Taunting the regime II

11 08 2020

As King Vajiralongkorn prepares for his third flying visit to Bangkok, courtesy of the taxpayer and Thai Airways, pressure on the regime and the monarchy is rising.

Taxpayers fleeced

The Nation reports on Sunday’s rally in Chiang Mai. It refers to Arnon Nampa’s speech, noting that he “continues speaking out about the role of the monarchy despite facing the risk of being thrown behind bars again and getting his bail cancelled.”

Arnon maintains that “he was exercising his basic constitutional right to join a peaceful demonstration and make comments about the monarchy.”

In Chiang Mai, Arnon is reported to have:

reiterated that the junta-sponsored charter gave excessive power to the King, which is not in line with the principles of a democratic and constitutional monarchy as it allows the King to directly supervise some military units and control the Crown Property Bureau.

Anon also pointed out that His Majesty spends most of his time in Germany at the expense of Thai taxpayers, and urged MPs to raise the issue in Parliament as part of moves to amend the charter.

Interestingly, Arnon was given support by historian Nidhi Eowsriwong. He said “the public has every right to debate the monarchy’s role, as the institution belongs to the country and its people under a democracy.” He added:

military dictatorships, both in the past and present, have tried to separate the monarchy from democracy and use the institution* for their own benefit, which actually puts the monarchy in danger. He also said that military dictators also often use the institution as a tool to destroy other political groups.

Other protest rallies have been held in various places, including in Phitsanulok, where several reports say that student leaders were detained. Khaosod states that officials “detained six anti-government protest leaders…”.

Five leaders “were seized at a protest site close to a temple, and taken to a bizarre ‘attitude adjustment lecture’ deep inside a jungle.” They were taken “to a house inside a forest, where officials questioned them on who funded or supported the protests…”.

The group, who were all released without charge, said they “were given a lecture on history and supernatural forces in the province.”

“They talked about many Thai kings and how they were related to Phitsanulok, what good deeds they did for the country, as well as the sacredness of various supernatural spirits in the province,” the group wrote in an online post.

“They told many other illogical, unprovable myths about the place that we were going to hold the protest at as well.”

Police denied everything, saying: “It’s all fabricated news. It’s all false news…”.

Meanwhile, on Monday, protesters rallied in front of parliament, while at Thammasat University students “launched an anti-government rally under the theme ‘Thammasat will not tolerate’ at their Rangsit campus.”

The regime is also responding, threatening protesters and seeking to promote pro-government/pro-monarchy counter-rallies.

The Bangkok Post reports that Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta protesters that “they must not violate the rights of others nor offend the highest institution* in the country.” He said that “[p]rotecting the monarchy was not only the duty of the government but of the people too…”.

The Post neglects to mention that Buddhipongse is a former leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. As Thai PBS notes, the PDRC “engineered the mass protests against the administration of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra about six years ago” and promoted the 2014 military coup.

Buddhipongse reportedly “dismissed allegations that the PDRC is linked to the royalist protesters.” He did not say anything about his links to the group “led by retired Lieutenant General and a former PDRC core leader Nanthadet Meksawat, [who have] vowed to protect the [m]onarchy.”

Other rightists and ultra-royalists have been busy warning and rallying with regime support. Suwat Liptapanlop sponsored an “event” supposedly “marking Kamnan and Village Heads Day, which was attended by more than 700 kamnan and village heads…”.

The president of the military-backed Association of Kamnan and Village Heads, Sakchai Chartphudsa,  also called on protesters to stop “insulting” the monarchy. He said: “We don’t want them to speak in a way that offends the institution.”*

*”Institution” is a royalist terminology for the monarchy, meant to imply it has a status above law and constitution.

Read these

22 02 2016

If you have time, these stories from the past few days, are worth a look:

Thomas Fuller, New York Times correspondent, has been posted back to the United States. He has an excellent final story, trying to sum up some tumultuous years. It has the disgusting quote from the horrid Abhisit Vejjajiva: “Unfortunately, some people died…”. There’s a lot in the story and we will miss his excellent reporting on Thailand and his efforts to explain the monarchy, its wealth and politics to American audiences.

The Guardian on Princess Sirindhorn’s magnificent Cambodian potty room constructed by Siam Cement Group using its shareholder funds, meaning there’s a magic circle – princess-SCG-CPB-princess. Incidently, if you read the story, you will see that PPT was right to suppose that the royal bum exudes some magical quality to the toilet, meaning no mere mortal can use it after her.

Speaking of money down the toilet, Prachatai has a translation of Nidhi Eowsriwong’s article where he asks: What’s the point of having a military? A very good question! When it was originally published at Matichon Online on 13 January 2016 it created quite a stir, with even The Dictator having a hissy fit that anyone should question why Thailand needs a bunch of money-grubbing murderous, thieving and lying thugs operating with state sanction.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn’s Monk Trouble on the politics of the monkhood under the junta and in the red-yellow splits. PPT can’t follow this stuff too closely so we were pleased that someone tried to explain things.

On a referendum

5 05 2015

PPT has previously expressed reservations about a referendum on the military dictatorship’s draft constitution. The reason for this is that voting yes or no on hundreds of articles in a complicated document seems a futile exercise in constitution making.

However, as Prachatai has reported, a group of “[p]oliticians, labor unionists, academics, and others [have] urged the Thai junta to hold public referendum on the new constitutional draft, pointing out that people have the highest authority to determine the constitution.” That’s conceptually true but not something that the military dictatorship or the royalist elite would concede.

The “Public referendum group,” or Prachamati, has “over 150 leading academics, activists, and others such as Nidhi Eowseewong and Piyabutr Sangkanongul, a leading political scientist and a law scholar from Thammasat University, Chaturon Chaisang, the former Education Minister of Pheu Thai Party, and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, a well known director” signed up to “a joint statement titled ‘[We] call for a democratic public referendum’.”

This statement “demands that the Thai junta must hold a public referendum on the new constitutional draft before its enactment and that if the public does not approve the draft, it should be redrafted by elected parliament members.”

The group adds that an elected Constitutional Drafting Committee would redraft the charter “if the draft is not approved by the public.” Such a strategy opens the way for a concerted No vote on the draft constitution. Elections associated with a referendum and a direct challenge to the military dictatorship’s tyranny sounds good to us. On this occasion, PPT has to agree with the political strategy involved.

Silencing academics

19 09 2014

The May 2014 military coup has send a chill through all those who think and talk about politics.

The military dictatorship, which has strong support from royalists and other anti-democrats, is no different from other authoritarian regimes. It fears freedoms of expression, assembly and thought. Early on, the military junta specifically targeted academics considered unreliable.

While most academics in Thailand are quiescent in the face of repression and threat, and some academic prostitutes applaud repression, it is reported at the Bangkok Post reports that a tiny group who, with students, organized a forum entitled “Democracy Classroom: Chapter 2 – The Decline of Dictatorships in Foreign Countries,” have found the forum closed by the police. In addition, the organizers and academics were taken in for questioning and “re-education” on their defiance of the military.

Naturally enough, the academics had chosen not to speak of Thailand’s military dictatorship. But even the doltish cops realized that any opposition to military dictatorship was potentially dangerous. Well, maybe not, but their military bosses managed to notice.

The result of this intolerance and rising totalitarianism was that retired and well-known academic Nidhi Eowsriwong, Chaowarit Chaosangrat, Janjira Sombatpoonsiri and Prajak Kongkiratiand were hauled off to a police station. So were the student organizers who are a “group of Thammasat students who call themselves the League of Liberal Thammasat for Democracy, or LLTD.” They were subjected to an “attitude adjustment” session from the cops.

The University might have also been in trouble as “soldiers had earlier submitted a letter to the university asking it to prevent such activities.” Yet to date the royalist administration of the once politically-thriving university has prevented politics on campus. In fact, the University’s administration slithered about and “responded to the military’s request by locking a lecture room used to organise LLTD’s last seminar, but the group went ahead with the seminar in the foyer of the building.”

The” police would release the lecturers and students once they reached an understanding with them.” Usually that means signing an agreement to not discuss any politics that offends the prickly leaders of the military dictatorship.

On being middle class progressive

21 02 2013

Nidhi Eowsriwong is a historian who has a considerable audience amongst progressive groups within Thailand. His writings are usually a mixture of liberal political ideas and conservative cultural positions, and it is this that makes him appealing across a pretty wide spectrum of the red-yellow divide. The Bangkok Post reports his address at the “Art for Freedom of Political Prisoners” exhibition launched at the Pridi Phanomyong Institute.Art show PPT has some observations but no real answers to the political challenges identified in Nidhi’s address

Discussing political reform, Nidhi reportedly observed that “[t]he suitable time for adaptation was perhaps gone as the liberal royalists have been reluctant to act on certain moves including supporting the lese majeste and charter amendments…”. PPT understands the thrust of this comment, although the “liberal royalists” is an oxymoron in political terms as the “liberals” amongst them usually turn out to be just plain old conservative reactionaries when political push comes to shove.

Nidhi believes that the “most important thing is that the red-shirt movement has to show that they do not answer to the politicians…”. This is a point that has been made by many “liberal” commentators as well as some of the more radical. It is politically interesting because it has strong connections with a middle-class discourse about “clean politics” that is part of the political argument for the growth of royalism and the political ascendency of the monarchy: politicians are a nasty grasping lot and can’t be trusted, so look for a “white knight” or a charismatic savior (readers will find more on this by opening this PDF).

Observing that “[b]oth the yellow- and red-shirt movements have … [been] spiralling downturns and lost steam,” Nidhi’s liberalism suggests to him that:

The progressive wing of the red-shirt movement must break from the elite-compromising United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) and the ruling Pheu Thai Party to become a push factor in the transitional democracy of Thailand….

Kind of like what political scientists used to call a “pressure group.”

Even though Nidhi admits that “a charter amendment that would create a paradigm shift” is “unlikely” and criticizes that Puea Thai Party-led government for “making compromises with the old elite power,” he argues for a benign reformism. Nidhi believes that “… red-shirt members seem to have the ability and legitimacy to move forward on the unfinished course of democratisation.” He considers the red shirts are characterized by the “lower middle class,” and that this group:Art for Freedom

do not have so many radical political demands such as calling for tax equality which will affect the business sector, so they should and could expand their alliance to include the white collar sector which also wants democracy….

PPT appreciates that this kind of reformism may be a politics of the achievable, yet it does sound very 1980s, when the emergence of middle-class NGOism was seen as a panacea for military dominance and conservative royalism. It seems to us that red shirts are traversing a new path in supporting elections, giving voice to rural and working class supporters, and attempting to push an agenda through the electoral/party system. The Thaksin-Yingluck strategy is conservative, yet the red shirts appear to us to have rejected both royalism and liberal fundamentalism. If this is a transitional political period, then that owes much to rank-and-file red shirts. We think their strategy has been politically more successful than middle-class NGOism. Of course, the struggle is not over.

Rejecting the “historic compromise”

14 02 2012

Rejecting the 1997 constitution

There’s an interesting perspective in the Bangkok Post by Deputy Editor Atiya Achakulwisut, reporting on an academic seminar. It is interesting in a number of ways and suggests how significant the Nitirat claims have been in directing attention to the role of the monarchy.

It is interesting, in the current highly charged context, to see a journalist admit that the monarchy doesn’t function “according to the rules prescribed by the charter,” meaning the constitution. The cited reason for this – tradition – is not, in our view, an adequate explanation, but more on that below.

It is also interesting that academics see the need to debate what should be accepted history. Historian Nidhi Eowsriwong and political scientist Kasian Tejapira agree that ”constitutional monarchy” represents a ”historic compromise” between King Rama VII and the People’s Party.

In fact, that is only partly true for recalcitrant royalists, and Prajadhipok himself, never accepted the compromise. By their actions it is clear that they rejected it. From the time of the 1932 events, they worked persistently for a restoration.  Often that restorationist activism led to quite violent actions.

When Prajadhipok abdicated, the struggles didn’t cease, although the royalists were often on the back foot. However, their dogged determination for restoring the power and wealth of the monarchy was especially clear in 1946 and again following General Sarit Thanarat’s military coups in 1957 and 1958. The story since then is of persistent political intervention and increasing wealth and political power.

Finally, it is interesting that Atiya concludes with a call for more open debate on the role and position of the monarchy:

Under the situation, open debate and the allowance of freedom of expression would be more helpful to society in search of a new balance. It goes without saying that this freedom must be exercised along with mutual respect. Some of the questions regarding the monarchy that have surfaced recently may sound outrageous _ like whether or not the King is under the constitution _ but if we look into the facts, we will realise that it is not something that has not been asked before.

Of course, the question has been asked before, but the power, status and wealth of the monarchy – and lese majeste – has been used to stifle such questions.

Support for Nitirat’s lese majeste reform proposal

19 01 2012

PPT missed this report a couple of days ago, and we post it now because it is significant.

At Matichon, it is reported that a list of significant academics, writers, lawyers and intellectuals in Thailand have supported Nitirat’s call for a review of the lese majeste law. Significantly, and like an earlier international academic call for the law’s reform, it has 112 signatories. Each signatory was listed in a Nitirat pamphlet.

The names include many very well-respected and senior intellectuals. The lead signatories are Charnvit Kasetsiri, Pasuk Phongpaichit and Nidhi Eowsriwong, each of them well-known and respected in Thailand and internationally. Other respected signatories include: Thongchai Winichakul, Thak Chaloemtiarnana, Suchit Wongthes, Seksan Prasertkul, Tanet Charoenmuang, Kasian Tejapira and Kengkij Kitirianglarp.

End lese majeste repression!

30 11 2011

The Bangkok Post reports that the “Santiprachatham Network, a group of well-known academics and social activists in and outside Thailand, has called on the Thai judiciary to better uphold the principles of justice, humanity, democracy and basic rights.”

Their  appeal was made on Facebook and through other social media and referred to the conviction of Ampol Tangnopakul and his 20 year sentence. The appeal points out that there was “widespread criticism about the evidence and reasoning used during the trial” and talked of Thailand’s “flawed judicial system.”

The appeal was signed by well-known academics including Charnvit Kasetsiri, Nidhi Eowsriwong and Thongchai Winichakul. They argue that “Article 112, better known as the lese majeste law, and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act had become tools to create fear rather than justice.” They added that “people who use these mechanisms to suppress people with different political views must realise that their actions will only cause social division and intensify hatred in society.” Further: “Their actions are destroying Thai society in the name of the monarchy…”. This is a remarkably strong statement.

The group also “called for all political parties and political groups to stop using accusations of disloyalty to the monarchy to eliminate people who hold different political beliefs.” It demanded that the Yingluck Shinawatra government “show its courage by pushing for legal reforms and overhaul all lese majeste laws in line with the principles of democracy, rights and liberty of the people without delay.”

An interview with Nidhi

19 04 2011

Those who can understand Thai will be interested in the interview with Nidhi Eowsriwong, reflecting on the use of power, participation, decentralization, political inequality and democracy in Thai society. Amongst other things he comments on lese majeste and the use of the monarchy in politics.

Updated: Reform by the elite and for the elite

11 07 2010

Update: New Mandala is trying to put together alternative profiles of the people involved in the reform panels. Worth a look.

Much of the media has included analysis and reports on the formation and make-up of the so-called reform panels headed by Prawase Wasi and Anand Panyarachun. PPT commented here. The Nation had a useful article a couple of days ago.

While Anand and Prawase as the heads of the National Reform Committee and the Reform Assembly promised a “plan for a better future for the country,” critics pointed out that the “handpicked and appointed” members was claimed to “come from different backgrounds with a vast range of expertise,” there was very limited representation from groups outside the established elite.

For example, yellow-shirt ideologue Chai-Anan Samudavanija was just one of several prominent People’s Alliance for Democracy supporter appointed, along with poet Naovarat Pongpaiboon, who has composed odes to PAD. When it came to representation from “critics,” this came down to well-know figures like political economist Narong Phetprasert, retired academic Nidhi Eowsriwong, monk Phra Paisal Wisalo, historian Srisak Vallibhodhama, former student activist Seksan Prasertkul, and sociologist MR Akin Rabhibatana.

None of these people can be seen to represent the poor or disadvantaged in society. Nor are they uncompromised. For example, Akin has worked for many years at the Crown Property Bureau. Narong has a background in the racist “neo-nationalist” movement of the 1990s.

Anand and Prawase will “gather and analyse facts and information” while also inviting “people to offer their opinions about reforms.” They claim the focus will be on “the problem of social inequality.” PPT suggests that the best way to view these committees are as being an opportunity for the ruling elite – itself not entirely united – to sort out what it is prepared to throw to the masses in order to re-establish its desired state of “social harmony.”

The first meeting of Anand’s panel was greeted by protesters from a group calling itself “Network of Social Activists for Democracy.” They read out a “statement heavily attacking the Anand panel. The statement said that the committee was set up to “buy time” and to act as a government tool in distracting the public attention away from the recent political unrest, in which many people were killed and a thousand others were injured. The statement said participation in the government-initiated reform efforts was tantamount to supporting the government’s legitimacy in the use of force against red-shirt protesters.”

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