Taxpayer funding for the monarchy II

24 09 2022

The enveloping mourning and funeral of the dead British queen was unable to completely obliterate anti-monarchism. Opponents of monarchy were able to be heard, even if the mainstream media became absurdly royalist for a couple of weeks.

Interestingly, questions have been raised regarding the cost of the monarchy in Britain. As we noted yesterday, analysis of the Thai monarchy’s cost to the taxpayer has (re)emerged. There was very limited discussion of the taxpayer contribution to the rich royals under the dead king.

Shutting down discussion of the monarchy’s cost was one of Bhumibol and his coterie’s remarkable political achievements, built on military dictatorship, repression, and the deaths of many opponents of the military-monarchy regime. Recently, thanks to a few dedicated researchers and youthful protesters, such questioning is at least politically possible, even if the royalists push back and the regime still arrests, charges, and arrests activists.





Taxpayer funding for the monarchy I

23 09 2022

For the fourth year, Prachatai has sifted through the documentation released by the Budget Bureau to find how much the taxpayer is squeezed for funding, “protecting,” and promoting the monarchy.

Their calculation is of funds self-identified as targeted to or provided to the monarchy.

In terms of actual spending, this 34.752 billion baht is probably an under-estimate. This mammoth figure is, in fact, a slight reduction over the previous year, but almost 17% higher than in 2020.

Taxpayer funds handed over for the direct funding of the “Royal Offices” has also reduced a small proportion, but is planned to rise further in coming budget years. The proposed allocation from taxpayers in 2026 is almost 59% higher than it was in 2018.These huge extractions from the taxpayer suggest a regime and palace that cares little for the economic travails of the population.

It is important to add that this king is one of the world’s richest royals.





UK travel advisory

22 09 2022

Like many countries, the government of the United Kingdom has online pages of foreign travel advice. For Thailand, that advice includes a succinct section on “Safety and security“:

The political situation in Thailand can be volatile. In recent years, there have been instances of civil and political unrest. You should avoid any protests, political gatherings, demonstrations or marches.

Lèse-majesté (criticism of the monarchy in any form) is a crime, which can be interpreted broadly and carries a long jail sentence. Some foreign (including British) and Thai journalists, Human Rights Defenders and members of the public have faced criminal charges, including for defamation, sedition, and under the Computer Crimes Act for raising concerns, making political comments, and sharing articles online that could been seen as portraying Thailand negatively or making accusations about individuals.

That’s and accurate and pretty damning assessment.





The military-monarchy regime’s judiciary

21 09 2022

Prachatai reports on more outlandish efforts by the royalist judiciary to “protect” the monarchy:

For the past 9 months, the Criminal Court has been refusing to issue summonses for documents requested by lawyers representing activists charged with royal defamation [Article 112] for the 19 September 2020 protest to be used as evidence, delaying the witness examination process.

Defense lawyers “have not been able to cross examine prosecution witnesses, as the Court has refused to issue summonses for documents requested by the defendants to use as evidence in the cross examination process. Some documents were the subject of a summons, but the defendants have yet to receive them.”

A Bangkok Post picture

The lawyers requested six documents from several agencies, “including records of King Vajiralongkorn’s travels, records of the Royal Offices and of the Crown Property Bureau’s budget spending, and documents relating to a court case filed by the Ministry of Finance against King Prajadhipok and Queen Rambai Barni.”

Of course, these requests are seen by royalists as provocative, damaging, and threatening. The royalist courts can’t ask because they fear this will lead to even more criticism of the monarchy. They may also be frightened to request them.

Yet the defence needs the documents “because the public prosecutor [has] indicted the activists on the grounds that their speeches about the crown’s budget and King Vajiralongkorn’s alleged stay in Germany are false…”.

As everyone knows, if the documents were provided, the defendants would be shown to be correct and truthful. The courts don’t want that.





How corrupt are Thailand’s police?

20 09 2022

Very corrupt. Thailand ranks a low 24th of 100 countries included in Index Mundi’s Police Corruption Perceptions Index.

As explained at the website: “The purpose of the Police Corruption Perceptions Index is to provide a subjective measure of the level of corruption in a given country as perceived by its inhabitants.” The survey used asks: “How big of a problem is police corruption in the country where you live?”

Added to its in-bred corruption is the junta/military-backed regime’s politicization of the police since the 2014 military coup and the palace’s interventions in who gets to the top of one of the world’s most corrupt police forces.





Monarchies and blood succession

18 09 2022

The Economist’s Banyan reflects on the monarchies of southeast Asia, but mostly about Vajiralongkorn. Unfortunatey, the story is behind a paywall. Here it is in full:

With the death of Queen Elizabeth, the title of longest-serving, still-breathing monarch passes to Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei. He has been on the throne for 55 years. Long reigns are not unusual in South-East Asia. It is home to a flush of potentates, from the kings of Cambodia and Thailand to the sultans of Malaysia, Brunei and Yogyakarta, a province of Indonesia. Most have sat on their thrones for decades. All are in their 60s and 70s. Some are whispered to be in ill health.

The issue of hereditary succession looms over their realms. Unlike the British monarchy, which has survived by ceding power to democratic institutions, some kings in South-East Asia have preserved their prerogatives. Some have even amassed power that exceeds that of their forebears. The Thai king is notionally hemmed in by a constitution, but is actually the most powerful person in the country. Indonesia is a republic, but the sultan of Yogyakarta will rule for life, and pass his power to his heir. The sultan of Brunei, an absolute monarch, considers himself to be “the shadow of Allah on earth”, and expects his subjects to agree.

Plenty of South-East Asians are happy with their monarchs. In times of change they provide a link with the past. If you believe they are divinely appointed, as they often claim, they make ideal defenders of religion and national identity. They remind the people of their sanctity through good works. King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, who reigned for seven decades (88 days fewer than Queen Elizabeth) until his death in 2016, spent half his time touring the poorest parts of Thailand. He presided over Buddhist ceremonies and dispensed university diplomas, handing out so many that doctors worried he might injure his arm. By tapping his kingdom’s oil wealth, Brunei’s sultan offers goodies such as free education and health care. Some style themselves as champions of democracy. Malaysia’s sultans have recently earned goodwill by chiding the country’s corrupt, self-serving politicians.

Yet discontent often simmers at moments of transition. The mood in Thailand was sour in 2016, when King Maha Vajiralongkorn took the throne. His father, King Bhumibol, was, whisper it, no angel. (He would often throw his weight behind the army as it launched yet another coup.) But the public did revere him as the embodiment of a good Buddhist. His son spends much of his time in Germany, cycling through the forests of Bavaria in skimpy shorts, accompanied by members of his harem. He rules by fear, says Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai dissident, and is trying to claw back the absolute power enjoyed by his ancestors.

King Vajiralongkorn uses the courts to hound his critics. Hundreds of people have been charged with insulting the Thai royal family in recent years. The late Sultan Mahmood Iskandar of Johor, a Malaysian state, had a violent streak. In the 1970s, as crown prince, he was twice charged with manslaughter (and pardoned by his father both times). He was just as bad as sultan. In 1987 he allegedly clubbed a caddie to death for laughing at him when he missed a putt.

Heredity is not an infallible way of picking a good ruler. Some monarchies have found ways to avoid crowning the worst candidates. Malaysian sultanates are not bound by primogeniture and so can select the best son for the job. There are usually a reasonable number of sons to choose from, since sultans typically have multiple wives. (Daughters are not yet eligible.) When the ex-wife of the apparent heir to the sultanate of Kelantan alleged that the heir had kept her as a sex slave, the sultan anointed a different son (the prince denied the charge, sued his ex-wife and won). In Cambodia, a council of politicians elects a king for life, plucking a favoured man from one of two royal households.

Finding good heirs is essential if monarchies are to endure. The consequences of rotten royal behaviour can be deleterious. In the 1990s Sultan Iskandar’s misadventures prompted the Malaysian government to revoke sultans’ immunity from prosecution and remove their veto over legislation.

Thailand’s monarchy faces similar risks. The king is protected by his supporters in the army and the courts, but public anger is building. Tens of thousands of young Thais took to the streets in 2020 to demand royal reform. Their movement was crushed, but the taboo against lèse-majesté was broken. If King Vajiralongkorn and his peers want to keep hold of the reins of power, they would do well to soften their grip.





Rebellious 12 year-old

16 09 2022

Update: This is a post we actually wrote some time ago, and then neglected to publish it. But, this story is so remarkably awful and illustrative of the great fear among royalists that it deserves mention.

Thai Lawyers for Human Right published a long account – well worth reading – on Eia: A 12-year-old child who is a favorite among protestors and who faces up to four years in prison on charges after being arrested at a protest, “merely because he cycled from his home to observe it.” The report states:

A 12-year-old boy was arrested and charged with violating the Emergency Decree due to passing the #13September21Protest in Din Daeng while cycling home. And on 5 May 2022, he went to hear another accusation brought against him in a second political expression case after only half a month had passed since his 13th birthday.

A possible maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment is the gift given by the Thai state to this youth on his 13th birthday.

…“Eia,” a sassy kid with likes to stir people up, especially the police. Previously, he proudly proclaimed that “I love Uncle Tu.” However, being arrested with his beloved bicycle, being prosecuted for the first time due to observing the Din Daeng mob, and seeing the officers respond to Thalugas with excessive violence, he started to comprehend politics anew. He sat down to listen at protests again and again in the hopes of understanding what is happening.

Now,age 13, Eia, agrees with the movement’s demands for the prime minister to resign and the monarchy to be reformed.

After his  arrest, Eia’s

…hands and wrists were bound with cable ties and he was taken to Phahon Yothin Police Station.The police tried to prevent his parents from meeting him. He refused to sign any documents.

In the end, the police officer instead had to take a photo while handing them a copy of the arrest document copy along with video and audio recordings during the interrogation. The boy was charged with violation of the Emergency Decree….

On 23 April 2022, three days after Eia’s thirteenth birthday party, police officers from the Nang Loeng police station notified him of charges for participating in a protest and physically assaulting the police at the protest. This is the second case he is facing.

As a 12, then 13 year old, Eia is the youngest to be arrested in a political case.





King’s influence on parliament

8 09 2022

Prachatai has a very good article on the use of the “veto” on legislation that the king can use, for any legislation he doesn’t like. It is comprehensive, so not much for PPT to add.

The story seems innocuous: a “joint session of parliament has withdrawn its previous approval of a draft amendment of a law on royal decorations after the King vetoed it by not giving his signature within 90 days…”. It is well known that the king likes to control all things royal, so for some reason, this bill did not satisfy him.

In fact, for the parliament, the amendment was cut-and-dried: “The bill was approved by the lower house on 22 December 2021 and passed by the upper house on 17 January 2022. The three readings in both houses were done in one day, signifying a smooth legislative process.”

The fact that the king has now dumped the amendment is unusual, for the regime has usually given the king all that he wants, going so far as to hold secret legislative sessions to amend the 2017 draft constitution to satisfy the king’s whims and desires. So maybe the erratic king was just changing his mind? Who knows. No reason is provided.

But here’s the interesting bit for us:

According to Section 146 of the 2017 Constitution, a bill without the King’s signature can still be enacted if two-thirds of both houses insisted on passing the law.

In the Tuesday session, however, the vote turned out otherwise as 431 MPs decided to drop the bill, 28 MPs abstained, and one MP voted for approval (he later said he pushed the wrong button).

In other words, despite the parliament doing its job, no member was prepared to swim against the king tide. A parliament like this is a king’s house. The royalists would be right to ask: What’s the point of elections?





Authoritarianism for royalists, monarchy, tycoons, and military

7 09 2022

PPT has been reading some of the commentaries regarding Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s suspension as premier. We thought we better post something on these as Prayuth’s case could be (almost) decided by the politicized Constitutional Court as early as tomorrow.

Prawit and Prayuth: Generals both

At East Asia Forum, academic Paul Chambers summarizes and lists the pedigree and connections that have led to his former boss, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, to become (interim) premier.

A few days before that, Shawn Crispin at Asia Times wrote another piece based on his usual anonymous sources, that assesses the balance of forces. He thinks the Constitutional Court’s decision to suspend Gen Prayuth was a pyrrhic victory and writes of:

… a behind-the-scenes, pre-election move away from Prayut by the conservative establishment, comprised of the royal palace, traditional elites and top “five family” big businesses, he has cosseted both as a coup-maker and elected leader.

One source familiar with the situation says a group of traditional and influential Thai “yellow” elites including an ex-premier and foreign minister, after rounds of dinner talks, recently delivered a message to Prayut asking him to put the nation before himself and refrain from contesting the next general election to make way for a more electable, civilian candidate to champion the conservative cause.

It is clear that the conservative elite are worried about upcoming elections. Pushing Prayuth aside is thought to give the Palang Pracharath Party an electoral boost. Crispin reckons that the Privy Council beckons if Gen Prayuth does as asked. That’s a kind of consolation prize for Gen Prayuth having done his repressive duty for palace and ruling class.

But, as Crispin makes clear, the ruling class and the political elite is riven with conflicts. Indeed, one commentary considers the contest between Gen Prawit and Gen Prayuth.

It may be that Prayuth comes back. Recent leaks suggest that one faction still wants him in place, “protecting” the monarchy as the keystone to the whole corrupt system.  If Gen Prayuth returns to the premiership, where does that leave the ruling party and its mentors in the ruling class?

On the broader picture, an article by Michael Montesano at Fulcrum looks beyond personalities to the system that the 2014 military coup constructed:

The function of Thailand’s post-2014 authoritarian system is to channel and coordinate the overlapping interests of a range of conservative stakeholders: royalists and the monarchy, the military, much of the technocratic elite, a handful of immensely powerful domestic conglomerates, and the urban upper-middle class. This channelling or coordinating function is the system’s crucial defining feature. No individual or cabal of individuals gives orders or controls the system. Rather, collectively or individually, stakeholders or their representatives act to defend a shared illiberal and depoliticising vision with little need for explicit or direct instructions.

He adds:

Understanding these realities makes clear that Prayut’s premiership of eight long years — so far — has not been possible because of his leadership skills, the loyalty that he might command, or his indispensability. Rather, the remarkable longevity of his stultifying service as prime minister is due to the fact that someone needs to hold that office and he has proved adequate. His premiership satisfied the collective interests that Thailand’s post-2014 authoritarian system serves. For all of his manifest inadequacies, keeping him in place has, at least up to now, been deemed less costly than replacing him.

Has that cost risen so much that Gen Prayuth can be “sacrificed” for the royalist authoritarian system he constructed?





Singing lese majeste

3 09 2022

Clipped from Prachatai

Citizen reporter Sao Nui was arrested on the evening of 1 September 2022 “for singing a song composed by the band Faiyen during a protest on 23 August 2022.”

After her arrest, she was taken the Narcotics Suppression Bureau where she was held overnight. After some debate over a police request for her to be detained, the court granted bail on 2 September.

As well as lese majeste, she was charged under the Computer Crimes Act for singing “Lucky to have Thai people.” Prachatai explains that the song “relates how Thai people are made to love the King through many means and the punishment the people will face if they do not love the King.”

Sao Nui and another citizen reporter, Worawet, already faced 112, sedition, and resisting an officers’ order charges for a Thaluwang royal motorcade poll at Siam Paragon on 8 February 2022.








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