Royalist regime fighting for the past

24 01 2022

While not a new revelation,

He explains:


On a recent visit to a cinema in Bangkok, I was reminded of the dual role that movie theaters play in Thailand. One, of course, is to show films, local and foreign. The other is to reinforce in the audience a belief that their monarch serves as a unifying pillar in the Southeast Asian kingdom. That lesson plays out just before the main feature, when the screen in the darkened auditorium displays a message requesting the audience to stand as the strains of the king’s anthem fill the hall, accompanied by images of the king’s achievements….

The response of audiences — standing up for the anthem — was almost universal until the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in late 2016 ended a 70-year reign.

We think this is something of an overstatement. We recall that in the mid-1970s, when the royal stuff came on at the end of the film, many bolted for the exits to escape the hagiographic kitsch. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, audiences at movies and concerts often waited outside until the royal propaganda was finished and then rushed to their seats. But back to the story today:

But something quite different is now going on in cinemas….

[A]t Siam Paragon, a high-end mall in Bangkok’s upmarket shopping district…, [w]hen the familiar request to stand flashed across the screen to the strains of the royal anthem, only a middle-aged Thai couple stood up. The rest of the audience, which mostly consisted of younger Thais, sat impassively through the entire anthem as if it were perfectly normal.

… The display of silent defiance has gathered momentum in recent months; it has been noted by many Thais on social media and is discussed openly….

For the moment, the government appears at a loss on how to respond to this discreet but public challenge to the cinema reverence ritual. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the ex-army chief and former junta leader, has appealed to young people not to give in to peer pressure.

Yet, Thai cinemas have emerged as a new frontier for a generational zeitgeist. They have given a decisive answer to the question of whether or not to stand, something that seemed inconceivable just two years ago. From this perspective, Thai cinemas provide an inflection point in which the simple act of going to the movies becomes a political statement.

The royalist response to this anti-monarchism – or at least the rejection of the palace propaganda – is deepening. As they have for many years, it is the regime and the military are taking the lead.

Former red shirt, now paid turncoat, Seksakol/Suporn Atthawong, a vice minister attached to the Office of Prime Minister continues his boss’s conspiracy theory-inspired campaign against NGOs. Amnesty International is his main target. He claims – and it is a lie – that “NGOs that are supporting the three-hoof mob [he means the 3-finger salute] to destroy the country’s stability and abolish the royal institution…”. He means the monarchy.

He salivates over the AI target:

Amnesty International is an illicit organization that must be held accountable for its actions, and must be prosecuted to the fullest…. We should not give in to organizations that undermine national security.

Here, by national security, he means the monarchy. What did happen to his lese majeste charge? Oh, yes, he sold himself to the military rightists.

As in so many other places struggling with authoritarianism,

Seksakol’s gambit is typical of Thai ultra-royalist fringe politics. But as his position in the prime minister’s office attests, the fringe has migrated gradually to the center and the top of the Thai governing establishment since the military coup led by Prayut 2014. Facing a legitimacy deficit, Prayut’s current military-backed administration (direct military rule technically ended with the holding of a flawed election in 2019) has relied heavily on the blunt force of Thailand’s controversial lese majeste law, which outlaws any critical comment about the king or the monarchy, to silence critics and quash protests.

The regime is planning to stay. Forget all of the parliamentary realigning. This is about maintaining the political status quo well into the future through another rigged election. And just to help it along, the regime has extended its state of emergency. Thailand has been under this kind of draconian control for most of the period since the 2014 coup. This situation allows the military, police, ISOC and the judiciary to keep a lid on anti-royalism.

How it deals with the more passive rejection of the monarchy and the regime requires more propaganda, more surveillance and more repression. It means keeping Thailand in its past and rejecting the future. All in the name of the monarchy.

Further updated: “The end of Thailand as an open society”

21 01 2022

Referring to the regime’s efforts to control and delete NGOs it despises for their independent political line, a Bangkok Post editorial states the obvious: “NGOs in society might be entering a dark age.”

It observes:

The government is jumping on the bandwagon of nationalist governments, like the one in China, or those increasingly looking inward, like India’s, to tighten monitoring of foreign NGOs….

Like it or not, the anti-NGO sentiment might signal the end of Thailand as an open society, too….

So far, society has tolerated NGOs. Even if some of their campaigns touch on politically sensitive issues, the government has never expelled any NGO.

Yet the bill — which is to be tabled in parliament for its final reading soon — will become a game-changer that turns Bangkok into a second Beijing…. If passed, it will give the authorities the power to further audit and regulate NGOs.

Under military and military-backed regimes, political space has always been limited and controlled. In general terms, these regimes – including the current despots – have concentrated on locals identified as enemies of regime, status quo and monarchy. At times this has let to massive bloodletting in order to maintain the status quo of the Cold War and post-Cold War eras.

As the (usually hopeless) National Human Rights Commission points out, this backward-facing regime has made the so-called justice system a political weapon. The NHRC reports that “violations of people’s rights in the judicial process were the most common form of complaints lodged with the … NHRC … last year.” It added that the “complaints concerned the Royal Thai Police, the Department of Corrections and the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc).”

We are unsure how the military-political agency ISOC fits into to a justice system. But this is the military’s and royalists’ Thailand.

On the ground, repression continues unabated, mostly in the name of the keystone of the ruling class, the monarchy. A recent example is the police raid on one of the truly independent publishing outfits in the country, Same Sky, publisher of Fa Diaw Kan.

Some 30 police – yes, 30 – “raided the Same Sky publishing house on Thursday, but failed to find a book deemed a threat to national security.”

They mean the monarchy.

The police were desperate to find a book “Sathaban Phra Maha Kasat and Sangkhom Thai” (The Monarchy and Thai Society). The “book contains the speech human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa delivered at a rally at the Democracy Monument on Aug 3, 2020 calling for reform of the [monarchy].”

Yes, that’s a book the authorities fear is somehow threatening to bring down the whole ruling class and its state. All very Nazi-like, or borrowing from the Post above, rather more like the Chinese Party-State versus the independent media in Hong Kong.

The hordes of brown-shirted cops “did seize mobile phones and editor Thanapol Eawsakul’s computer, to search for incriminating evidence.” Maybe they’ll just put this evidence on his machines, as they have been known to do in the recent past.

Same Sky stated: “The publishing house does not distribute the book…”. But Same Sky is popular among those who oppose the military-backed regime and has a history of critical and well-researched analysis of the monarchy.

Add this to recent efforts to further constrain the already cowed media and Thailand’s future looks like a dark age, and not just for NGOs.

Update 1: This post marks PPT’s 13th Anniversary. It is not an anniversary to celebrate. Things are getting worse and there are more political prisoners than when we began this blog. PPT remains dedicated to those who are held in Thailand’s prisons, charged with political crimes.

Update 2: Prachatai has posted on the raid targeting Same Sky and Thanapol Eawsakul. PPT has posted the English version of the book the police want here.

Crushing democracy II

8 11 2014

The Bangkok Post reports on an interesting story that has developed out of northeastern Thailand, and which has been explored at Prachatai too (here, here and here).

The Post report is of non-governmental organisations having “decried the 2nd Army’s decision to summon 17 northeastern activists for opposing the military government’s reform efforts.”

The NGO Coordinating Committee (NGO-Cord), which has generally been politically quiet, “has denounced the interrogation of the activists, saying it undermines the military’s own efforts to push national reforms.”

We said “quiet” to imply that the largely middle-class NGO-Cord has been tinged yellow, and its statement that the military is doing anything like “national reform” is yellow silly.

But even this lot can’t fathom why the military dictatorship goes after NGOs like this. Yes, the groups did send out “a statement saying they would boycott reform efforts initiated by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO),” but that shouldn’t bother The Dictator. So what’s going on?

In fact, the NGO statement made some observations, telling the truth about the current situation. They said they “will not cooperate with military-dominated bodies including the cabinet, the National Legislative Assembly and the National Reform Council because they disagree with the coup.”

That set the men in green running about seeking to suppress and “re-educate.” The “2nd Army either summoned activists by phone or sent soldiers and state officials to their homes before taking them for interrogation at military camps throughout the week…”.

Like the more than 500 called in after the May coup, the “17 were asked to sign papers consenting not to participate in political activities or criticise the military in public.”

According to Prachatai, now 12 “organizations of young activists, including the Southern Thailand Activist Network, Student Volunteers for the Defence of Democracy, and the Human Rights Law Promotion Group for Society (Dao Din Group), on Thursday issued a joint statement against the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)…”. They mean the military junta.

They the earlier statement “No Reform under the Boot of the Military,” that the original 17 made, “denouncing the junta’s regime.” The group’s declared to the junta :

  • Stop forcing people to love certain institutions and governing systems.
  • If the NCPO wants to change people’s perspectives, public forums should be held.
  • Power should return to the people and people’s voices should not be ignored.

Sounds reasonable and moderate to us.

Updated: Asian NGOs call for a peaceful solution

13 05 2010

Update: For the red shirt press release on the protest and road map, see here.

*** (11 May 2010) reports that a group of 43 Asian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have written the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thailand, “urging the government to avoid violence to end the political crisis that has paralysed the country for the past two months. They are concerned about the tense situation, and strongly condemn the recent violence in the streets of Bangkok, calling on both sides to find ‘a peaceful solution’.”

The letter “called on the authorities to respect international legal standards and establish an independent panel to look into the violence of 10 April, which left 25 dead and more than 900 injured in Bangkok. Likewise, they criticised the government for blocking ten satellite TV stations and websites, which in their view constitutes a step backward in the country’s democratic development, this despite the authorities’ use of emergency law, which naturally restricts certain rights.”

It is reported that several NGO leaders met with red shirt leaders and urged them to “engage the government in peaceful talks.” Indian-based Peoples’ Vigilance Committee for Human Rights leader, Lenin Raghuvanshi, told the leaders that the “international community is watching very closely developments,” adding “nothing and no one will ever justify or condone the use of violence.”

The NGO leaders also urged the Thai government to “respect international standards.”

AHRC on harassment of human rights NGOs in the south

30 03 2009

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has issued a statement concerning continued harassment of the NGO, the Working Group on Justice for Peace (WGJP) in southern Thailand (AHRC, “THAILAND: Continued harassment of WGJP Pattani office by military”).

This is not a direct reference to monarchy, lesé majesté and politics that PPT comments on, however we feel that this statement deserves attention on the issue of human rights and the role of NGOs under the current government. The statement states that the “head of Special Taskforce 23, Lt Col Praweet Suthi-prapha to gather information about the activities of NGOs in Pattani.”

This is reason for concern. Recall that it was just a few days ago that Human Rights Watch met with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva who was seen as serious about human rights and well-intentioned. In his speech at Oxford University, the premier stated: “So this is what I have promised to the Thai people: transparency, good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law, equal treatment and reconciliation with those with opposing views, especially by providing them with political space.”

If PM Abhisit’s intentions are genuine, he must ensure that his military do not harrass NGOs and respect their rights.

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