal procedures for holders of a political position.” (The NLA is reduced as several puppets resigned to prepare for the junta’s “election,” suggesting that the NLA has been tipped off on the date of the election, while the public is kept in the dark.)

While the change to the law to allow for trials in absentia may be considered a useful change, it is clear that this is “Thaksin’s Law,” meant to banish him from Thailand forever. (Of course, he is not the first “enemy” of the monarchy to be banished from Thailand for life.)

As the Post report notes: “Cases which have gone to the court before the enactment of this law will also be affected, meaning the law will be retroactive….  In general, rule of law forbids prosecutions under laws passed after the alleged crimes were committed.”

The anti-democrats will cheer this. Yet they are complicit in the undermining of the rule of law in Thailand.