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.

NYT and the military’s charter

7 08 2016

The New York Times wonders why a “new constitution that it [the junta] casts as an essential step toward restoring democracy” has seen the junta block “opponents from campaigning against the measure, banned election monitors and restricted news coverage of the referendum.”

It notes that “critics” say the proposed constitution will “extend the military’s influence for years to come.”

We doubt that the “vote will be the first major test of the military’s standing with the public, as much a referendum on the legitimacy of military rule as on the draft constitution” as the NYT suggests.It might have been if the event had been free and fair.

Its wasn’t, for “no matter the outcome, the junta will remain in control until it decides to hand power back to an elected government.” Even then, the military and other unelected bodies will control parliament’s actions. Military-controlled democracy is no democracy.

Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, points to more than 100 arrests for referendum-related “offences.” He says: “This referendum is not legitimate…. This is a redo of a military coup, using fear and intimidation to force Thai people to grant an extension of their control of power.”

Panitan Wattanayagorn, an adviser to the junta declared himself in support of repression: “the public did not need an election campaign that could lead to more strife. Voters can decide by studying the 105-page document…”.

He’s always been a dedicated military pawn and lies about the draft. Almost no one has seen it or read it. It beats PPT why the NYT even speaks with such a dick. Perhaps only to get the expected quotes.

But he does drone: “The section on the parliamentary system [reducing its representativeness]  is quite new in many regards…. It’s an attempt to control and regulate the politicians.”

That’s true. The military and its supporters and acolytes like Panitan hate the idea that the people should freely choose their representatives in a competitive political situation they do not control.

The International Federation for Human Rights is quoted:

The draft charter creates undemocratic institutions, weakens the power of future elected governments and is likely to fuel political instability…. If approved, the charter will allow the military and its proxies to tighten their grip on power and cement their influence in political affairs.

That’s true. The aim is to retain royalist authoritarianism.

A call for US sanctions

24 03 2016

The New York Times had an op-ed by Tom Felix Joehnk, who writes for The Economist from Bangkok and  Ilya Garger, the founder of Capital Profile, a Hong Kong–based business research service.

The piece is right to observe that “since seizing power, the [Thai] junta has become increasingly erratic, incompetent and repressive.” It is right that the “economy is stagnating.” It may be right that the “threat of social unrest is rising.” It is right when it says that The Dictator wants to “ensure real power remains in the hands of the military even after a formal return to electoral democracy.”

Most of all, the authors are correct that getting “Thailand back on track is a matter largely for Thais.”

It is wrong to suggest that “America, which has been the dominant foreign player in Thai politics since World War II, can help rein in the junta’s increasingly dictatorial ways by isolating it from its support base among traditional Bangkok-based elites.”

That time has passed. The US is widely viewed in the elite as part of the Thaksin problem. The more conspiratorial among them think that the US and Thaksin want to bring down the monarchy.

But here’s a neat twist in the story, which would confirm a conspiracy for those who already distrust the US, but which says something unexpected:

Washington instead should isolate the Thai military from its traditional backers to deprive the junta of a crucial source of legitimacy and support. Acting with the European Union, Japan and other allies, America should penalize not only the generals involved in the 2014 coup, but also the civilians the government has appointed to its rubber-stamping institutions.

We have to say that we were bemused at this point, but then this:

The United States is in a strong position to do so. Wealthy Thais have shoveled assets overseas at an astonishing rate since Mr. Thaksin was brought down in 2006. Their annual investments abroad have increased twelvefold, according to the Bank of Thailand….

The call is for sanctions a la Burma. There are lots of issues with sanctions, but the authors suggest “that such measures work better when their goal is moderate and when they are used to pressure otherwise friendly governments, rather than enemies.”

We guess the question for the elite is whether the US is now an enemy or a friend?

NYT condemns junta

14 12 2015

The New York Times has an editorial condemning the military dictatorship in Thailand. No doubt it will anger the junta and ultra-royalists. It may prompt more junta-sponsored protests. We reproduce it in full:

Thailand’s Fear of Free Speech

Since it seized power in a military coup in 2014, Thailand’s military junta, led by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, has become increasingly obsessed with controlling public debate. This reached absurd proportions on Wednesday, when the Thai police announced they were investigating United States Ambassador Glyn Davies for possible violation of the country’s lèse-majesté laws that make royal insult a crime.

The investigation focuses on remarks Mr. Davies made last month reiterating the United States’ concern about efforts by the junta to curb free speech, specifically the “lengthy and unprecedented prison sentences” given to civilians by Thai military courts for violating the same lèse-majesté laws. The government should know that its decision to investigate Mr. Davies only confirms the truth of what he said.

And there is no way his well-founded criticism of the draconian efforts to curb freedom of expression can be construed as insulting to King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In fact, Mr. Davies praised the king in his remarks. But the king is 88 and ailing, and the junta appears intent on maintaining an iron grip at least until after a royal succession.

The junta has come down hard on critics. Media outlets have been raided and journalists, along with academics and politicians, have been sent to camps for “attitude adjustment.” Some of those arrested have disappeared. People have been sentenced to decades in prison for Facebook posts, and the military apparently has plans to reduce Internet traffic to a single gateway it can control.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s once robust economy is floundering, and crime has risen sharply in Bangkok. Farmers – half the country’s population lives in rural areas – are suffering after the worst drought in decades, and a third of the country is living with water rationing.

The junta is also embroiled in a corruption scandal involving Rajabhakti Park, a lavish site it built to honor Thailand’s kings. And, on Thursday, the top investigator into Thailand’s human trafficking rings, Maj. Gen. Paween Pongsirin, announced that he had fled to Australia, where he will seek asylum. He said he feared for his safety after exposing collusion between crime syndicates and Thai authorities.

The best way for General Prayuth to calm growing public frustration, and address the legitimate concerns of the United States and other allies, is to tackle Thailand’s lagging economy, clean up corruption in the military’s ranks and make progress toward drafting a constitution and holding elections for a transition to civilian rule, as the junta has promised. Open public debate is essential to that process.

Updated: The monarchy’s money

3 12 2015

Tom Felix Joehnk is a Bangkok-based journalist.His op-ed for the New York Times is likely to cause some waves. Among other things he says, in the article titled “The Thai Monarchy and Its Money,” says: “the Crown Property Bureau is an antiquated institution of entrenched privilege that operates largely in secret beyond the purview of the government.”

Other snips from the article, which will produce a denunciation and usual “explanation” that the CPB is not personal wealth and that it works for the people and nation, are:CrownProperty

The Crown Property Bureau, which manages the Thai royal family’s properties and investments, controls assets that may amount to as much as 1.9 trillion baht, about $53 billion. It is the biggest corporate group in the country and one of the biggest landholders in the capital. It is also one of the more mysterious arms of the Thai government.

Little is known about how it spends its money. It does not make its financial statements public. Six of its seven managers are appointed by the king. Although the finance minister chairs its board, the government exercises no oversight over its operations.

The Crown Property Bureau’s annual returns today probably near $840 million…. It holds more than 21 percent in Siam Commercial Bank, Thailand’s oldest and most influential bank, and 30 percent in Siam Cement Group, the country’s biggest industrial conglomerate. Its equity wing has a controlling stake in the luxury hotel group Kempinski and minority stakes in the Thailand-based subsidiaries of Honda and other Japanese manufacturers, as well as in domestic firms that run shopping malls, hotels, insurance businesses and fast-food chains.

By law, the Crown Property Bureau’s annual income may be disposed of “at the king’s pleasure.” Its returns are tax-exempt.

The article calls for reform:

The agency must be reformed, for the sake of both the country and the monarchy itself. With Thailand increasingly paralyzed by a political struggle between liberal and reactionary camps, modernizing the Crown Property Bureau would distinguish the palace as an agent for progress.

…the Crown Property Bureau should publish annual reports detailing its investments, land holdings and other assets, as well as its earnings from these assets, the use to which it puts those earnings and its operational costs. The agency should be placed under the control of officials appointed by an elected government.

The entire Thai state needs this latter reform.

The government, in conjunction with the palace, would decide the level of that financial support. It should also decide how to spend the Crown Property Bureau’s dividends.

The agency’s earnings should be partly reinvested and partly handed over to the Thai treasury. None should remain directly at the disposal of the royal family. Consistent with the law that applies to firms in Thailand, these earnings should be subject to tax.

The Crown Property Bureau’s ostensible goal today is to make investments that support Thailand’s development. This, too, must be abandoned; it is an objective best left to the government.

Lifting the secrecy that shrouds the operations of the Crown Property Bureau and placing it back under the control of the government would signal that the Thai monarchy is serious about transparency. Such a reform would send an important message of accountability to the military, politicians and businesspeople, and pave the way for an open economic system, the only kind that is truly compatible with democracy.

We look forward to the response from the military dictatorship and various royalists, both “liberal” and the madder of the monarchists.

Update: According to Khaosod, the New York Times edition printed in Thailand has again been censored. This time for the above story.

The New York Times complained of the “regrettable” lack of press freedom in Thailand today after the Bangkok publisher of its international version refused to run an article deemed too sensitive for the second time this week.

Two days after the International New York Times was published with an empty space on the front page instead of an article on the kingdom’s present economic and social malaise by longtime correspondent Thomas Fuller, today’s opinion page in Thailand was missing a critical op-ed on the role and recommended reforms of the Crown Property Bureau.

“We’ve been notified by our printer in Thailand that they will be blocking another article, an Op-Ed, in today’s International New York Times,” newspaper spokeswoman Eileen Murphy wrote in a statement to Khaosod English. “This second incident in a week clearly demonstrates the regrettable lack of press freedom in the country. Readers in Thailand do not have full and open access to journalism, a fundamental right that should be afforded to all citizens.”

Monarchist fairy tales

26 09 2015

Readers may recall the recent article in the New York Times that discussed the decline of the monarchy and its uncertain future under the military dictatorship.

As has been the pattern of recent years, when any article is not bleating palace propaganda, some official in the toadying Ministry of Foreign Affairs must reply. So it is that, in a Letter to the Editor, New York-based Consul General of Thailand Pornpong Kanittanon replies to the NYT.

As might be expected, Pornpong states: “I take exception to “With King in Declining Health, Future of Monarchy in Thailand Is Uncertain” (news article, Sept. 21).”

It seems that, in taking exception, Pornpong has found a script from 15 or 20 years ago for the “response.”

Using this dated palace propaganda, Pornpong mechanically recites that the “monarchy occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of the Thai people.” In fact, the NYT article more or less stated this.

Pornpong then cuts a page from a 20th century school book stating: “We have the monarchy to thank for keeping us an independent nation that has never been colonized by the West.” Certainly, the current monarch has no role in this, but Pornpong is making a case for monarchy rather than the current monarch.

When Pornpong turns to the incumbent, the story is that the “king works tirelessly for his people, and this is why he occupies a central place in the hearts and minds of Thais.” That’s the old propaganda line. However, the current king has barely been out of hospital for years and has been physically incapable of much “work” for about a decade.

Pornpong then engages in some dictatorspeak: “Freedom of expression is considered an inalienable right in the West. But we have seen so many cases in the world in which free speech without responsibility has brought painful consequences.”

It seems Pornpong has little knowledge of “the West.” The consul-general is simplistically making a case for considering the many cases of lese majeste as necessitating up to 60 years jail for speech and even for gestures.

The world knows that lese majeste is an indefensible nonsense. It is a political tool of fascists, military thugs and frightened royalists.

Mangling perceptions

22 09 2015

The international media is bothering the military dictatorship, not least because The Dictator is about to visit the United States.

The New York Times edition that includes a story on the monarchy’ decline has not been available in a print edition in Thailand as “its local printer in Thailand has refused to print its Asia edition because it featured an article on the ailing king.” The paper’s front-page article was considered “too sensitive.” However, it “can still be viewed online in Thailand.”

Meanwhile, in response to an editorial in the Washington Post from 16 September, “Jailed for a bad attitude,” Thailand’s ambassador has written to defend the junta and its jailing of persons alleged to be political opponents. He’s trying to manage perceptions.

Pisan Manawapat blames “deadly political violence” for having “sent the economy into contraction.”

In fact, it was the paralysis that came from months of anti-democrat protest that did that.

Those who oppose the military dictatorship are not democracy activists, but are claimed to be “[i]nciting lawlessness and divisiveness,” while Pisan bizarrely argues that it is an illegitimate military dictatorship that “hopes to craft a democracy that will be sustainable…”.

He claims, perhaps having neglected to get his story straight, that the “no vote on the draft constitution by the National Reform Council was a response by the majority of members to views expressed by major political parties and elements of civil society that opposed a draft they thought was not democratic enough…”.

Pisan seems to neglect that it is the military junta that banned public discussion of the draft and “re-educated” those who criticized the junta and its draft charter.pinocchio

He sees “democracy is a work in progress in Thailand” despite the fact that the junta cannot be criticized and political opponents are repressed. Democracy cannot be formed on such rotten foundations.

But, never mind, it is the attempt to shape perceptions that matter. Say the military dictatorship is building democracy and maybe someone will believe it.

For the U.N. audience and the American media, The Dictator will emphasize “reforms” on the “trafficking of people and wildlife as well as illegal fishing.” He will say his dictatorship is promoting “sustainable development, reducing inequality, building peace and fighting climate change.”

General Prayuth Chan-ocha is going to have a very long nose as he “shapes” perceptions of his dictatorial regime. He can compare his snout with the ambassador’s proboscis.