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.





Updated: Fear and repression I

24 07 2017

Talk of “reconciliation” seems pointless in the junta’s dictatorship. The task of the junta has been to repress those it identifies as “threats,” “enemies” and “opposition.” As it was largely through the efforts of the anti-democrats, led by the (anti-)Democrat Party, that paved the way for the 2014 military coup, it should be no surprise at all that the coalition of military and anti-democrats coalesces to continue the fight against those “threats,” “enemies” and “opposition.”

As everyone knows, the “threats,” “enemies” and “opposition” are mainly red shirts, elements of the Puea Thai Party and the Shinawatra clan and associates. After more than three years of heavy duty repression designed to decapitate these groups, there is limited evidence that they retain much capacity for mobilization. Yet the military and anti-democrats live in fear that they may rise against them.

As reported in The Nation, the pending verdict against Yingluck Shinawatra, due on 25 August, is causing considerable angst among the ruling regime and its anti-democrat allies.

This deep anxiety was inflamed by the sight of “[h]undreds of Yingluck’s supporters [who] gathered at the high court last Friday during the last hearing of the case against her.”

The Democrat Party, never very popular anywhere except in the previous palace hierarchy and among the royalist military, immediately went back to their rhetoric of anti-Thaksinism that has been a feature of their efforts to bring down each elected government since 2001. They claimed that “many of the supporters travelled together in an arranged trip from the northeastern provinces of Ubon Ratchathani and Amnat Charoen.” In other words, they reflexively denigrated their opponents as unthinking and unintelligent people/buffaloes, led around by money and bosses.

At the same time, Somchai Sawaengkarn, reported as “a member of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA)” but in fact a former unelected senator, dedicated anti-democrat, anti-Thaksin campaigner for more than a decade, hard core royalist and prone to accuse opponents of lese majeste, claimed “that he has learned of a plot to incite riots in a bid to overthrow the government and the NCPO [he means his buddies in the junta].”

Somchai has concocted plots in order to denigrate political opponents in the past and we assume he’s at it again. “Good” people like him are skilled liars but usually claim they do it for the greater “good.” This usually means ousting an elected government, supporting the crown or lapping the military boot or, as in this case, encouraging it in political activism. This is why he invents a plot: “They will try to bring down the government and the NCPO [junta] through riots. Hard-core groups that are their allies have clearly said that they want to wage a ‘people’s war’…”. He predicts a “mobilization” of 10,000 people.

While we might hope he is right, based on previous “inventiveness” by Somchai, we can be reasonably sure that, tongue on military boot, he’s making this up to encourage his junta allies in further political repression.

Indeed, the military thugs are already at work.

The Nation reports a source in the ruling junta as revealing that the military and its bureaucratic handmaidens are “closely following movements by certain groups of people ahead of the Supreme Court verdict in the case against former prime minister Yingluck…”.

That source adds that “Army commander-in-chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart, in his capacity as secretary to the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), has instructed the local peacekeeping forces to monitor the movements of ‘all groups involved’ over the next month…”.

The Army’s regional commanders have been ordered “to make sure any suspicious movements are under their microscope…. If the local peacekeeping forces, which were formed after the military coup in 2014, discovered any plan to mobilise large groups of people into Bangkok, they would need to persuade their leaders to cancel such a trip…”. That will mean detentions, threats and other forms of repression. Indeed, the leaking of these orders are a part of that repression.

Military officers have already “been dispatched to different areas of the country in an attempt to persuade Yingluck’s supporters not to come to Bangkok … [and t]hey are going to meet with local community leaders and administrators and ask them to ‘create a better understanding’ among the local residents.” The order is that there “should be no mobilisation of the masses…”. In other words, the military presence at all levels is being heightened and the threats made real.

Update: Part of the fear of Yingluck’s supporters seems reflected in the estimates of the number who showed up last week. The Bangkok Post reports almost 1,000. The official red shirts of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) have warned The Dictator that his threats inflamed the situation and brought out even more supporters. More threats and intimidation could would damage the junta.





Updated: King’s power

18 07 2017

For some time there have been rumors that King Vajiralongkorn was seeking to take full control of the Crown Property Bureau. A Royal Gazette announcement on the weekend and reports in the Thai and international media make that takeover official.

Interestingly, the takeover of the CPB by the king was discussed by Andrew MacGregor Marshall in his book A Kingdom in Crisis. He said:

The prospect of Thaksin [Shinawatra] and the crown prince using the vast wealth of the Crown Property Bureau to transform Thailand and elevate a new ruling class at the expense of the old terrifies the oligarchy that runs the country.

If the oligarchs were terrified, half of that prediction have now come about. The Thaksin part of the equation seems to have been nullified by the 2014 coup and the military dictatorship’s efforts to destroy Thaksin and other identified enemies of regime, crown and tycoons.

At least that’s what they must be hoping.

Khaosod reports that the puppet National Legislative Assembly has passed a new law on the control of the Crown Property Bureau. (We assume that the NLA again met in secret session to do this deal for the king. We assume this because the previous new laws made following demands from the king have been made secretly.)

This new legislation, passed on Sunday, gives the king “sole authority over royal assets.” This is claimed to be the first change made to the law since 1948.

Whereas previously the Ministry of Finance and its minister had nominal roles in managing the CPB and its board of directors, this is now gone. Now, “the power to appoint a board of directors to manage the crown property rests solely with King Vajiralongkorn, and not a government official as delineated in previous laws.”

As Khaosod notes, this is the “latest move by the military government to cement King Vajiralongkorn’s control over palace affairs.”

Yet it is far more than this. Allowing for the growth of property prices, the CPB probably controls assets of $40-60 billion. Arguably, it is the most powerful and wealthiest conglomerate in the country.

The king now controls this mammoth business empire. More importantly, the new law also “prohibits any effort to take away any part of the royal assets without the king’s approval.” This provision has potentially wide-ranging implications for the future of the monarchy and further reduces the state’s authority over the monarchy.

The king now controls all aspects of the monarchy’s wealth and power, and in legal terms, he is now the most powerful monarch since 1932 and, on paper, is more or less independent of the state’s control that was established in 1932 and the years after.

As an AFP report notes, this is the “latest move by an increasingly assertive monarch to consolidate his power.”

While the previous king relied on networks of influential alliances, the power of the military and a personal capacity to politically intervene when he deemed this necessary, the new king is acknowledging his unpopularity and has joined with the military junta to consolidate and expand the monarchy’s economic and political power.

Update: Reuters adds some further detail to this change. It notes that the changes to the law “places the management of crown property under the direct supervision of the king. It states that the bureau’s properties, in addition to the king’s private properties, will be managed ‘at His Majesty’s discretion’.” It allows the king to “assign the Crown Property Bureau, any individual or agency to manage the properties and assets.”

Clearly the old claim that the CPB was not exactly the monarch’s property is out the window. The king’s personal property is indistinguishable from that of the CPB.

Interestingly, “Crown property, but not the king’s private property, had previously been exempted from tax,” and the “amended law says both could now be subject to tax, though it did not elaborate,” suggesting that there’s plenty of wriggle room.





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.





Inside sucking noises

7 07 2017

PPT hasn’t previously commented on the junta’s decision to spill the Election Commission and create a new Commission with new members. The main reason we have ignored this is because it is like watching a movie with no good characters. It’s bad guys vs. bad guys; no white hats, just black hats.

The military junta is an abomination and the EC is a bunch of self-important jerks who did all that they could to prevent and election in 2014. The EC is anti-election. So what is there to support in any of this? Its going through the swill at the bottom of the barrel.

However, a report at Prachatai is of some interest. The EC, which has seen its members jumping about and saying how terrible it is that they are losing their positions, has decided on a counter-attack.

The report states that on 4 July 2017, the EC “initiated an investigation into 90 members of the NLA [that’s the puppet National Legislative Assembly] over alleged conflict of interest in their stock holdings.”

Up until this point, as far as PPT can recall, the puppet EC has had no interest in the puppet NLA. Thus, its action can only be interpreted as some inside politicking to keep lucrative posts.

It might be said that this action has only become possible after the passage of the junta’s constitution, but that also means that the action can only apply to activities by the NLA since the constitution was promulgated. So probably not much action possible at all. It is mostly bluster by the unhappy EC members.

One of the most reprehensible anti-election commissioners is Somchai Srisuttiyakorn, who must be especially miffed as he did more than others in binning the Yingluck Shinawatra administration, facilitating the anti-democrats and getting the military in place.

He says his lot is forming a committee “to investigate the issue with a two-month time frame. If the commission find reasonable suspicions, the ECT will submit the case to the Constitutional Court for a final judgement.”

At the very same time, the EC continued to make up rules that make any “elected” government that is not military-backed weaker than ever before.

The EC is a waste of political space and of taxpayer funds. Its a remora that seems to have lost its host.





The authoritarian future I

22 06 2017

The National Legislative Assembly is a puppet assembly established by the military junta to do its work. The members are a bunch of junta lackeys, mostly from the armed forces, putting money in their bank accounts. Their voting behavior is that of Japanese cats.

This voting pattern was seen when the junta’s planning for military domination into the future was as enacted as a National Strategy Commission with the national strategy bill.

No prizes for guessing the voting: 281-0.

The Commission will have the prime minister at its head, with three vice-chairmen being the Senate and House speakers and a deputy prime minister or minister assigned by the premier.

Our guess is that its likely that at least the premier and Senate speaker will be military, depending on how the junta manages its “election.”

The members of the Commission will be the defense permanent secretary; chiefs of the Supreme Command, army, navy, air force and police; secretary-general of the National Security Council; chairmen of the National Economic and Social Development Board, National Farmers Federation, Thai Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Thai Industries, Tourism Council of Thailand and Thai Bankers’ Association. Another 17 supporters members can appointed by the government of the day.

That’s 5 or 6 from the military and the rest will be anti-democrats who have long supported military dictatorship.

The Commission is able to demand particular legislation related to “national reform” and maintaining the junta’s agenda into the future.





Still working against universal health care

19 06 2017

Since its coup, the military dictatorship has continually tried to convince people that the Thaksin Shinawatra-inspired universal health care program should be ditched or modified. We have we have posted on some of these royalist-inspired efforts to roll back the universal health care program. We have also mentioned independent assessments of the success of that program.

The junta ha, each time it floated the idea, backed off when it was clear that the program has wide public support. That hasn’t stopped it sniping at he program as a part of the Thaksin regime that has to be uprooted. The regime has also ensured that the program suffers budget problems.

Along with the big hospital owners and the doctors who make a fortune from private clinics, the junta would prefer a privatized system (think America’s Republicans).

Its latest efforts to gut the program are being pushed with more determination this time, seemingly going ahead despite opposition. As The Nation puts it, “the National Health Security Bill is set to sail ahead despite its four public hearings utterly failing to appease opponents.”

Not only will the puppet National Legislative Assembly vote almost unanimously for whatever its bosses want, but it is made up of anti-democrats who consider universal health care a Thaksin plot to win votes. They call it policy corruption and grumble about populism.

The measure of the dictatorship’s renewed determination is shown by the efforts now being made to intimidate opponents of this dismantling.

The saving of the program will only be if the junta believes that changing the program will be “electorally” damaging when they decide it is time they win an election.