Updated: A royalist’s royalist

26 08 2016

If you are a royalist, after the near-dead king, your favorite figure must be General Prem Tinsulanonda. The aged general and president of the Privy Council has turned 96 and, according to a remarkably syrupy article in the Bangkok Post, remains remarkably important for the current military junta.

Some commentators argue that the grand old man has been pushed aside by the regime, yet it is clear that the regime continues to provide the prim and interfering “boss” with the attention and supplication that Prem craves.

For over 30 years, Prem has been at the center of Thailand’s politics, and this has reflected his long alliance with the palace. Prem returned palace support by doing more for the political and economic domination of the monarchy than any premier since General Sarit Thanarat.

Since his appointment by the king as a privy councilor, Prem has also been at the center of palace politics. Palace politics under him became intimately aligned and interconnected with national politics.

The Post states that “[n]early three decades after he left office, the country’s 16th prime minister remains as powerful and commands a great deal of clout among the ruling generals and other military top brass.”

The brass, as almost all of them have done for decades, showed up to provide birthday wishes to Prem “at his leafy Si Sao Thewes residence.” (As we have said several times in the past, “his residence” actually belongs to the state and Prem “resides” at the taxpayers expense, despite the fact that he has become quite wealthy.)

Prem held the premiership for almost 8.5 years. These were not years of political stability. He retained power through frequent cabinet reshuffles, with the support of military-appointed senates, neglecting parliament and politicians and, most significantly, the palace’s backing.

The Post suggests that Prem “stepped down as prime minister” but this neglects the bitter struggle that took place, with Prem refusing to budge and with opponents threatening to reveal his “private life.” Eventually, the campaign for an elected premier won out. Prem has been bitter about this ever since; he detests elected politicians.

His bitterness was somewhat reduced by the fact that “[d]ays after his political retirement, he was appointed by … the King as a member of the Privy Council.”

According to the Post, Prem is “recognised as working closely with the monarchy and following an important mission to protect the revered [sic.] institution.”

Prem is known for his capacity for “eliminating disloyal subordinates and disrespectful foes.” Respect is something that makes Prem feel special. He feels he deserves to be considered special and important.

The Post suggests that those who put him offside include General Suchinda Kraprayoon and his group of Class 5 graduates from the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy. They apparently sidelined Prem. Class 5 lost.

The other big loser is Thaksin Shinawatra. Prem came to hate Thaksin who he felt paid him insufficient respect and “crossed” him and the palace. Thaksin lost.

The military regime troops to Prem’s taxpayer-funded home three times a year and “offer[s] … good wishes and receive Gen Prem’s blessings.” As the Post also adds, the “Burapha Payak (Tigers of the East) and Queen’s Guard military units, which are known to play an influential role in the armed forces, also have to beat a path to the Si Sao Thewes residence, which has become a symbol of power.”

As expected, Prem has consistently provided the public support the regime requires from the palace. As the Post observes, “[t]his is a crucial time when the Burapha Payak and the Si Sao Thewes residence must stand united to weather possible political turbulence.” The alliance seems set to have a general become unlelected premier when an election is held, and Prem appears to support this.

Prem made it clear that he fully backs Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s leadership. He stated:

I trust the prime minister and that all of you can work for the country, with royalty [the monarchy] and make sacrifices….

No matter how big or small the difficulties are, I ask the prime minister to feel at ease that the armed forces and people will give encouragement to the prime minister.

He said he has always told others about how important it was that Gen Prayut and his comrades had to step in during this turbulent time.

I told “Tu” [Gen Prayut’s nickname] that old soldiers like us will do all we can to help Tu achieve the great mission for the country….

Sounds like Prem’s “vote” is in.

Royalists will listen.

Update: As a mark of the royal house’s appreciation of Prem’s loyalty and political works for it, he was given a special merit-making ceremony, “sponsored” by the king and queen. As these two are very ill and barely able to express anything, the show of respect for loyalty comes from the other members of the royal family and Privy Council. The report states that the “ceremony was held at Wat Rajabopit with Royal representatives, and some high ranking public and private officials also attending.” It was “Privy Councillor General Surayud Chulanont, who represented Their Majesties, and Air Chief Marshal Kasem Yoosuk, chief of HRH the Crown Prince’s Private Secretary’s Office, represented HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, also appeared at the ceremony to give Gen Prem bouquets and best wishes.”





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.





Palace lese majeste

9 11 2015

The lese majeste purge is again reaching into the palace. Khaosod has an important report that it states: “Due to Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws, this story has been self-censored by Khaosod English.”

While the king has not been seen for weeks and has been ill to the extent of barely being compus mentis, he is said to have issued an order that “has revoked all royal decorations from the deputy commander of the royal household’s bodyguard unit.” This refers to Maj Gen Pisitsak Seniwong na Ayutthaya.Pisitsak

Apparently, this is to remove the royal decorations of a dead man. As reported at Asia Sentinel:

In the latest purge, two top police officials have died mysteriously and a third has disappeared. Major General Phisitsak Seniwong Na Ayutthaya, the prince’s main bodyguard, died in mid-October. Local media have been so terrified by the situation that they have hesitated to name Phisitsak in print. His family was told he had committed suicide by hanging himself with his shirt.

The Khaosod report states that “Pisitsak was fired from the military on Oct. 16, the statement said, the same day police announced a crackdown on individuals accused of exploiting ties to the monarchy.”

The order signed by the king (so they say) and The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, claims that Pisitsak engaged in “gravely evil behavior.” This, according to the government order, amounts to “disobedience to King Bhumibol and his commanding officers and exploiting ties to the Royal Family for his own gain.”

We understand that he had a falling out with the prince. He’s now believed dead. And its seems he is also to be disgraced: “Pisitsak was stripped by royal proclamation of seven decorations awarded to him by the King for his service.”

The report goes on:

“He disobeyed Royal Instructions and refuses to comply with orders from commanding officers,” read a notice in today’s Royal Gazette, which publishes formal government orders. “He falsely claimed to act upon Royal Orders and abused his power in an unlawful way, seeking gains for himself and his clique. He posed a threat to the security of the Institution [the monarchy].”

We understand the “commanding officer” to be Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. He previously ousted members of his body guard. The body guards close to the prince appear to be in a risky profession.

How many more will be purged? How many more will die?





Memories of murderous military must be mute II

14 10 2015

The military dictatorship cannot erase memories of its institutional violence but it can try to prevent public memorialization of those murdered by the military. In an earlier post, we commented on this erasure of public memorialization for the 6 October 1976 massacre.

Khaosod reports that the military junta has tried to prevent some aspects of public events associated with a remembrance of 14 October 1973, when students led an uprising against military dictatorship that began in 1957 when the royalist general Sarit Thanarat seized power.

The military as an institution still mourns their loss of power in 1973 and they have constinued to celebrate the vicious generals who were overthrown back then. They resisted, along with a coterie of rightists and associated royalists, the public memorialization of the scores of students gunned down by the military in that uprising.

They still seek to alter memories of the events.

Royalists seek to seize the event as theirs by claims that the king opposed the generals. In fact, their is no solid historical evidence for this claim. Rather, the king and his advisers saw their regime was defeated and sought to make political capital from the events. In essence, this intervention marks the beginning of the palace’s political ascendance over the military, which lasted until the current king’s declining health, which has required the return of the military to top leadership.

As Khaosod reports, to this day, the families of those killed and injured 42 years ago have never been compensated by the state.

In fact, the “government led by Yingluck Shinawatra approved a plan in March 2012 to pay out 7,000 baht per month to immediate heirs of those injured or maimed, but the legislation was never enacted. The Yingluck administration was later ousted in the May 2014 coup d’etat, which brought the current junta to power.”

One of those who lost a family member “bitterly questioned whether there remains any point in marking the uprising when its ideal – ‘freedom from tyranny’ – was far from being achieved.” She went on to upbraid government officials – led by the princeling, M.L. Panadda Diskul – who attended the ceremony: “You are here to commemorate the event, but are you not ashamed? Many of you are the October Generation now sitting in the government. You are sitting on the pool of blood, but you don’t care about us. I have had enough.”

anti-junta

In a like-minded protest, “[m]embers of the Dao Din group, which has protested against the junta and the 2014 May military coup, were also present at the ceremony. Activists unfurled a banner denouncing former leaders of the 1973 uprising who have now shifted to supporting the military’s rule in Thailand.”

Even with government officials attending, Khaosod reports that a “company of police officers was placed around the ceremony to maintain order [sic.] at the Oct. 14 monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue.”

ThaiPBS reports that the princeling Panadda tried to hijack the meaning of the event for royalists, declaring that “Thai democracy” is comprised of “four main principles, namely unity, sufficiency, no mud slinging or lying, and no corruption.” That’s the royalist mantra that underpins the repeated destruction of democratic government in Thailand. He even went so far as to describe this “democracy” with the junta’s label: “sustainable democracy.” The princeling is beneath contempt.

The video below, part one of a series at YouTube, is a documentary made a few years ago at Thammasat University, bringing together what remains of the materials of the time. The short note under the video describes 14 October as one of Thailand’s “darkest moments.” That refers to the use of state force to attempt to put down the student-led revolt. At the same time, 14 October is remembered as a rising against military dictatorship that sought to establish a democratic Thailand. The struggle continues:





Prince taking charge

3 05 2015

PPT realises that royals have to do all the ceremonial stuff in order to maintain their royalness and highness. In Thailand, they also have to do the palace networking with political allies and most especially with the military.

This is why it is no surprise but deeply symbolic that the 1,168 military and police officers promoted to the rank of general in 2014 and 2015 – that is, by the military dictatorship – have undertaken a ceremony to swear oath of allegiance before Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

The prince, sounding ever so royal, “reminded them [the new generals] of the significance of the ceremony and their duties which would have direct results to the stability of the country.” He also mentioned daddy’s “speech once given to new generals that their promotion to the rank signified higher responsibilities.” Tremendous insight, intelligence and gravity in that.

The prince “urged the new generals to think over the royal advice and commit their duties with energy and honesty as they had already pledged so that prosperity, stability and happiness would truly come to the nation and the people.” Ho hum, perhaps, saying what daddy has long said in short and shallow ceremonies, only moving to long and rambling speeches and “advice” later in life when he was confident of his public impact.

What is less ho hum is the prince’s continuing moves to embed his people and himself in place, making the succession a gradual process that does not push the almost comatose king aside. We noted his control of palace military last year. The royal estrangement was messy but now seems complete with Srirasmi out of sight and most of her family in jail. He also seems to be establishing his people in significant positions.





19 and still counting

3 02 2015

The lese majeste/palace house-cleaning continues. It is getting very difficult to keep up with the huge number of lese majeste reports and charges.

The most recent case is reported at Prachatai and the Bangkok Post which both report that police have arrested another relative of former police senior officer Pongpat Chayapan. Pongpat has already been sentenced on lese majeste charges.

Police arrested Ekkachai Ployhin on Tuesday. They accused him of claiming “connections with the monarchy in helping a suspect in illicit drug case out of jail.”

It is alleged that in December 2008, Ekkachai claimed to be the nephew of Pol Lt Gen Pongpat and to have links to the monarchy – they mean the crown prince – and demanded 1.3 million baht to solve a drug case.

Prachatai states that following Pongpat’s arrest, “nearly 30 more suspects were arrested for associating with the monarchy-citing network of him, at least 19 of whom have now been charged with lèse majesté.”





Arresting and threatening for the monarchy

8 06 2014

For a while, Thailand’s military dictatorship pretended that it was something else. Junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha pretended that he was “forced” into his illegal seizure of state power by “violence,” both real and pending. For a couple of days, as the military thugs called in political leaders from all sides, they pretended to be “even-handed,” just trying to “solve” the country’s “political problems.”

Naturally enough, PPT found such political games hard to swallow, but there was some media credibility given to these unlikely claims from the despots in green. Yet where were the detentions of the old men like Prasong Soonsiri who has been planning, boosting and supporting every single anti-government street protest since the People’s Alliance for Democracy was formed?

The real target was and remains the leadership of the red shirt movement, activists and intellectuals the military bosses believe support them, and everyone associated with allegedly anti-monarchy movements. That latter category apparently includes anyone who may have even given a little thought to reforming the draconian lese majeste law.

We now have a better idea of the methods and manner of the interrogations and pressures exerted on those called in.

At Khaosod, we are told of the military detention of Chiang Mai academic Kengkij Kitirianglarp. Surrounded “by a dozen security officers who were interrogating him,” he was pressured to provide information with what looks to PPT to be a clear intent to map an anti-monarchy movement, perhaps adding to their earlier manufacture of just such a chart.Kengkij

The academic stated that “he suspected the NCPO [the junta] summoned him and the 14 others … because they were considered potential violators of Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws.” He added:

Some officers actually told me they wanted to establish links we had with people who produced content [violating lese majeste]…. I believe they will summon the people who allegedly produced those materials in future announcements.

His interrogation “started with an army officer taking a survey of Mr. Kengkit’s opinions on the monarchy, lese majeste laws, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his political clan, and the military takeover on 22 May.”

A useful story at the Wall Street Journal examines the junta’s “stepping up their self-appointed role as guardians of the country’s revered [sic.] monarchy following last month’s coup d’état by threatening to try anyone who breaks the strict laws on criticizing the royal family in a military court.”

This is said to be “aimed at boosting the generals’ legitimacy” following the putsch.

David Streckfuss is cited, arguing that the junta “is trying to build a case that there are widespread violations of lèse majestè, part of what it might argue is an antimonarchy movement.” That’s true, but it is also a case that has been central to each of the anti-Thaksin Shinawatra movement since 2005. In other words, the military is doing the work of the movements that prompted Thailand’s second monarchist coup in 8 years.

Junta spokesman Yongyuth Mayalarp is quoted in the article as saying that “stamping out illegal discussion of the monarchy” is a way to “get the country in good order and move forward.” In the way of all fascist regimes, creating “order” requires division.

The junta says it “is responding to public demand that it defend the monarchy from criticism.” He means the demand from right-wing anti-democrats.

The junta makes claims that is “uncovering a series of what it calls lèse majestè rings, where suspects allegedly gathered to view banned DVDs and other material.”

Thanapol Eawsakul, who was questioned and released by the junta, makes the obvious point that “the army appeared unusually interested in anyone discussing the monarchy’s role in the country.”

The reasons for this extremist military monarchism are several. For one thing, even if there wasn’t a succession crisis, and the evidence for it necessarily remained pretty thin given palace secrecy, it is now clear that a determined few have managed to create (at the very least) an impression that there is a real crisis. That impression itself poses a very real challenge to the monarchy. Related, Wikileaks cables showed that there really was a lot of palace political scheming and plotting and offered an account that both reinforced rumors and provided some evidence for the view that there is a succession problem.

A second reason relates to perception that the palace was deeply involved with the planning and instigation of the 2006 coup. The palace intervened to overthrow of an elected government apparently believing that it was a government rejected by the public and made the political (mis)calculation that its intervention would be welcomed.

A third reason is the known efforts by the palace, and associated with Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda, to manipulate the military. Since he stepped down from the prime ministership in 1988, Prem has sought to manage every single promotion in the officer corps in a manner that maintained and strengthened the attachment of the top brass to the palace and king. Generally, that manipulation has produced a royalist military leadership that refuses to acknowledge the possibility of civilian control under elected governments.

A fourth reason is that the elite that has long managed and controlled Thailand  rightly considers that its economic power is constructed and maintained by a social and political structure that has two keystones, the military and the monarchy.

We could go on, but the point is clear: for a variety of reasons, the ideological core of the coup and its junta is the monarchy. This fact suggests that the monarchy and the system it represents – the old order – can only be maintained through massive repression, the control of the state’s coercive arms, and extensive censorship.

 





Palace politics

11 05 2009

Yesterday, PPT commented on Thanphuying Viriya Chavakul’s interview (Bangkok Post, 10 May 2009: “Thanphuying speaks out on Sondhi and Thaksin”) that seemed to indicate that politics in the palace was increasingly divided.

We missed it, and thank Bangkok Pundit for the excellent analysis of Shawn Crispin’s latest article at Asia Times Online (7 May 2009: “My friend is my enemy in Thailand”). Because of Bangkok Pundit’s excellent commentary, PPT won’t add much, except to link to the issue of divided and divisive palace politics.

Crispin claims that Thaksin Shinawatra is trying to enhance his “negotiating leverage” over his seized assets by attacking privy councilors for “orchestrating the 2006 coup and recently alleged in an interview with the Financial Times that King Bhumibol Adulyadej had foreknowledge of the putsch. Before that, Thaksin is also known to have lost touch with Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, reaffirming the notion that neither is the monarchy a static institution with its relationships.” Now, Crispin claims that he has been told by unnamed “diplomats and a well-placed palace source, [that] Thaksin had on several occasions after returning from exile in 2008 met with Vajiralongkorn in Bangkok via his trusted associate, Sino Thai Engineering and Construction Company chairman Anutin Charnvirakul. The two had also met on at least two separate occasions when Thaksin was in exile in London after the 2006 coup and Vajiralongkorn spent nine months of calendar 2007 in Europe.”

Crispin then observes that, “It was lost on few seasoned observers that the UDD’s April 12 assault on Prime Minister’s Office secretary general Nipon Prompan’s car at the Ministry of Interior had particular symbolic value because of the senior bureaucrat’s known close ties to Vajiralongkorn, including formative years together at a European boarding school. Some diplomats have interpreted that assault and the UDD’s public criticisms of top privy councilors as a strong signal that Thaksin and his allies could complicate the impending royal succession, where Vajiralongkorn is the heir apparent to the throne. At the same time, many believe Thaksin may have overstepped the mark by mentioning the widely revered 81-year-old Bhumibol in recent political remarks to the foreign media.”

He also refers to Sondhi Limthongkul’s attacks on army chief Anupong Paochinda andarmy chief of staff General Prayuth Chan-ocha over the failed assassination bid, that Sondhi is taking “hard aim at Anupong and Prayuth, [who are] both established royalists who served in Queen Sirikit’s Royal Guard Infantry Regiment…”. This has caused “diplomats and analysts wonder whether Sondhi will continue to mobilize defense-of-the-monarchy themes at any future protests, including ones that potentially target top military officials or royal advisors.”

Crispin also mentions Sondhi’s allegations against Thanphuying Viriya and Crispin adds another name associated with the queen, mentioning the: “apparent fall from favor of top royal advisor and Sondhi ally Piya Malakul, who according to one royal insider hasn’t attended functions at the palace for over a month. Piya is known to be close to Queen Sirikit and was often the lone advisor to accompany Bhumibol when he previously took outdoor walks around his seaside palace in Hua Hin. One palace insider says that Piya was the top advisor who suggested that Queen Sirikit attend the funeral services of a PAD protester killed during a melee with police last October 7, indicating to some tacit royal backing for the PAD. Piya was also accused by Thaksin of playing host to a dinner at his residence in May 2006 where the coup against his government was allegedly planned. Piya has strongly denied the charges, claiming no military officials were present at the meeting.”

It seems that Thailand’s political conflicts are shaking up the palace.





UDD rallies, PAD parties, Thanphuying Viriya talks

10 05 2009

It seems like a big news day in Thailand. PPT wants to briefly link to three stories.

First, the UDD is about to rally in Bangkok. The police expect 20,000 to attend, while Democrat spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks worries that the” UDD leaders could be stirring up violence and security units were ordered to stay on high alert” (Bangkok Post, 10 May 2009: “Tight security for red shirts meet”). The police estimate of possible attendance is remarkable given the events of the Songkhran uprising and the negative propaganda campaign since.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that 20,000 showed up in pouring rain to meet in a field that became a mud patch.

Second, PAD seems to be moving ever closer to forming a political party (Bangkok Post, 10 May 2009: “PAD decides on party creation on 25th”). PAD “figure Sirichai Maingarm said PAD members would vote in the upcoming general assembly to decide whether the group would establish a political party. The first round of voting would take place when around 700-800 leading members from throughout the country convene on the 24th. The mass would make their votes the following day. No less than 30,000 supporters were expected to turn up for the voting…”.

Mr Sirichai said if a party was to be created the group would still have room for members who disagreed with party establishment so they could still conduct mass demonstrations. Should the verdict be against party establishment, the PAD would vote on which political party it would support so it could take its political fight into parliament.

The third story is the interview with Thanphuying Viriya Chavakul, accused of masterminding the assassination attempt on PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul (Bangkok Post, 10 May 2009: “Thanphuying speaks out on Sondhi and Thaksin”). PPT found the whole interview quite remarkable, so rather than quoting from it, we urge readers to click through to it.We only point out the insight it provides into the apparently divided world of palace politics.