Updated: Birthday games I

29 07 2020

While youth protesters keep poking at the regime and monarchy, the regime spent time “honoring” the absent king.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

Meanwhile, in Europe, the king’s 68th birthday was marked by protest and critical and quizzical media reports (see here and here).

In Thailand, the regime ordered displays of loyalty (as it usually does on the birthdays of kings) and most of the response was state-led, with companies spending budget on “adverts” that “honor” the king.  The media all come up with boring headers for the king. All levels of government are required to organize events and dragooning the public to “participate.”

The Dictator took a particularly high profile. The Guardian produced a photo that says rather too much about “loyalty” and absence.

“Sanam Luang, Thailand The Thai prime minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, (centre) and officials have their photo taken in front of a large portrait of the Thai King … Vajiralongkorn … during celebrations for the monarch’s 68th birthday in Bangkok (Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA).” Clipped from The Guardian.

Meanwhile, New Mandala has an anonymous post that summarizes much of what is known about the king. It is unclear why the author undervalues the Crown Property Bureau’s wealth or what causes the author to think that the king distrusts the military and that this distrust is cause for him to remain in Germany.

The author’s claim that “there are small grounds to hope that, if the king is confident that he has achieved his security and royal asset reclamation goals, he could return to Thailand and reign as a constitutional monarch” seems about as misplaced as earlier claims that Vajiralongkorn would “foster a somewhat more open political atmosphere…”.

Vajiralongkorn is erratic, prone to fits of anger, vindictive and narcissistic. He is widely disliked and feared.

Update: On the king being an absentee landlord and monarch, see Ji Ungpakorn’s post on the issue.





Updated: Prem dead I

26 05 2019

The grand old meddler in Thailand’s politics, from the 1980s to recent times, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda is dead, aged 98.

We expect the buffalo manure to be piled high for him as royalists and lazy commentators recall his time in power as an unelected premier as somehow better than now. In fact, Thailand’s politics seems strangely locked in the 1980s, and that’s largely due to Prem and his political and military meddling, promoting lapdogs and loyalists and refusing to accept the will of the people as expressed in elections. Others will not look beyond his “loyalty” to the throne where it must be acknowledged that he did much to promote the palace’s political role.

Update: Readers might like to reflect on Prem’s period as unelected premier. While not a great scan, Gareth McKinley’s 1984 discussion of a coup attempt is useful, with information on lese majeste and the monarchy’s political role. There’s an op-ed from The Nation (3 May 1988) “Prem’s rules of the game: A 1988 guide for laymen” which pokes fun at his leadership “style.”

And it is worth remembering how Prem was forced out in 1988 and “rescued” by the king, also from The Nation, when it produced an Afternoon Extra, from 28 August 1988:

On his 2006 coup role, WikiLeaks was useful. He also supported the 2014 coup, and New Mandala also commented. The BBC produced a profile in 2016, without too many of his warts. One of PPT’s most viewed posts “A country for old men?” is probably worth reading again.





Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia

20 05 2019

New Mandala has posted a series of videos from a recent conference on Entrenched Illiberalism in Mainland Southeast Asia,” recorded at the Australian National University on 8–9 April 2019.

Coming a couple of weeks after Thailand’s “election,” means that there’s something of a focus on that country. Thai participants included Sunai Pasuk, Pasuk Phongpaichit, Aim Sinpeng, Prajak Kongkirati, and Naruemon Thabchumpon.





Corrupting the judicial system

20 12 2018

We recommend Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang’s recent blog at New Mandala titled “Corrupting Thailand’s Court of Justice.” It begins:

A coup cannot be carried out by the military alone. In Thailand’s case, watchdog agencies and the judiciary helped not only to pave the way for the most recent coups in 2006 and 2014, they also contributed to sustaining the ensuing regimes. Some, like the National Anti-Corruption Commission, refuse to investigate the junta’s corruption scandals even while pursuing those of its foes. Others, like the courts, punish dissent to keep opposition at bay. The junta has returned the favour with promotions, salary increases and other perks.

All of that makes the whole article worthy of a solid reading.





A triple threat?

11 07 2017

Academic Nicholas Farrelly, who runs New Mandala, has produced a report for Australia’s Lowy Institute, sometimes described as a “think tank.”

Quite a lot of the Thailand commentary at Lowy has been bland and not particularly analytical, but Thailand’s Triple Threat (only three?) deserves a reading. The abstract is:

King Vajiralongkorn’s elevation to the Chakri throne comes after decades of whispers that he is an unsuitable king for Thailand. Despite these concerns, the military leadership has swung behind their new monarch. But the potential for future turbulence under the government led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha is high. The fluid situation in Bangkok is complicated by the potential escalation and expansion of separatist violence in southern Thailand. The question is how will Thailand respond to the triple threat of King Vajiralongkorn’s ascension, the entrenchment of military rule, and the potential escalation of separatist violence emanating from the southern provinces?

The most likely future for Thailand is one in which the authoritarian instincts of the military and the monarchy reinforce their mutual survival pact. Nevertheless, at the core of Thailand’s triple threat is the possibility that the untested nexus between the new king and the powerbrokers in the military will prove insufficiently strong. Even if everything goes according to plan, today’s authoritarian establishment in Bangkok risks inspiring new challengers to its interests. And if everything goes bad at the same time, Thailand would struggle to maintain its position as one of Southeast Asia’s most successful societies.





Banning a tabloid

8 03 2017

Prachatai reports that “[w]ithout any explanation, Thailand has blocked access to the New York Post.” The tabloid seems an unlikely newspaper to censor as it usually only carries stories that are somewhat kooky, titillate or shock.

The speculation is that the tabloid carried stories on the monarchy that were disliked by either the palace, the king, royalist snitches or some civil or military bureaucrat who stumbled upon them when linking to salacious articles about murderous threesomes of a beauty queen eating pizza (both recent articles).

So we thought we’d search the site to see what they had on Thailand. The most recent stories are of a bear “dropped” from a helicopter and the coin consuming turtle. Then there’s stuff about a python biting a man’s penis as it slithered out of a toilet and the monks breeding tigers. None of this seemed likely to exercise the internet censors or cyber vigilantes.

Back in 2016, there was a story a bit like the one that caused a kerfuffle and denials about Pattaya’s sex trade, “Inside the Thai sex scene — where women are sold like meat.” Perhaps that got some attention. Or maybe a related story bothered a do-gooder, “Gangs of transsexual sex workers are attacking tourists in Thailand.” Yet that is also from 2016.

What about royal stories? We found these, and in feudal-wannabe-absolutist Thailand under the military dictatorship, any of them could have caused censors to spring into action, even if all of them are months old and some are from wire services.

One on the death of the last king seems unlikely to cause offense: Thailand’s king, world’s longest-serving monarch, dies at 88. Another story we found in our search of the period since early 2016 was headlined Thailand prepares to welcome its new kooky king, which, apart from the headline, is a standard report on succession.

It is possible that articles on the prince who is now king might be a reason for censorship. The first story, Thailand’s new king is a kooky crop top-wearing playboy, reproduces the infamous temporary tattoo photos from Munich airport, and has some interesting detail, any line of which may have caused consternation in a palace and regime that wants a more santitized “history”:

… the playboy prince has a reputation among his soon-to-be subjects for bizarre behavior, womanizing and cruelty to his many wives.

Taking a page from Caligula, Vajiralongkorn named his favorite pet, a poodle named Foo Foo, as an air marshal.

He even took the pooch to a 2007 reception hosted in his honor by US Ambassador Ralph “Skip” Boyce.

“Foo Foo was . . . dressed in formal evening attire complete with paw mitts, and at one point during the band’s second number, he jumped up onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses,” Boyce wrote, according to a WikiLeaks document.

“The Air Chief Marshal’s antics . . . remains the talk of the town to this day.”

But tales of the prince’s behavior exist mostly in the realm of rumor in Thailand. The nation has strict laws banning stories about the royal family.

But in 2007, the depravity of Vajiralongkorn’s court was exposed when a video surfaced of his third wife, Princess Srirasmi, a former bar waitress, walking around topless at her own birthday party while eating cake with Foo Foo.

When the dog died last year, it was given a four-day funeral.

Srirasmi has split from the prince after being booted from the Royal Palace in December. In a show of his cruelty, he recently allowed her parents to be thrown in prison for 2¹/₂ years for “royal defamation.”

His earlier two marriages were equally rocky. During his first — to his cousin — he allegedly fathered five kids with a mistress, then married the mistress. Later he dumped her, forcing her to flee the country.

Another story, Thailand’s new king used his poodle to spite his father, could also cause the censorship, beginning with this:

Family relations were a royal bitch for Thailand’s clown prince.

The country’s kooky crop top-sporting playboy prince adopted Foo Foo, the pampered poodle he famously named as an air marshal — all to spite his father, according to a report.

This report cites a 2015 New Mandala story by Christine Gray, commenting on a lese majeste case.

The New York Post also has an article on lese majeste, This is what happens when you insult the new Thai king. This story features video of a “woman accused of insulting the kooky crown prince of Thailand was publicly humiliated and forced to grovel beneath a portrait of the country’s late king,” during the early mourning period for the late king.

If Thailand’s “authorities” are trying to concoct a new hagiographical account of the tenth king, then the internet censors have a huge task ahead of them.





Recent publications of interest

6 03 2017

As long-time readers know, we at PPT sometimes draw attention to works on Thailand by academics. In recent days there have been a few worthy of attention, each published in an easily accessible form:

The first is a New Mandala piece by Jim Taylor: “The perplexing case of Wat Dhammakaya.”

Taylor made a name for himself in the 1980s and 1990s writing on this group, so this piece is worth a read as the military regime and the monarchy try to bring it down.

Then there are a set of articles at the Kyoto Review of Southeast Asian Studies. The papers of Thailand interest in an issue on “Political Assassinations in Southeast Asia” are:

  • Prajak Kongkirati: Murder without Progress in Siam: From Hired Gunmen to Men in Uniform
  • Nuttakorn Vititanon: Assassination in Thai Local Politics: A Decade of Decentralisation (2000-2009)
  • Peera Charoenvattananukul: Rethinking Approaches to the Study of Thai Foreign Policy Behaviours

The issue includes articles on political violence in other parts of Southeast Asia.





On the new king’s accession

3 12 2016

New Mandala has had quite a few insightful article of late. Each looks at aspects of succession, accession and the new king. To link to some of these:

Christine Gray, “Ritual and the demise of Thai democracy

Andrew MacGregor Marshall, “What next for the theatrics of Thailand?”

Paul Sanderson, “Henry VIII of Thailand

Kevin Hewison, “Thailand’s long succession

 





What Trump can learn from the military dictatorship

11 11 2016

In a recent post at New Mandala, a supposedly populist Donald Trump – now U.S. president-elect – was compared with another said to be a populist, Thailand’s  Thaksin Shinawatra. The comparison was a little silly, with the differences seemingly to far outweigh the similarities.Udomdej

Such comparisons might include bad hair and the wide public acceptance of comb-overs. Trump has heinous hair, but so too do many leaders in Thailand. Think of the failed and corrupt General  Udomdej Sitabutr.

Trump can learn that one should never allow that comb-over to get out of control. One must maintain the orderliness of one’s appearance, for appearance can be considered to overcome a dark heart, ignorance or boorishness.trump1

This kind of comparison is no less silly than the one mentioned above. However, we can take this further and consider the characteristics of quite different political leaders.

General Udomdej’s carefully sculpted comb-over and his inability to allow any greying to appear has a lot to do with conceit and arrogance, and the forever orange-tanned and “blonde” Trump certainly displays such characteristics by the truckload.

In a list of characteristics of Thailand’s military regime, and of The Dictator himself, one that ranks high is arrogance.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha has demonstrated remarkable arrogance, dominating the media, as all dictators do, and establishing his “values” as those for the nation. He even “pens” songs that Thais are forced to hear, again and again. The Dictator demands that Thailand be more like him. Narrow, loyalist and conservative.

Trump can learn a bit more about narrow nationalism and enforcing conservatism from the draconian actions of the military dictatorship. Of course, Trump is well known for his arrogance and remarkable hubris. This derives from privilege, wealth and the loyalty of jellyback servants in a hierarchical and dictatorial business organization. For the military dictatorship, loyalty and subservience also rank high. However, The Dictator’s arrogance derives not so much from wealth as from a surplus of power at the head of a murderous and hierarchical organization. The Dictator has shown how to enforce that jellyback subservience by weeding out “opponents” in the state’s organizations. Trump may seek to do similar things in the U.S.Prayuth angry

Related, as we emphasize through our labeling of General Prayuth as The Dictator,  narcissism and egoism drive him. These characteristics are most certainly defining of Trump. Some argued that he has shown the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Yet narcissism is not just a “disorder.” It is a political style that emphasizes authoritarianism and a personality cult.

One characteristic that The Dictator has taken to a remarkable level is disingenuousness. Just lie. Whenever anything mildly disturbing to The Dictator personally or is considered “threatening” to the regime, just lie. We are sure that Trump will have no difficulty following this example. Making stuff up is the essence of an authoritarian regime.

The Dictator and his regime also show the way on double standards. Under this military dictatorship, there are no standards that are not double standards. Again, we have no trouble believing that Trump can quickly adapt this when he becomes president.

Authoritarianism defines the military dictatorship. Liberal values and liberal patience for dissent are expunged. They are expunged from law, practice in the bureaucracy, in the media and educational institutions. In Thailand, this was made easy by the “tradition” of military authoritarianism and interventionist feudalism in the form of the monarchy. In the U.S., Trump will surely build on an illiberalism that has been built in civil society, much of it fostered by religious fundamentalism and conservative nationalism or “patriotism.” We can see him moving against institutions identified with U.S. liberalism. trump2

Anti-liberalism and authoritarianism in Thailand has long been associated with a deeply conservative emphasis on orderliness. This fetish has been fostered by the hierarchy of military and monarchy. Trump is unlikely to rely on the military, although many in the military will be ideologically drawn to him. He may seek to make his family more monarchical, just as The Dictator has adopted characteristics of the dead king.

Misogyny and boorishness have been defining elements of The Dictator’s personality and regime. As we know, Trump has little to learn from The Dictator on these scores. Yet we might understand that these characteristics are a part of a conservatism that allocates privilege to selected groups in society.

Ignorance is another central characteristic of the military dictatorship. The Dictator and his closest colleagues have little knowledge of the world.This group gained its leadership position based on royal posterior polishing and adherence to hierarchy. They have no experience of a real world, even in the military. Trump, for all of his investments, is essentially a New York property developer. He can learn from the military dictatorship that such narrowness simply doesn’t matter when your constituency is boorish and narrow too.

The final characteristic is an inability to “fail” or “lose.” The military dictatorship is never wrong and never gets anything wrong. The problem is “others” who are undermining the regime, opponents of the regime or duped by nasty politicians. Trump can learn from this. He certainly knows that even defeats must be reworked as “wins.” However, the targeting of opponents will likely become his excuse for all kinds of nastiness.

Thailand has demonstrated that authoritarianism is a slippery slope. The country is now at the bottom of the slope. The U.S. is no liberal heaven but Trump can easily knock away some of the remaining checks and balances and the slope gets steeper and the slide down it accelerates.





Updated:Commentary on the recent and next monarchy II

16 10 2016

A few more interesting articles have come out since our earlier post.

New Mandala has two further posts worthy of attention. One is by Christine Gray who writes about the censorship involved in writing about the monarchy. She sees the end of the reign as a chance for positive change but also an opportunity for violence, more censorship and a broth of blood.

Another New Mandala piece by anthropologist Edoardo Siani and historian Matthew Phillips. Unlike the largely trite and treacly journalism of the last couple of days, reflecting decades of subservience to palace propaganda, this post makes some excellent and important observations that go beyond grief and tears.

An oddity in the media is from the SCMP, about the Sino-Thai response to the king’s death. Writing about ethnic Chinese almost seems a throwback to decades past. That said, the king was half Chinese and he played a role in ensuring the loyalty of millions of Chinese congregated around Bangkok. Some of the views expressed are not necessarily in line with the treacly reports mentioned above.

The prince continues to be the focus of most of the critical stories that have become available. A quite extensive story at the New York Times by Alison Smale and Thomas Fuller. Readers will know many of the details of the story yet they are put together in an informative manner, including details from the little German town of Tutzing, on Lake Starnberg, where the prince appears to prefer to reside.

We noticed the comments of former foreign minister Kasit Piromya on the queenly qualifications of the prince’s current spouse, Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya: “She’s an air hostess, very lively, highly intelligent…. She can ski, she can bike. She loves music. She knows what is good wine in Italy.”

The Wall Street Journal had an earlier report we initially missed, on the prince. There’s much well-known stuff – maybe WSJ readers need background – but also some nuggets:

Some people familiar with the situation say he is familiarizing himself with the workings of the Crown Property Bureau, one of the country’s most important landowners and the holding vehicle for much for the monarchy’s wealth.

To say the least, that is certainly an interesting observation.

Update: Andrew MacGregor Marshall has a very important “note” titled “WHAT’S GOING ON IN THAILAND? Confusion reigns as crown prince waits.” Well worth a read.








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