More secret palace deals

9 12 2017

In a secret consideration, the junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly (NLA) has approved “adjustments to the law that manages the safety and security of … the [k]ing and members of the [r]oyal [f]amily.”

After the event, it is reported that the NLA “voted unanimously to approve an amendment to the 2014 Law of Royal Safety in line with the 2017 Constitution, as well as a new law concerning the Royal household.”

The amendment to the 2014 law reportedly “authorises the Principal Private Secretary to … the [k]ing to provide security services to the monarchy rather than a committee chaired by Chief of Aide de Camp General to … the [k]ing, as stipulated in the old law…”.

The previous committee “included military commanders and other relevant officials…”. Whether there will be a new committee is apparently up to the Principal Private Secretary. That person:

… will also be in charge of security and safety services for … the [k]ing and members of the [r]oyal [f]amily whenever they travel abroad…. The old law commissioned the Aide de Camp Department [of the military] and the Foreign Ministry to take care of their safety. Under the new law, the Principal Private Secretary … will plan and command safety measures for … the [k]ing….

The 2014 Law on Royal Safety also “authorised the prime minister to be involved in the approval of safety plans for … the [k]ing and members of the [r]oyal [f]amily.” That role is now gone.

It is reported that the “amendment will be promulgated in the Royal Gazette later,” and that the “content of the new amendment was not available to the public during the NLA debate.”

This is another move consolidating palace affairs in the king’s hands and a process of removing all vestiges of civilian control of the monarchy and palace that were put in place in 1932 and after.

Earlier, the NLA had approved the transfer of the Royal Household Bureau, Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary, Royal Aide-De-Camp Department, Office of Royal Court Security Police and Royal Security Command, formerly under control of the Ministry of Defense, the Prime Minister’s Office and the police, to the king.

He’s continuing the process of making the monarchy independent of any notion of civilian and parliamentary control. The previous justification for the move was that issues related to the king and his family could not be served by the state bureaucracy.

Not that long ago, the arrangements for control of the fabulously wealthy Crown Property Bureau were passed to the king in another secret set of dealings.





Updated: Shuffling the same military deck

26 11 2017

Readers may recall the columns of speculation about The Dictator’s cabinet reshuffle. There were all kinds of motives attributed to The Dictator. Pundits claimed he was trying to increase the dictatorship’s popularity, he was trying to boost the economic ministries, and/or he was civilianizing his military dictatorship in preparation for “elections.”

As far as we can tell, this was all wasted energy. What The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, did was maintain the dominance of the military. As we have said many times before, this is looking like a regime that is settling in for the long term.

The interesting thing in all of this for us was the position of the monarchy. In the past, cabinet reshuffles were announced by prime ministers and the composition of proposed cabinets was widely reported, with the king merely signing off. Of course, there may have been discussions with the king beforehand, but it was the executive’s political ground.

In our memory – correct us if we are wrong – it was only recently that the names involved in the reshuffle were withheld until after the king had signed off. As far as we can tell, there was plenty of discussion and even official announcements of the reshuffle list before the king signed off even under General Surayud Chulanont (see Bangkok Post, 3 October 2007). Again, and given Surayud’s previous Privy Council position, discussions may well have taken place with the palace and General Prem Tinsulanonda. Even so, the executive maintained its position.

Even under Abhisit Vejjajiva, put in place by the military in 2008, saw huge public debate over his cabinet but seemed to retain executive dominance (see Bangkok Post, 21 December 2008).

We have a feeling-cum-memory of the capitulation of the executive to the palace came under the military dictatorship. This means that it was all secret until approved by the king, giving even more political and constitutional power to the palace. Are we wrong?

Update: On the cabinet reshuffle, Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey has a view that it “can be seen as a very positive step for the gradual transition of Thailand towards a more democratic society…”. Seriously? He gives plenty of reasons for not believing him.





It’s getting darker I

22 11 2017

The lights are dimming everywhere and Thailand’s lights have been starved of wattage for the years since the 2014 military coup.

The Dictator is in charge of turning the lights off, and he looks like he’s going for candle power.

The Bangkok Post reports that the military dictatorship has demanded that the Computer Crimes Act “be rigorously enforced against online media that distort facts and disseminate ‘fake reports and hate speech’.”

Thanks Donald and the alt-right for that idea, a redoubt of fascists. It means that General Prayuth Chan-ocha feels free to claim that any news story he dislikes is now considered “fake.”

The Dictator demands order: “society needs to function in an orderly fashion. No matter who you are, if you twist the facts, write what is not true or incite hatred, you will face legal action…”.

That’s a lie (or perhaps fake). We know that the military, the junta and their spokesman twist facts, speak untruths and incite hatred of their opponents and most especially those they accuse of lese majeste. None of these liars will face legal action because they control and manipulate whatever law the junta decides to invent (like Article 44).

The Dictator especially pointed to “his political critics [saying they ]were not immune.” He seemed to have Voice TV in his sights.

He’s been especially ticked off by speculation over his cabinet reshuffle. That seems stalled, somewhere between the junta and the palace. There’s still some horsetrading being done.

Government spokesman and perpetual purveyor of fake news, Lt Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said “the intention is not to monitor media who play by the rules but to monitor online media and netizens whose identities are usually unknown and operate in the dark.”

This suggests that the military junta is keen to wipe out all critics. It also suggests that another lese majeste crackdown may on the cards.

Lt Gen Sansern revealed that The Dictator demanded that “every ministry and the Government Spokesman Bureau … compel agencies under their authority to be vigilant in monitoring social media and online news entities that publish information relating to the government’s work.”

The Nation adds that The Dictator is concerned about any news or commentary that criticizes the junta’s performance and mentioned the “online dissemination of information ‘deemed controversial to national security’.” That’s usually code for the monarchy.

In making these demands, The Dictator claimed to be relying on recommendations by the King Prajadhipok Institute, which once claimed to support “democracy,” but is a royalist and anti-democrat agency.

The proposed political loosening was fake news. What we are really getting is deep, deep darkness.





2006 military coup remembered

19 09 2017

2006 seems a long time ago. So much has happened since the palace, led by General Prem Tinsulanonda, the military and a coterie of royalist anti-democrats (congealed as the People’s Alliance for Democracy) brought down Thaksin Shinawatra’s government on 19 September 2006.

Yet it is remembered as an important milestone in bringing down electoral democracy in Thailand and establishing the royalist-military authoritarianism that has deepened since the 2014 military coup that brought down Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government.

Khaosod reports:

Pro-democracy activists are marking the 11th anniversary of the 2006 coup on Tuesday evening on the skywalk in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

Representatives from the police and BTS Skytrain were ordering them to clear the area because it belongs to the rail operator.

The location, frequented by commuters and tourists in a highly visible location, has become a de facto location for protests since the 2014 coup.

“It’s unbelievable how far back we’ve gone for the past 11 years,” said Siriwit Seritiwat, the prominent activist known as Ja New. “The country doesn’t suck by itself, but it sucks because of the wicked cycle.”

The 2006 coup was no surprise given that Thaksin had faced determined opposition from PAD and from General Prem, who reflected palace and royal household dissatisfaction with Thaksin. The coup came after Thaksin had been re-elected in a landslide in February 2005 with about 60% of the vote.

Thaksin had many faults and made many mistakes often as a result of arrogance. The February 2005 election reflected Thaksin’s popularity and this posed a threat to the monstrous egos in the palace. Of course, they also worried about Thaksin’s combination of political and economic power and his efforts to control the military.

Thaksin’s reliance on votes and the fact that he accumulated them as never before was an existential threat to the powers that be. The elite feared for its control of political, economic and social power.

Behind the machinations to tame Thaksin lurked the real power holders in the military brass, the palace and the upper echelons of the bureaucracy who together comprised the royalist state. Some referred to this as the network monarchy and others identified a Deep State. They worried about their power and Thaksin’s efforts to transform Thailand. Others have said there were concerns about managing succession motivating coup masters.

We are sure that there were many motivations, fears and hallucinatory self-serving that led to the coup. Wikileaks has told part of the story of the machinations.

Coup soldiers wearing the king’s yellow, also PAD’s color

A way of observing the anniversary of the military-palace power grab on 19 September 2006 is to look again at Wikileaks cables that reflect most directly on that coup. Here they are:

There are more cables on the figures circling around the coup and the events immediately before and after the coup, giving a pretty good picture of how the royalist elite behaved and what they wanted the U.S. embassy to know.

The royalist elite came to believe that the 2006 coup failed as pro-Thaksin parties managed to continue to win elections. The result was the development of an anti-democracy ideology and movement that paved the way for the 2014 coup and the military dictatorship that is determined to uproot the “Thaksin regime” and to eventually make elections events that have no meaning for governing Thailand.





Catching up on the monarchy

8 08 2017

PPT has been posting regularly and yet we have not been able to post on all the stories in the media we’ve found interesting on or related to Thailand’s most feudal of institutions. Thus, this post is a catch-up. We will list several of these stories, from the past week or so, with little comment and just a quote of interest from each one:

Thai dissident’s lonely fight to keep history alive

Carrying a bucket of cement and a heavy bronze plaque, Ekachai Hongkangwan set out across Bangkok’s heavily-policed Royal Plaza in late June to perform a solo act of D-I-Y dissent.

But the 42-year-old was quickly bundled into a police van before he could lay down the metal disc – an exact replica of a monument that was mysteriously removed in April, sparking fears officials were trying to whitewash history.

The attempted restoration was a dangerous and rare act of subversion in a country smothered by an arch-royalist military and where criticism of the monarchy is being purged at an unprecedented rate.

Silencing dissent: digital capitalism, the military junta and Thailand’s permanent state of exception (we are not exactly sure how an exception becomes permanent)

In the last three years of military rule in Thailand, arrests and prosecutions for defamation, sedition and offences under the Computer Crimes Act have soared. Human rights advocates, democracy campaigners and ordinary citizens have been threatened, harassed and detained in military camps. The junta have sought to silence public discourse on every conceivable aspect of their rule. Global social media platforms are ground zero in this repression, and each month citizens are arrested and detained for what they post, share and like on Facebook.

Thai King’s Birthday Celebrations Mark Consolidation of Power

Thailand to celebrate birthday of assertive new King

The new monarch has shaken up the palace. A law quietly passed in April by Thailand’s interim assembly allowed him to consolidate control over five agencies which handle palace affairs and security. These agencies, which previously reported to the prime minister and defence ministry, remain funded by the state, but need not return revenue to the treasury.

A Straits Times examination of over 100 notices published on the Royal Gazette website since January shows the palace has promoted over 200 employees, removed or demoted over a dozen, as well as appointed over 100 more – many of them senior government servants.

All these moves have taken place amid tighter enforcement of Thailand’s lese majeste law, under which individuals have been jailed not just for insulting or defaming royalty, but also for trying to profit from their connections to the palace. Open discussion about the king, already constrained under the previous reign, has withered.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn expands his territory – but at what cost?

Change is afoot in Thailand. Amidst continued instability and uncertainty, King … Vajiralongkorn asserts more control. This move puts the ruling military junta in check.

The king now has full control of the agency that manages the holdings of the monarchy. Details about the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) are shrouded in secrecy. But it is worth at least US$30 billion thanks to significant holdings and investments, estimates suggested.

The Frontlines of Cyber Repression: Thailand and the Crop Top King

This post is the first of many in which we will begin the process of documenting the digital frontlines of cyber repression. By building better awareness about cyber repression, we hope this blog series will help illustrate current examples from across a wide spectrum of states and highlight actions being taken to push back on repression.

Trial of Yingluck sparks deeper crisis for Thailand

Why must she be eliminated at this point in time? The political elites are increasingly concerned about their position of power now that King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away last October, is no longer on the political scene. Under Bhumibol, their political interests were firmly secured through the monarchy network, which had dominated political life for decades. Without Bhumibol, Thailand has moved into an uncertain phase under the new controversial king, Vajiralongkorn. Those political elites fear that the Shinawatras might exploit political uncertainties to regain power.





More “good” person nonsense

3 06 2017

One of the problems of Thailand’s politics is that there are a few aged men who think they know everything better than anyone else. Most of them have been cast as “liberals” but the fact is that most are royalists first and then conservatives second. Some of them are authoritarian, vile and nasty.

They are used to being heard partly because Thailand’s culture has respect for the aged, even when they are fruitcakes. They are often heard because they are aligned with the powerful, including the military and the palace.They think of themselves as “great” and “good.”

So when the Bangkok Post reports a meeting attended by executives of media organisations like “the National Press Council of Thailand, the Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, the Isra Institute and the Thai Press Development Foundation” coming up with ideas about “training members of the media to ensure they are not influenced by politicians or big business” you start to wonder.

You wonder first because several of these organizations have been remarkably biased in their reporting of political events in recent years. Second, that so-called prominent social thinker Prawase Wasi “has thrown his support behind a proposal to set up an institute” for this purpose suggests that it is just another old man’s nonsense idea that imposes views based on a hatred of people’s sovereignty.

The greatest control of the media is by business interests. After all, the media is a business and its mostly owned by businesses. So unless the proposal is to nationalize the media, this seems silly. The next most significant control of the media over time has been by the military. And then there’s the control over palace propaganda that prevents real reporting about that business conglomerate and social institution.

Prawase reckons an “institute to train at least 1,000 reporters to a high standard will be set up in three years…”. You can bet it will look like other “great” and “good” organizations like the King Prajadhipok Institute. KPI is a royalist joke and reality and history bending propaganda school.

Thai journalism has its ups and downs, but so does the media everywhere. Making it more royalist and more conservative is hardly a recipe for independence or better reporting.





Mad monarchists under pressure

24 05 2017

The frenzy of efforts to “manage” the internet and cleanse it of allegedly anti-monarchy information has become so manic that Pol Lt Gen Thitirat Nongharnpitak, the chief of the Central Investigation Bureau, has threatened every user of social media in the country.

Some estimates place the number of Thais now under lese majeste threat and repression at over 50 million. That probably includes people with multiple accounts, but you get the picture and users, the mad monarchists hope, get the message.

A Bangkok Post editorial states that the madness of the authorities “have gone unacceptably overboard in their censorship.” It adds that “[t]he always questionable campaign to clean the internet of nasty material now is out of control.”

We think that point was passed many years ago, but the madness is clearly now having an impact on middle class opinion. Even the Post still considers the lese majeste crackdown a “righteous” effort. That is indeed sad because it fails to adequately acknowledge this core element of military authoritarianism. It also fails to acknowledge the dangerous nature of the new reign for Thailand.

As the editorial notes, the CIB is just one of a plethora of agencies hunting lese majeste in the king’s laundry:

lese majeste “detectives” who already include the army, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the National Intelligence Agency, the CIB’s parent Royal Thai Police Bureau, the CIB’s “brother” technology police, the Thai Internet Service Provider Association (Tispa) and others.

The resources used (and wasted) in this lese majeste laundry are immense. But the question of why the military monarchists have gotten so mad is not addressed.

Another Bangkok Post report is of another mad performance by Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission. He has declared that:

The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), an industry association made up of eight internet giants, has agreed in principle to work with local authorities to tackle webpages and content that violate the law.

Takorn, who seems to relish media performance rather than substance, declared again that “it was crucial that all illicit webpages be removed according to court orders issued in Thailand.” He said that the junta has “asked the AIC if we could work together and achieve long-term cooperation on this matter…”. He claimed “the AIC agreed to be another source in helping alert the NBTC to illicit content and send it details of websites that break the law.”

What does this mean?

The AIC is “an industry association made up of Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yahoo. The AIC seeks to promote the understanding and resolution of Internet policy issues in the Asia Pacific region.” It is a policy network made up of “government relations” employees of the firms involved.

Censorship does not seem to be one of the policy aims of the AIC. Indeed, and interestingly, its most recent “activity,” from December 2016, was to criticize the junta’s efforts.

In other words, Takorn is posing. Is it that the CIB is also grandstanding? Why would this be? We can only guess that the mounting madness has a lot to do with pressure being put on the junta to behave more maniacally than might be considered usual for authoritarian royalists. That pressure could only be from the palace.

If we are wrong, then we can only assume that the regime has completely lost its collective mind.