Why no announcements?

8 06 2023

La Prensa Latina points out the obvious:

Thailand’s royal palace has maintained a deathly silence for five months about the health of Princess Bajrakitiyabha, first-born daughter of King Vajiralongkorn, who was hospitalized in mid-December over a serious heart problem.

Bajrakitiyabha, 44, seen as a possible heir to the throne, was admitted on Dec. 14 after losing consciousness while training her dogs for a dog competition in the city of Nakhon Ratchasima, some 250 kilometers northeast of Bangkok.

Of course, there are still “well wishers” who are paraded at the hospital, but it seems that no one is particularly interested to know why the palace is silent.

The Royal Household Bureau began reporting when the princess was transported to hospital in Bangkok, have been rumored to have died in a provincial hospital. As the report recalls, the Bureau:

reported the mishap the following day but did not specify her condition until a few days later when it said she was “stable to some extent” needing artificial support for several vital organs, such as her heart, lungs and kidneys.

The last statement was provided on 7 January. Then silence:

There has since been no information on the princess, for whom authorities organized [nationwide] mass prayers and offerings to wish her a speedy recovery in front of large portraits of her.

The lack of statements is highly unusual. Six months later there is “no news…”. After initial reports, there is no no mention anywhere “about the visits of her father or her relatives to the Chulalongkorn hospital in Bangkok, where she remains.”

We do not agree with the report that there was a similar lack of transparency about King Bhumibol’s long stay in hospital. There were semi-regular reports, even if these lacked detail and were often misleading.

That there are no reports regarding the princess is in line with the long public silence on the fate of royal consort Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi.

Princess mystery

3 04 2023

A few days ago an Australian website posted “The mystery surrounding the hospitalisation of Thailand’s Princess Bajrakitiyabha.” It is a timely reminder that the palace has simply locked down on news about the presumed death of the king’s eldest daughter.

As the report states, “Thailand’s Princess Bajrakitiyabha has been mysteriously away from the spotlight after being hospitalised last December, with no word from the palace since.” Well, not after a couple of Royal Household bulletins.

The report reminds readers that she was probably “heir to the Thai throne,” and that she collapsed on 14 December 2022, “after which she was taken to a local hospital before being transferred to Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok, where she was said to be in stable condition on December 15th.” Stable means on a life support system but probably dead.

Nationwide prayers were organized for the 44 year-old, but “there was no word for a while,” when an odd statement was released “on January 11, 2023 … sharing that Bajrakitiyabha was still unconscious, being treated for severe heart arrhythmia, resulting from inflammation from a mycoplasma infection.” That seems remarkably unlikely.

As the report says, there “have been no updates on her condition since then…”.

So, mystery reigns. We might also ask where Koi is. Disappearing royals….

Who does the king want?

14 03 2023

The election may still be some way off, but the issue of the palace and preferred outcome is already being pondered.

A recent article in Nikkei Asia by Marwaan Macan-Markar gets to the point, quoting an unnamed military intelligence source, who see 2023 as different from 2019: “But we should expect a twist this time…”. That has to do with Gen Prayuth Chanocha’s and Gen Prawit Wongsuwan’s “diminishing influence … over the army in recent years.”

Three army generals in 2019. Clipped from the Bangkok Post

This also saw rising palace influence: “Seasoned security analysts point to the annual promotions of the estimated 1,750 flag officers that signal this shift. Neither Prayuth nor Prawit, they say, played a significant role in the elevation of Gen. Narongphan Jitkaewthae, a palace favorite, to a three-year term as the army chief.”

Supalak Ganjanakhundee is cited as saying that Prawit “suffers” because “he is not close to the palace…”. Marwaan reckons “Bangkok-based diplomats have expressed similar sentiments during background discussions about palace favorites.”

Supalak added: “[Prawit] retired from the defense service a long time back and currently holds no ministerial posts to command the military,… [Prayuth did not] assign Prawit to take care of [any] security matters or anything related to the military.”

Prayuth remains “head of the Internal Security Operations Command, a Cold War relic that serves as the political arm of the military. Political insiders interviewed by Nikkei said that ISOC’s role will come under scrutiny — whether it will side with Prayuth’s camp over Prawit’s for the elections.”

There’s also “chatter in the barracks among conscripts, young soldiers and even captains, all under 30 years old, who favor opposition parties such as the pro-youth Move Forward and the pro-democracy Pheu Thai, according to military insiders.”

Of course, the palace abhors Move Forward and worries about Puea Thai and Thaksin Shinawatra.

Brave women III

11 02 2023

Despite the angst of some, the brave and determined hunger strike by Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong is producing results: increased international attention, more domestic action on lese majeste reform, and the release on bail of a number of political prisoners.

To be sure, motivating the regime is akin to moving mountains. Here, we mean more than the government. What needs moving is the ruling class of palace, tycoons, military, and the senior police, bureaucrats, and judges who serve that class.

But, at glacial pace, and despite internal splits between the faux liberals and the recalcitrant royalists, it is moving.

Prachatai reports that “on 10 February that Sitthichok Sethasavet, a detained food rider, was allowed bail by the Supreme Court, a final feat after the Court of Appeal denied the temporary release during an ongoing appeal.” It adds that a “day before …, Sombat Thongyoi, a protest guard, and Kongpet (surname withheld), another political detainee, were allowed bail.” And, “Another convicts related to explosive device possession, Tatphong Khieukhao, was also released from his temporary detention on 8 February.”

In summary, “8 people are still under detention for participating in political protests that call for political and monarchy reforms. All are being detained pending trial.”

That’s progress thanks to Tantawan and Orawan.

Even the supine Bangkok Post has an editorial calling for reform. It somewhat grudgingly states: “Their self-destructive campaign poses a challenge in terms of how Thailand will balance the application of the strict lese majeste law while permitting freedom of expression in a more open society.” It does acknowledge that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s response has been paternalist and cruel:

his messages are … disturbing and unproductive. It is shocking to hear the man who, after staging the coup in 2014, promised “peace and reconciliation” so easily discount the credibility of young political activists, and try to position them as the pawns of political groups. His words will only further alienate dissidents. Perhaps now we can understand why his national reconciliation plan remains half-baked, and young activists have grown more alienated and even radicalised during his eight-year tenure.

But the Post can’t explain why it declares: “Make no mistake, the lese majeste laws have been part of the country’s political culture and are needed to protect the revered institution.” This is royalist mantra. But it still shows glacial progress thanks to Tantawan and Orawan.

Judicial intransigence

8 02 2023

Thailand’s judiciary is an intransigent lot and it seems this inability to be reasonable or even legal derives from “loyalty” to the king and ruling elite (of which its members are a part).

In a series of strange decisions, the “Criminal Court refused bail release for eight anti-government Thalugaz protesters on Tuesday – the same day it granted temporary release to two activists on hunger strike.” Meanwhile, a “third hunger striker’s appeal for bail was rejected by the Appeal Court.” That was Sitthichok Sethasavet.

Of course, the two hunger strikers – Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong – had not personally applied for bail and their hunger strike is about the release of political prisoners. In essence, the judges have made matters worse.

The result is that Tantawan and Orawan have “expressed surprise at the court’s order to free them without bail, because they didn’t want to be freed to start with, but have demanded, through their hunger strike, the release of the other political prisoners and detainees…”.

They have now vowed “not to sign any court documents regarding their release and have asked the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights organisation to send them copies of the court’s decisions.”

We guess that regime, judiciary, and palace have decided that the death of those charged with lese majeste is unlikley to provoke a political crisis.

Brave women I

17 01 2023

Prachatai reports that activists Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong went to Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court on 16 January 2023 to file for bail revocation for themselves. Both are facing several charges, including lese majeste. The article states:

Clipped from Prachatai

The two activists stood in front of the Court entrance and poured red paint on themselves, before announcing their demand that every activist and protester detained for their involvement in the pro-democracy protest must be released within 3 days. They will also not be filing for bail again until their demands are met, and if no response is made by 18 January, other activists, including those still detained, will be taking further actions.

They called for a reform of judicial system so that human rights and freedom of expression take priority, and so that courts are independent and protect people’s freedom, as well as for judges to make decisions without intervention from their own executives.

They also called for all charges against those exercising their freedoms of expression and assembly to be dropped, and for every political party to back the repeal of the royal defamation law and sedition law to guarantee people’s right, freedom, and political participation….

The courts accepted these self-revocations.

These are determined and brave women. All power to them. Thailand’s best.

As usual, it is Prachatai reporting this, with not a peep – as far as PPT can see – in any of the English-language local media. That media seems not only frightened but cowed by the regime, the judiciary, and palace. Almost no news regarding the use of lese majeste appears in any of these outlets.

Hear, see no anti-royalist “evil”

14 11 2022

Efforts to silence anti-royal protesters have been expanded. This is not the silencing that comes from the use of Article 112, but the physical efforts by police to prevent royals for hearing or seeing protests that might offend their delicate ears and eyes.

For the latest effort, read Prachatai.

In fact, if anyone wants to know anything at all about such events or Article 112 cases, one must go to Prachatai or social media because the main news outlets simply no longer report on such events. We assume they have been ordered not to report, and suspect that the owners and managers of the major news companies are only too happy to accede to such censorship. It is not so much self-censorship or state censorship, but jumping on the royalist/palace/regime wagon.

Back to Prachatai, which reports on an effort to bring attention to monarchy reform in Nakorn Ratchasima:

On Wednesday (9 November), the activist group Korat Movement went live on their Facebook page while they were holding protest signs saying “Free our friends” and “Person = person. Everyone is equal” while surrounded by a group of plainclothes police. The protest took place while Princess Sirindhorn, King Vajiralongkorn’s younger sister, was traveling to visit nearby Boonwattana School. The 15-minute video clip also showed the police trying to pull signs out of the activists’ hands.

The protesters were mainly very young, One of them stated:

… while Princess Sirindhorn was visiting Nakhon Ratchasima, the activists had been followed by plainclothes officers and that officers were stationed near their homes. She also claimed CCTV cameras were put up near the house ahead of the Princess’ visit.

Updated: Military and monarchy II

14 10 2022

We were interested in some aspects of a royal report at the Bangkok Post. It was one of those formulaic reports on royal doings – yet another monument to a dead king, presided over by his daft son. But a couple of lines caught our collective eye.

One was the “making up” of the apparent snub of the dead English queen.

More eye-catching was that the spokesperson cited by the Post was Col Wanchana Sawasdee, who is a deputy spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence. Does the park come under the Ministry’s purview? We don’t know, but events like this certainly cement the ties between military and monarchy, as the “soldier king” appears to promote and lead the military.

He chortled about King Vajiralongkorn having “turned the Royal Turf Club of Thailand (RTCT) into the Chalerm Phrakiat Park in Dusit district in remembrance of King Rama IX and to bring about a huge new green space in Bangkok…”. The park is an ode to the dead king and covers 279 rai in Dusit district, and when finished will have “thousands of new trees will provide the capital with another much-needed ‘green lung’.” It is also going to be a large car park for a nearby hospital….

Col Wanchana is then credited with an unlikely quote: “Thursday’s historic ceremony reminded him of the ceremony conducted during the unveiling of the equestrian statue of King Chulalongkorn at the Royal Plaza…”. That was in 1908, so we guess the colonel is saying it is the start of a process of further deifying the dead king.

Col Wanchana also giggled about “rumours spread by some groups with an intention to provoke dislike against the monarch [who] claimed a new palace would be built on this land. The presence of the new park has proved them wrong, he said.”

There was indeed rumor about a “palace,” but as academic Duncan McCargo observed in 2018, the palace’s opacity led to “talk of a public park, a hospital or even a museum, [but] the Bureau’s plans for the spectacular 79-acre site remains unclear.

In the end, while Col Wanchana said rumors had been scotched, in fact, the expanded palace precinct that several speculated on, is coming to fruition. We can’t help thinking that Buckingham Palace and its precinct is a model, surrounding the palace with parkland as a giant vinaigrette.

Update: Very swiftly, a reader points out that we may be reading too much into the story citing the colonel. After all, that reader writes, the story is by the Post’s military reporter, Wassana Nanuam. True, but why is she reporting this event rather than the usual royal reporters?

Prayuth’s future

10 08 2022

Coup leader Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been on the campaign trail. For the military man, this has involved his royal-like “protection” and “progress.”

Recently, the general was in Kanchanaburi. Look at the photos at The Nation, and it looks like a royal visit-meets-politician. Other social media outlets report that schools were closed and streets cleared to allow the royal general’s progress.

But the people seem far from impressed, with a poll showing that about two-thirds of those surveyed wanting Gen Prayuth to leave office this month, when his own engineered constitution requires that he step down after eight years as premier. It is now up to the royalist backers of the military-backed regime that is the Constitutional Court to concoct a ruling that keeps the general in power.

His supporters claim that Gen Prayuth’s 8 years as prime minister must be counted from 9 June 2019, when his premiership received royal endorsement under the 2017 constitution. This means he’d be able to serve until 2027. This is the ruling that they insist the Constitutional Court should issue.

Yet Prayuth is not only unloved by those Thais surveyed. Even within the ruling Palang Pracharath Party his support is lukewarm. For example, the best his elder “brother” Gen Prawit Wongsuwan can only say he wants Prayuth for another two years. Of course, Gen Prawit sees a chance for himself, no matter that he is decrepit.

With more on the current situation, Pithaya Pookaman at Asia Sentinel has an article on Prayuth’s desire to stay:

Prayuth has sent out feelers to the public and also possibly to the palace about his undisguised desire to maintain his stranglehold on power, imploring for an extension to fix all the nation’s problems, as if he was unable to do so during his previous eight years in office. He has often said that the nation cannot do without him, the kind of narcissism that is repugnant to most Thais….

During his eight years in power, the military has moved repeatedly to use the courts to snuff out popular youth movements, and to hold in check the appeal of Thaksin’s Pheu Thai opposition. Despite falling popularity, Prayuth is not expected to relinquish his power any time soon or in the foreseeable future. As he wrote his own constitution, he can also make amendments to it to allow him to extend his tenure or refer the matter to the subservient constitutional court to rule in his favor. If another general election is to be held, he can always rely on the support of his hand-picked 250 senators and manipulate the MPs by giving cash handouts and other incentives to vote him back to power.

He comments further on the king: “the king often plays an important, if not a decisive, role in determining the choice of the prime minister and other high-ranking officials.” Further on Prayuth and the palace:

Prayuth has served the palace well by providing lavish funds and amenities for the king and members of the royal family while safeguarding the monarchy by ruthless application of the country’s anti lese majeste law, considered the world’s most severe. But Prayuth’s eight years as head of government may be viewed by the palace as too long. Notwithstanding the favors he has showered on the king, his statecraft and performance have been an utter failure. Members of his family and his cronies have enriched themselves and occupied important positions in the country.

Based on its history of politicized decisions, we’d expect the Constitutional Court to (again) support Gen Prayuth. But what does the king want?

A whiff of royalism

31 12 2021

Feudal punishment associated with the palace: Pol Gen Jumpol Manmai

Is it just us at PPT or does this somewhat odd Bangkok Post story have a distinct royal whiff to it?

The report is of naval chief Adm Somprasong Nilsamai and Vice Adm Narupol Kerdnak, the commander of the Sattahip Naval Base, decising to undergo “self-punishment to uphold discipline and show responsibility after one of their subordinates committed a serious misconduct.”

That wealthy admirals, with power that cannot be challenged within the navy, should “choose” such a path seems unprecedented, almost unbelievable.

They “decided” to punish themselves after “Lt Alongkorn Ploddee, director of the Real Estate Division of the Sattahip Naval Base, has been involved in quarrels and made false claims on various occasions, ruining the reputation of the navy as a whole…”.

It seems odd that a junior officer some 7-8 ranks below the two admirals should impact them. Equally odd, is that Lt Alongkorn is listed as “director of the Real Estate Division of the Sattahip Naval Base.” We have previously questioned the navy’s commercial activities, noting that the navy has effectively become an investor and player in the Eastern Seaboard activities promoted by the regime, together with Sino-Thai tycoons.

Feudal punishment associated with the palace: Pol Maj Prakrom Warunprapha

Lt Alongkorn was shown “on video verbally abused Sattahip policemen who showed up at a restaurant for a routine inspection, saying they had ruined his happy time.” He demanded “honor”: “You don’t give me due honour…”, throwing “a glass of liquor at them and said he could put them in trouble.” This threat included name-dropping as a threat, saying “he was a friend of ‘Big Joke’, a reference to Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn, the assistant police chief.” Big Joke has a record including odd events, was sacked and reinstated, and no one says why.

Feudal punishment associated with the palace: Suriyan Sujaritpalawong

In other words, Lt Alongkorn was behaving as a dark influence and a gangster. That is not unusual in the armed forces. He made his gangsterism clear when he invoked notions of territory: “Lt Alongkorn said that the police should have known that Sattahip belongs to the navy…”. In other words, they are the bosses and the territory is theirs. Other gangs – the police – trespass on the navy gang’s turf at their own risk.

As usual, Lt Alongkorn a navy disciplinary committee which will “conduct an investigation into his alleged misconduct.” Seldom does anything come of these sham exercises, except where the person involved has distressed very senior people – seems he has – or threatened the monthly take.

So what causes senior navy men to “show responsibility for the misconduct” by an underling? What causes the bosses to undergo “self-punishment for three and seven days, respectively.”

The whiff of royal involvement comes from the punishment: “The self-punishment includes shaving heads, walking long distances with a backpack, running with weights, doing menial labour and three days in confinement.” This is exactly the kind of neo-feudal punishment used by the king inside the palace. We do not know if the king is involved in this case, but it coincided with his return to Thailand from Europe. If he wasn’t involved, it shows how his neo-absolutist influence has percolated through the military wing of the palace.

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