Commentary on the recent and next monarchy I

15 10 2016

Assuming that the monarchy continues in one form or another, there’s some interesting commentary sparked by the king’s death. (The end of the monarchy following the 9th reign has been a prophesy heard previously – clicking the link downloads a PDF considered illegal in Thailand.)

Of course, there’s lots of hagiography too, reporting much that has been said about the king previously. A quick look at any news source in Thailand shows only this kind of reporting. Claims that the king was above politics and a force for stability were criticized years ago, as can be seen in the PDF linked above.

Here is some of the more interesting material currently available:

France 24 has an AFP story that “follows the money,” with a story on “one of the world’s richest monarchies, with a multi-billion-dollar empire spanning property, construction and banks.” One estimate is that the Crown Property Bureau is worth almost $60 billion. PPT would add that each of the royals is individually wealthy and each of them sponges off the taxpayer as well, so this is a fabulously wealthy capitalist conglomerate. If there is a competition for the top spot, then there are plenty of spoils for the winner/s.

The king’s unauthorized biographer Paul Handley has an op-ed at The New York Times. His conclusion is:

This is a bleak backdrop for the end of King Bhumibol’s reign. He was the model of a great king — modest, earnest and selfless, with his attention focused on the neediest. But he has left Thailand, as well as his heir, in the same situation he inherited all those years ago: in the hands of corrupt and shortsighted generals who rule however they want. And those King Bhumibol cared about the most — the Thai people — must suffer the consequences.

We are great fans of The King Never Smiles, but we are not convinced that the modest, earnest, selfless stuff isn’t buying palace propaganda (see the story above). We do agree that Thailand is currently in the “hands of corrupt and shortsighted generals,” we’d just point out that that was not the situation when the late king came to the throne. It was the Democrat Party’s founders, the old princes and other diehard royalists who used the death of the new king’s brother to overthrow a civilian regime. This was the first successful royalist coup.

Over at New Mandala, academic Lee Jones has an article called “The myth of King Bhumibol,” writing of his “weakness” of the king and identifies him as “a divisive and negative force for Thailand’s politics and democracy…”. We agree on the latter points but are not sure about the “weakness.” We think it better to view the monarchy and military as partners in anti-democratic rule.

Also at New Mandala, Nicholas Farrelly has an assessment of the king’s legacy. His view is of the king as a product of palace propaganda and image-making. He concludes: “But in late moments of reflection he [the king] may have regretted that his country became so ill prepared for mature leadership transitions and that his own charisma had been so regularly mobilised against the political wishes of the Thai people.” We doubt he regretted this. He considered Thais as children requiring discipline and direction and he provided it, for a while.

And, in another New Mandala piece, anthropologist Christine Gray writes about talking about monarchy. She writes about the past failures to challenge reporting and scholarship that was too accepting of palace propaganda. She makes an interesting point when she says “it seems tacky to criticise the dead” and then says it is necessary. She’s anticipated a ever stronger line on social media that argues that “now is not the right time for criticism.” It seems it is never the right time to be critical of the monarchy.

Along the same lines, Peter Symonds at WSWS has some useful observations. On not being truthful, he observes:

The king’s death was greeted with a wave of nauseating accolades from heads of state and political leaders around the world. US President Barack Obama issued a statement declaring that Bhumibol was “a tireless champion” for economic development and improved living standards. The UN General Assembly and Security Council stood in silent tribute. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised Bhumibol’s “legacy of commitment to universal values and respect for human rights.”

The international media followed suit, focussing on the outpouring of grief among the king’s supporters. The phrase “revered by the Thai people” appears in article after article, which either gloss over or completely ignore the Thai monarchy’s staggering wealth and its support for the country’s long succession of military coups and abuse of democratic rights.

The tabloids are also at work. The Mirror has been at it and so has the Daily Mail. The New York Post has a story titled “Thailand’s new king is a kooky crop top-wearing playboy.” It reproduces some of the lurid stories about the crown prince – the Post might say clown prince. Srirasmi is mentioned. There’s other critical commentary, including by a former Australian ambassador to Thailand.

Thai republicanism

19 07 2016

In a post at New Mandala, academic Patrick Jory writes of the history if Thai republicanism. Much that he mentions will be known to those who study Thailand’s modern history. However, by bringing this into a story about republican roots, its development and links to the present, Jory provides a useful and revealing account.

Republicanism itself has a long history in political philosophy and its political usage and understanding has changed over time.

Academic boycott II

23 06 2016

At the end of May, we posted on a call by Professor Thongchai Winichakul, made at New Mandala, for academics and three sets of conference organizers to think carefully about the consequences of holding academic conferences in unfree Thailand under the military dictatorship.


There was an unsatisfactory response from the International Convention of Asian Scholars (ICAS), seemingly misunderstanding the situation in Thailand, although New Mandala’s new format seems to have removed the comments from the article.

Now New Mandala has published a response from Professor Chayan Vaddhanaphuti on behalf of the Organising Committee of the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies (ICTS13). This story has comments with it, currently featuring several comments by Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

For us, the critical point in Chayan’s post is that he affirms that any academically-qualified paper will be accepted, no matter what the topic, but adds this:

It goes without saying that presenters who wish to discuss issues of political sensitivity, such as the military coup, the monarchy or Article 112, will need to use their own judgement in presenting their arguments. The Organising Committee will neither interfere in topic selection, nor will the Committee or host institution (Chiang Mai University) be in a position to guarantee the safety of presenters whom the government at the time of the conference deems to have breached Thai laws.

Academics wanting to present on a range of political topics will need to consider the possibility that they could be arrested, detained or expelled from Thailand. We would also suggest that the Organizing Committee’s response is fraught with problems and unexplained issues. Think about the monarchy. If a paper is considered lese majeste by the regime, then those who accepted the paper for presentation and who provided a platform are also liable for prosecution under Article 112.

Dictatorship as the “standard form of government”

6 06 2016

In a commentary at Japan’s Nikkei, academic Nicholas Farrelly, one of the founders of New Mandala, looks at Thailand’s “standard form of government,” the military dictatorship.

He notes that since the May 2014 coup, “General Prayuth Chan-ocha and his ruling clique have taken to the stage with relish” and he observes that Prayuth has a “deep commitment to eliminating the political influence of perceived enemies.” Those “enemies” are politicians who kept winning elections and their supporters. Prayuth wears his anti-democrat color on his sleeve and it is bright yellow.Prayuth

That is why, As Farrelly, says, a “fundamental worry for Prayuth’s team [he means the junta] is that any movement towards a democratic system of government opens the door to the return of forces allied with deposed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.”

This is why “Prayuth’s preferred constitution” is essentially anti-democratic, aimed at “stopping Thaksin and anyone who might seek to emulate his electoral success.”

Interestingly, Farrelly argues that the 2007-14 period was one where the military played a political game – with lots of violence – in order to be in a position to “fully re-assert control.” He adds that they want to control succession.

One reason they are now so motivated to maintain that stranglehold is that King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s health continues to fade. After his 70 years on the throne, Thailand will eventually confront succession.

Along the way, Prayuth’s junta has relentlessly disenfranchised voters, reinstated repressive measures not seen since the 1970s and appeared dinosaur-like to many outsiders and some investors. All of this has put the old elite back in charge:

What will count … is the negotiation of power among a Bangkok-focused elite — the palaces, their loyal generals, bureaucratic and judicial servants, and the right kind of top business players. That small circle wants to shape the rules such that their incumbent advantages accrue to the next generation and the one after that.

There seems “no obvious end to its self-inflicted wounds.” The military has been firmly entrenched on the political stage.

Academic boycott I

29 05 2016

Thongchai Winichakul has a post at New Mandala asking questions about three academic conferences to be held in Thailand in 2017 and using the word “boycott.” Clipped from his post, these are:

  • The 13th International Conference on Thai Studies (ICTS), hosted by Chiang Mai University, 15-18 July 2017 (deadlines for proposals: 30 August 2016 for panels, and 30 November 2016 for individual papers);
  • The 10th International Convention of Asian Scholars (ICAS) by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), hosted by Chiang Mai University, 20-23 July 2017 (deadline for proposals: 10 October 2016);
  • The 2nd Conference for Southeast Asian Studies in Asia, by the Consortium for Southeast Asian Studies in Asia (SEASIA), hosted by Chulalongkorn University.

Thongchai Winichakul

Similar questions were raised in 2007 regarding the 2008 ICTS at Thammasat University. (Reading the responses to that post are enlightening of the darkness that haunts academia, both local and international.)

There is no academic freedom in Thailand. Calls have been made for academic freedom, but the military dictatorship brooks no interference in its reactionary work. The few activist students and academics are continually threatened by the junta and in the “suspect” areas of the country, the military actively police campuses. Several Thai academics have been forced to flee the country and yet their families are still harassed. The control of all universities in the country is effectively in the hands of royalist academics and administrators.

Given all of this evidence, it is reprehensible that the 10th International Convention of Asian Scholars (ICAS) and the 2nd Conference for Southeast Asian Studies in Asia should decide to hold their events in Thailand well after the 2014 military coup and when Thailand is the only military dictatorship in the world. After all, the debate that took place in the International Studies Association in 2014 and 2015 saw its ISA Global South Caucus Conference removed from Chulalongkorn University and Thailand (see here, here and here). Yes, sigh, they moved it to another state where academic freedom is restricted, but at least they were not meeting under a military dictatorship.

Academics are a broad and usually pretty divided and politically weak “group.” In many ways, the “group” is if representative of anything, reflecting a broader set of interests in society, often connecting with the powers-that-be.

Think of Thailand, where academics have tended to consider themselves a part of the bureaucratic section of the elite. Thai academics have a history of sucking up to and supporting military regimes and salivating over positions with governments that provide money and prestige. When General Prem Tinsulanonda was unelected prime minister, he surrounded himself with prominent professors keen to promote “semi-democracy,” military and monarchy. In more recent times, royalist academics have donned yellow shirts and supported all kinds of fascist ideas. Others serve the military dictatorship, including Panitan Wattanayagorn and Bowornsak Uwanno.

Academics are also lacking in political intestinal fortitude.

Think of Singapore, which has some of the world’s top-ranked universities, but where academics almost never challenge the status quo. If they do, they are quickly punished.

Nothing much came of the call to boycott ICTS in 2008. One of the commentators on the boycott opposed it, saying: “These days you have to be Swiss and drunk and in possession of a spray can to be charged with les [sic.] majeste. Most academics do not fit this profile, at least during working hours.” How wrong that was, then and since.

The opposition to the ICTS was “bought off” by special offers. As New Mandala’s Andrew Walker stated then:

At the time I was substantially in agreement with the call for a boycott. But subsequent events have persuaded me to attend. The key events have been the organisation of a series of panels in which the Thai monarchy will be subject to concerted academic scrutiny. As far as I know this public scrutiny is a first for Thailand (if not the world).

This is something like the call made by Thongchai in his New Mandala post. He suggests that “[a]nother approach to support our colleagues in Thailand is to make these events as vibrant, academically rigorous and critical as possible, to help push the boundaries of debate further.”

That was the “compromise” in 2008. Not much came of that brief and controlled moment of “freedom.” Academics are always suckers for such political maneuvers. Yes, there were some papers on the monarchy, but the academic environment has deteriorated remarkably since. The political environment in Thailand is far worse than in 2008.

Should there be a boycott? Absolutely. Will there be an organized boycott? No. Will some academics boycott. Yes. Some of this will be enforced as several academics, including some Thai academics living overseas, are effectively banned from Thailand and fear arrest if they attend a conference.

Updates on Somsak and LINE

12 04 2016

A couple of updates of record.

First, several outlets have reported the good news that Dr Somsak Jeamteerasakul, currently in political exile in France, has seen the Central Administrative Court rule that his dismissal by Thammasat University without pension and other benefits “was unlawful, thus reinstating Somsak’s status as a lecturer at Thammasat.” The university may appeal, which would be retrograde and spiteful.

Second, New Mandala has tracked down the “offending” LINE “stickers” that recently caused a royalist kerfuffle. It has more information on these:

The set called “Silly Family” featured 41 stickers cleverly poking fun at the politically controversial clan. In Thailand, critical public discussion of the family has been banned under the nation’s notorious and harsh lese majeste laws.

The satirical set depicts Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn and Princess Sirindhorn competing for their father’s attention and squabbling over the throne. It also portrays Princess Chulabhorn next to a chemistry set underneath the caption “Trust Me”, referencing her numerous and questionable honorary degrees in the field, as well as featuring the Crown Prince’s spoiled poodle Foo Foo.


Rose on lese majeste

24 06 2015

Lese majeste victim Chatwadee Rose Amornpat has an open letter posted at New Mandala, addressed to US President Barrack Obama, referring to the cases of several others left but not forgotten in jails in Thailand. Using links to PPT, she states:

Hundreds are now in jails throughout Thailand. Some are now serving 10 or 20 years. This is a travesty of justice. They are not criminals but brave individuals who dare to speak against this barbaric and unjust law and those who benefit from it.

For example, Darunee Charnchoensilpakul was sentenced to 18 years in jail on lese majeste charges on 28 August 2009. The trial, conducted in secret in a closed court, saw her receive six years for each of three comments she made at a political rally. The case made a mockery of Thailand’s judicial processes. She is now serving her seventh year in Thai prison and is in poor health.

Darunee is now suffering from an acute gum infection and yet the prison warden has refused her proper medical treatment. This is a way to further torture her for criticising the so-called “Father of the Nation.”  It is believed that her maltreatment would lead her to finally confess and seek a pardon from the Thai king. So far, Darunee refuses to admit that she did anything wrong.

Another 112 prisoner worth mentioning here is the case of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a former editor of a pro-democracy magazine who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for publishing an article deemed lese majeste. He, too, refuses to admit that he did anything wrong and is now in his fourth year in prison. Both distinguished individuals deserve a Nobel Peace Prize to say the least.

In royal service

20 02 2015

Readers may have noticed a report, mainly about a threat to Thailand’s airline industry on safety grounds, that was headlined “VIPs stranded as Nok Air cancels flight.” Discussants at New Mandala have pointed out that the “VIPs” were an interesting lot, accompanied by a hoard of reporters:

All 85 passengers, including many premium passengers and 40 news reporters, had to leave the aircraft and wait at Nan Airport while airline maintenance staff undertook repair work.

VIP guests included privy councillor Palakorn Suwannarath, [puppet] National Reform Council president Thienchay Kirananada, PTT chairman and former Thai Airways president Piyasvasti Amranand, and Bank of Thailand Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul.

Helpfully, another discussant points out that this gaggle of “VIPs” and the trailing reporters were all there to cover a gross royal event featuring the burly Princess Sirindhorn trailed by The Dictator, who has ordered that her birthday be the subject of nationwide “celebration.”

Even with a flagging economy and seemingly important political tasks to be completed, the “VIPs” remain little more than servants of the royals. They buff royal posteriors, wasting billions in taxpayer funds because the monarchy is the keystone of their political and economic dominance.

Old book leads to new lese majeste charge

1 09 2013

Just revealed at Facebook by Andrew MacGregor Marshall, a new lese majeste case, apparently now underway in Bangkok.

Marshall produces a name-redacted PDF of the prosecutions charge sheet that can be downloaded here (6 pages). Remarkably, this case in 2013 apparently refers to a sale of The Devil’s Discus, a book printed in 1964, and translated into Thai and circulated in various forms over many years in some libraries and passed from hand to hand by interested readers.Devils Discus

The Devil’s Discus, authored by Rayne Kruger, on the still unexplained death of King Ananda Mahidol is not readily available. Nor is the Thai-language version กงจักรปีศาจหลัง, but see commentary here. There’s also a long discussion at New Mandala from 2008.

It seems the unfortunate bookseller currently charged sold a copy of the book or distributed a copy of what we assume was the Thai translation. However, we are somewhat confused by the quotes in the translation, which are from the English version. Perhaps Marshall’s translators simply cut-and pasted from that version.

What follows is the unofficial translation of the charge, provided by Marshall, which includes inaccurate information put forward by the prosecutor such as quoting a theory that the present king shot his brother by accident or intentionally; in fact, Kruger rejected this possibility in favor of suicide.

At the time the wrongdoing in this case took place, and at present, Thailand is a democratic country with a king of the Chakri dynasty as the Head of State, and His Majesty King Bhumibol … is the current king, Rama IX. According to the Thai Constitution of 2007, Article 2, “Thailand adopts a democratic form of government with the King as Head of State”, and Article 8, “The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated.”

On May 2, 2006 after midnight, the defendant immorally dared to distribute the book entitled The Devil’s Discus, which has messages/information defaming/violating King Bhumibol….

Some passages in of The Devil’s Discus are as follows:

1. The accident theory has been shown to be almost worthless, but this has been on the assumption that Ananda was alone when he died. However, the fact that the boys always played with their guns together, and the less well-known fact that the high-spirited Bhoomipol sometimes playfully pointed a gun at Ananda who sternly told him not to, has given rise to a far more persuasive theory, which continues to be held by most Westerners.

2. It is that Bhoomipol visited the sick Ananda and while they were playing with the .45 he accidentally fired it. No one ever gave more authority to this idea than Bhoomipol himself, by his extraordinary change from gaiety throughout his seventeen years preceding Ananda‟s death to unsmiling gravity in the following fourteen.

3. Before the fatal shot, the Royal Nanny and Bhoomipol were in and out of the playroom and Bhoomipol’s bedroom at the same time. She was in the bedroom putting away movie films when she heard the shot and rushed out, while Bhoomipol said he heard not a shot but a shout which drew him from the playroom. This difference is as odd as their lack of reference to each other in their respective testimonies; indeed Bhoomipol even said he saw no one. Moreover he said the shout drew him out to the front porch where, directly along the front corridor to Ananda‟s study, he met the lady-in-waiting. If indeed the study door was for some reason left unlocked, it is theoretically possible for him to have gone this way to Ananda, and after the accident run out by the same door, unremarked by the two pages in the back corridor outside the dressing-room but encountering the lady-in-waiting.

4. These facts may mean that Bhoomipol got the pistol out as he stood next to his brother‟s bed, playfully pointed it, accidentally fired it, and after an instant of stupefied horror let it drop and ran out: the pistol could then have been where it was found. Now however unfavourable all this is to Bhoomipol, how much more so does it become if the theory were not one of accident but murder. The notion that he visited Ananda then tends to indicate sinister intent, else he would have used the dressing-room entrance where the two pages were stationed (to his knowledge, since he had spoken to them there). A clear motive can be presumed, the ambition to be King.

5. Add the unreliability of his testimony in that he said he never heard the shot though the Royal Nanny did, that he never saw anyone though he could hardly have missed seeing the Nanny if he was where he said he was, and that he never noticed where Ananda‟s right (that is, firing) arm was though everyone else did. Add, finally, his conversation that night with the Royal Physician, when besides asking him not to leave him he spoke in favour of the accident theory although he should have known that the .45‟s safety device, if not Ananda‟s habitual caution, rendered the theory highly improbable.

6. The resulting tally of suspicion is such that had Prince Bhoomipol been charged with regicide, and precisely the same reasoning and attitude been applied by the judges as they adopted in convicting the three accused, he must certainly have been condemned. But strip it down and what are we left with but faint shadows and surmise. The same simple reason that makes the impartial observer reject the case against them must also acquit Bhoomipol: there is absolutely no evidential link between him and the shooting.


Whoever reads the aforementioned passages would be led to understand that King Rama IX was involved in causing of the death of King Rama VIII, either by accident or intentionally. Therefore such statements represent defamation of the King to a third person, in a manner that discredits and creates hatred for the King.

News on lese majeste

15 04 2013

We have been informed by a democracy solidarity group that Australia’s Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) has passed a motion to support the call for solidarity for the coming May Day rally in Thailand and, significantly, they propose to call on Australia’s peak union body, the Australian Council of Trades Union (ACTU) to send a high-level delegation to visit Somyos Prueksakasemsuk in prison. The plan is to also invite other global unions be part of delegation to visit Somyos.

The VTHC Executive on 13 April 2013 had this:somyos

To our comrades and friends in Thailand:

We have witnessed the harsh sentence of labour activist Somyot on 23 Jan 2013, to 11 years jail, under Article 112. We have witnessed the continued use of Article 112 to charge, sentence and imprison activists and civilians in Thailand. This is a sign that human rights and democracy in Thailand are worsening. A democratic country does not have political prisoners, and it does not use draconian laws to suppress freedom of expression.

We renew our call upon all comrades and friends in the labour movement worldwide to pledge their support for international working people’s solidarity and for the continuing struggle for democracy in Thailand.

We will continue to make our voices heard until all political prisoners are free in Thailand.

We pledge to use the occasion of the International Labour Day / May Day to:

Demand the immediate release of Somyot

Demand the immediate release of all political prisoners in Thailand

Demand the abolition of Article 112 (The Lese Majeste law)

We ask the ACTU to take up these demands – by sending a delegation to Bangkok, to make direct representation to the government of Thailand, and to visit Somyot in prison. We also ask the ACTU to invite representatives of Global Union Federations to participate in this.

We say to Somyot, to the other political prisoners, and to our comrades and friends in Thailand: We are still with you and we will be continuing to struggle for your freedom and for the abolition of Article 112.

Motion Carried

At New Mandala, there is an interview with Joe Gordon. The questions aren’t very penetrating and there isn’t a lot that is particularly new, especially for those who follow Joe on Facebook. However, this point is worth repeating:

A Bangkok Post photo

A Bangkok Post photo

If Thailand wishes to become a civilised nation, it has to abolish this anachronistic law. The world has changed. And Thailand is no longer been under absolute monarchy. The Thai monarchy will have to act as prescribed by the constitution. It will need to adjust itself to the changing political and social circumstances. The British monarchy has survived mainly because it has learned how to live with democracy. Furthermore, the budget for the monarchy must be transparent and accountable. And since members of the royal family are public figures, they must be open to criticism. Glorification of the monarchy has long taken place in Thailand; it is unrealistic and a fabrication. Other institutions which have forged intimate ties with the monarchy will need to adapt themselves too. For example, the judiciary, known to serve as an instrument of the monarchy, is also in crisis. As long as they are not ready to live with a new reality, Thailand’s true democratisation will not take place.

Joe is one of the few who has been convicted on lese majeste charges who has gone on to actively campaign against Article 112. His activism is important and welcomed.