Sulak, the king and lese majeste

24 11 2018

A story from an Australian newspaper provides yet more detail on the king and lese majeste via Sulak Sivaraksa. It is kind of looking like Sulak is a palace messenger.

The report notes that despite multiple lese majeste charges brought against him (all under the previous king), Sulak “remained a monarchist.” As a monarchist, “[h]e believes the lese-majeste law, Article 112, should be abolished for the sake of keeping the royal family strong.”

Sulak “speaks highly of the new king … who he says is not only responsible for his freedom but for no new lese-majeste charges being laid against anyone in a year.” He claims that on lese majeste, Vajiralongkorn “… is impatient, he said ‘no more’…”.

Academic Patrick Jory argues that the frequency of use has to do with “… political crisis, particularly one in which the monarchy is involved…”. He also suggests that “the coming election and Vajiralongkorn’s coronation, on a date yet to be set, have both played a part in the year-long moratorium on new charges.”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk says: “While there has been a sharp drop in lese-majeste prosecutions, Thai authorities have switched to using other laws, such as the Computer-Related Crime Act and sedition law, to prosecute critics of the monarchy…”.

As well as praising the king, Sulak refers to Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, as “mediocre” and “the worst of the dictators we’ve had,” but “competent.” Worst, mediocre and competent is a wide range of descriptions and he also describes Gen Sarit Thanarat as “the worst.”

Mixing all that up, Sulak then declares: “Prayuth’s afraid of me. He’s a hypocrite. He used this case to silence me. Every dictator hated me. Suchinda [Kraprayoon, whose brief tenure in 1992 was marked by a massacre] was very bright compared with Prayut. He tried to kill me.”

No of this makes sounds particularly compos mentis, his comments on Vajiralongkorn need to be seriously considered as he is one of the few who has spoken about him.

Sulak is described as “circumspect about what the king is like in person,” but admits that “[h]e has a bad public image…”. He continues:

He’s shy, but he’s very knowledgeable. He’s very concerned with the survival of the monarchy, and very concerned about whether this country could be really democratic.

I think the king is wise. He wants the monarchy to be more open and more transparent. He has gained a lot of confidence [since he assumed power].

That’s all very scary.

On the future of lese majeste, Jory says “the new king is very unpopular, particularly compared to his father, and with “too many skeletons” in the monarchy’s closet he does not expect the lese-majeste law to be reformed any time soon.”

Jory says the “monarchy has lots and lots of enemies. This issue in the medium term won’t go away,” meaning that lese majeste will be maintained. “He is not expecting much to change with the election expected in February.”





The prince cometh

25 10 2016

Australian academic Patrick Jory has one of the best pieces we’ve seen on “delayed succession.” Sure, it is all still speculation, yet Jory bases his “best guesses” on “what we know.” His piece appears at The Interpreter. Some tidbits:

Some observers of Thailand’s politics are attracted to the theory that the Crown Prince may have been ‘blocked’ from assuming the throne by his enemies in the Thai royalist establishment. Such a view is particularly influential among some sections of the Red Shirts movement, who believe that succession instability may provide an opportunity for an uprising against the royalist establishment….

We don’t think the latter view is widespread. However, many yellow shirts believe the view is widespread – and so are frightened – and dislike the prince for this and other failures.

Jory thinks the successionist “speculation is almost certainly wrong…”. He lists several reasons for arguing that the prince will become king.

First, the long official mourning period – at least one year – means that any overt political activity at this time would be portrayed by the military regime as disrespectful to the late king….

Second, … the military coup of 2014 was carried out precisely to ensure that the military was in control when the succession took place. The military has been successful in suppressing all political activity during this time. There is no reason why this should not continue.

Third, the military and the monarchy have been in a close and mutually beneficial political alliance since the late 1950s. The military provides ultimate protection for the monarchy; the monarchy has long provided legitimacy for the military’s political role, which has included sanctioning coups and approving amnesty bills which absolve the military from all legal responsibility for their actions. For this reason, it is in the interests of both to ensure that the succession is as smooth as possible. The last thing either institution wants is disunity.

Fourth, and most importantly, it is clear that the Crown Prince is already in a powerful position….

This sounds reasonable. So why wait to become king?

As exiled political historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul has argued, it is likely that the Crown Prince’s decision to delay the succession is purely idiosyncratic, typical of his well-known lack of respect for convention and tradition. Given the prince’s reputation, few would dare question his decision.

familyMaybe. At the same time, the prince doesn’t look grasping and covetous of the kingship. He also gains some of his father’s aura from attending to the funeral, which has displayed the royal family as united rather than split (although we wonder why the family pictures at a Bangkok Post story have apparently been removed when we last looked). It has introduced the country to the idea of Suthida as consort.

funeral

Suthida is the woman in uniform

That helps him work on a problem Jory identifies for the new king: “how to win the hearts and minds of the Thai population.”

Jory spends a bit of time on the alleged relationship between Thaksin Shinawatra and the prince.

We tend to think that that the relationship – whatever it was – is weakened by the military’s now dominant position, including its dominance of the monarchy:

The new constitution drafted by a military-appointed lawyer and approved at a tightly-controlled plebiscite in August makes for a weak parliament, an enhanced political role for the military, and the possibility of a non-elected prime minister. This is also to the benefit of the new king.

Jory concludes:

All this suggests that the authority of the Crown Prince has been underestimated. In particular, his ruthless use of the lèse majesté law as his political weapon of choice, not only to destroy his enemies but to forbid any criticism of his actions, is an indication of what we might expect when the reign of King Rama X finally officially begins.





Jory on referendum and political future

20 08 2016

Patrick Jory is senior lecturer in Southeast Asian History at the University of Queensland in Australia. He has a new short commentary at Asian Currents, which is not always widely seen.

He observes that:

The real aim of the draft constitution is to weaken the authority of any future elected government and to constitutionally protect the political influence of the military and its conservative backers.

Jory says that “[w]hile no evidence of electoral fraud has been uncovered, this was in no sense a free and fair referendum.” We agree that the referendum was rigged. We are not so sure that there was no fraud. At least we should be able to see the results of the referendum (as is usual in non-junta Thailand, but that hasn’t happened (as far as we know).

We completely disagree with Jory’s view that:

It is important to acknowledge that, unlike during the period from the 1950s to the 1980s, the Thai military today does not rule in its own right. It has a substantial social base of support. It is backed to varying degrees by middle and upper-class Thais, the powerful bureaucracy, the judiciary, university administrations and faculty, and large Sino–Thai corporations.

We suggest that the military has always had a social base. We’d also say that the sources of that base haven’t changed much although the classes mentioned have grown in numbers. His view leads him to resurrect the 1950s notion of a bureaucratic polity as if nothing much has changed. That’s a fallacy.

He is on firmer ground when he observes:

There is also an ethnic dimension to this Bangkok–provincial political cleavage. As historian Chris Baker has pointed out in a recent article, the predominantly Sino–Thai middle class has ‘almost no affinity with rural Thailand’… For many Sino–Thai, the countryside is ‘unknown and hence fearsome’.

Ethnicity has been overlooked for too long. Others have noted the Sino-Thai relation with rural areas but not necessarily in fear but in terms of seeking a cultural base for an immigrant class that lost its roots in and links to China.

Jory concludes with a view that “it is unlikely that this constitution will last much longer than its predecessors.” This constitution will last as long as it is useful for the military, monarchy and the rest of the ruling elite.





Thai republicanism

19 07 2016

In a post at New Mandala, academic Patrick Jory writes of the history if Thai republicanism. Much that he mentions will be known to those who study Thailand’s modern history. However, by bringing this into a story about republican roots, its development and links to the present, Jory provides a useful and revealing account.

Republicanism itself has a long history in political philosophy and its political usage and understanding has changed over time.





Absolutism

10 06 2015

PPT should have mentioned academic Patrick Jory’s “Thailand haunted by the ghost of absolutism” at East Asia Forum a few days ago.

EAFHis essential point is that the illegal military dictatorship’s manipulation of politics and law means that “Thailand has reverted to an absolutist state.” PPT has posted about totalitarianism.

Jory is pretty much right when he states:

The essence of the political conflict remains unchanged since it began in late 2005, when a movement backed by Thailand’s conservative elite ousted the elected government of the popular Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Today, a power bloc — consisting of the military, the bureaucracy, and Sino–Thai banking and industry, given political legitimacy and ideological unity by the monarchy — continues its struggle to preserve its political supremacy. This power bloc is threatened by the politicisation of Thailand’s rural and urban working classes — whose political potential Thaksin was the first to recognise and exploit.

His diagnosis of the political conflict is also pretty much correct:

The power bloc wages this struggle in ideological terms in the name of ‘reform’. But what is endlessly debated in the pro-establishment media and by conservative intellectuals as a moral issue — how to solve the problem of corrupt politicians, vote-buying, ignorant voters — is in reality a political issue: how to accommodate the entry of millions of Thai citizens into Thailand’s political process. The draft constitution’s oft-stated desire to rid Thai politics of the former is really an attempt to block the latter.

If less eloquently, PPT has made similar points for a long time. Jory’s article deserves a wide audience.





Palace coups

10 12 2014

PPT has just noticed a “birthday celebration” article on the king and politics in The Atlantic magazine. It makes some interesting points and shows how international commentators have become far more wary of simply reproducing palace propaganda than was the case even in the recent past.

For that change, we can credit the efforts of authors Paul Handley and Andrew MacGregor Marshall, and academics Serhat Unaldi, Patrick Jory, Michael Connors, Thongchai Winichakul, Kevin Hewison, Duncan McCargo and others. Activists like Ji Ungpakorn, Rose Amornpat, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Junya Yimprasert and others have also changed the monarchy discourse. And, perhaps, PPT and blogs like New Mandala have also changed perceptions.

Yet the story also evidences some confusions.

Beginning by noting that the king was a no-show for his promised birthday speech. It makes nothing of this, which is odd. Given the fanfare about the aged, frail and largely incomprehensible king coming out of hospital to make a speech, that event would have been a “coup” for the military dictatorship. But the report wants to make another point:

With nearly seven decades in power, Bhumibol is the world’s longest-serving head of state—and he’s somehow achieved this milestone in a country that has seen more coups than most any other. By one count, there have been 10 since Bhumibol assumed the throne after his brother, the previous king, was found shot in the head in 1946. As elected leaders and military juntas have come and gone in Thailand with a frequency unrivaled in the world, King Bhumibol has held on at the very top, and he is frequently described as a “unifying force” in a country with deep political divisions. How has he done it?

Much in this is odd. First, it is odd that the question of who shot the king’s brother is not made. It is now a widely-held view, as it was at the time amongst diplomats, that the present king shot his brother, probably by accident. Second, the claim made seems to be that the king has been a coup survivor. That is a very odd claim. Indeed, for almost all the military putsches during his reign, the king and palace have been actively involved with the coup-makers and, in some cases, the palace has been involved in planning and making the military intervention. Surviving a partnership with the military is far easier and more profitable than opposing each illegal military coup.

The article says that the king “survived” these military interventions, not because he was a part of them, but because he is “genuinely popular.” Remarkably, in making this point, The Atlantic cites Paul Handley, who is quoted: “He’s shown himself as really a man of his people…”. The article continues:

Listed by Forbes as the world’s richest monarch, worth some $30 billion in 2011, Bhumibol has presented himself as a friend to Thailand’s poor, with well-publicized efforts to improve rural development, health care, and education. A combination of authentic dedication and professional image management, Handley told me, have helped build up a strong reputation for the king over a period of decades.

If these are accurate quotes, and we think they are taken out of context, then PPT reckons that there’s a confusing of ideology and reality.  As is later stated: “The law also makes the monarchy’s own role in Thailand’s coups—many of which, Handley wrote in his book, ‘took place in the throne’s name and with the palace’s quiet nod’—difficult to discuss publicly within the country.” Indeed, the palace has been more deeply involved than this suggests.

In any case, as the article says, “it’s not quite that simple, and it’s impossible to know exactly how popular, or how unpopular, the king really is. Thailand criminalizes speaking ill of the royal family…. The [lese majeste] law may help protect the king’s image and reinforce his popularity, but their enforcement also provides an imperfect window into the anti-monarch sentiment that exists in the kingdom.”

It quotes David Streckfuss, who states that the number of lese-majeste cases has “skyrocketed to never-imaginable heights…”. Readers of PPT will know that the number of cases has gone up even further since then, with the military dictatorship using the law more feverishly than any government since the law was established in the early 20th century. Noting just one of these cases, the article states:

The law is now being employed by Thailand’s ruling military junta, which took power in a coup in May, to suppress dissent and demonstrate the military’s allegiance to the popular monarch. Just this week, a former member of parliament was sentenced to two and a half years in jail for comments made in a May speech entitled “Stop Overthrowing Democracy.”

Indeed, that speech made the palace-military link clear in recent military interventions. Under the royalist military dictatorship, facts are replaced by myth, and the enforcement of myth is vigorous.





Death and after I

8 10 2014

Death seems to be on the minds of many commentators in the media and on various social media. This rather morbid concern with death derives from the king being rushed back to Bangkok for a gall bladder operation/stroke/stem-cell infusion or whatever one guesses.

PPT has no idea what’s going on, but if it is as stated by the palace, then the great risk of an operation on a very old and frail man does suggest that the risk of not doing it must have been high.

At The Conversation, Patrick Jory, an Australian academic sets out the fears and successionist position.

The International Business Times has an interesting photo-essay on the fears associated with the passing of the king. It is interesting for several reasons. One is that the series of high-quality photos shows the king’s rapid decline into senility in recent years. Another is because it shows the military dictatorship demonstrating “loyalty” and making the most of that position. A third reason is because it shows Yingluck Shinawatra on her belly, also showing loyalty.

That article links to an earlier one on succession. It states the successionist position:

It’s not yet clear who will succeed Bhumibol, who lived on a hospital ward in the capital for four years, from 2009, with respiratory problems.

We think that’s false. It is clear who succeeds, at least in law. It is Prince Vajiralongkorn. Yet there is now plenty of discussion of that, making it a stickier proposition than it was a decade ago. So it is argued that:

when he [the king] passes away, Thailand’s constitutional monarchy will face an unsettling shake up and the likelihood of a power vacuum.

The military dictatorship won’t allow that, but General Prayuth Chan-ocha will have a plan in mind or will have been sworn to a plan.

If Thailand had legal betting, we’d be looking at the odds for succession, and would probably still be betting on the prince, at least in the short term. But we’d only bet what we can afford to lose.





Academics discuss monarchy

11 10 2011

At New Mandala and at YouTube there is a new 30-minute podcast available in NM’s series on Nation, Religion and King.  This episode is titled “King”. The panel of academic analysts includes Tyrell Haberkorn, Charnvit Kasetsiri, Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Patrick Jory — offer their views on the political role of Thailand’s royal family, on the country’s lese majeste law, and on the succession to the throne, among a range of issues. Well worth viewing.

The assessment of lese majeste is useful, although the idea that the monarchy cannot be discussed, while true in law, is now outdated in fact for the monarchy’s political role is now widely discussed. Yes, lese majeste continues to be used as a political weapon and remains a weight on full public discussion. However, post-2006 coup, criticism of the monarchy’s political interventions is widespread.





Jory and Montesano on lese majeste

1 06 2011

Australian academic Patrick Jory and his Singapore-based colleague Michael Montesano have an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that warrants careful consideration. The article is entitled “End the Gag on Thailand’s Citizens.”

They note that the “Electoral Commission recently warned that discussion of the monarchy will not be tolerated in the lead up to the July 3 general election.” They add that this is just the “latest in a series of warnings by government authorities designed to shut down debate about the role of the Thai monarch.” Before this, the Abhisit Vejjajiva Government had “blocked more than 100,000 websites,” imprisoned “numerous Red Shirt leaders and sympathizers” on lese majeste charges and has locked up critics and popular red shirt and leading opposition politician Jatuporn Promphan.

The latter is “as a result of a speech that he made at a rally on the anniversary of the April-May 2010 violence, in which he accused military units attached to the palace of firing on and killing Red Shirt demonstrators.”

The authors note that every attempt to close discussion leads to a growing debate. Why? They say, and PPT agrees:

This is mainly a result of the belief among large sections of the public that the ties between Privy Council Chairman Prem Tinsulanonda and the soldiers who carried out the coup of 2006, along with the subsequent appointment of a privy councilor as prime minister, mean that the palace was directly involved in the coup. Further, in the political turmoil of the past five years, the palace has on numerous occasions appeared to side with the royalist Yellow Shirt protestors, the military and the Democrat Party.

They also note the growing chorus calling for reform of the monarchy “to make it more democratic. The proposals include reforming or abolishing the lèse-majesté law and ending the constitutional prohibition on criticism of the king and the royal family.”

Some of the proposals they mention include:

abolishing the Privy Council, which is appointed by the king and widely believed to intervene in the country’s politics, military promotions and judicial decisions; ending the relentless promotion of the monarchy in the Thai mass media and education system; bringing the monarchy’s extensive assets and business interests under the direction of the government, … ending the practice by which the king makes speeches on politically sensitive subjects, military affairs and judicial decisions without the approval of the elected government of the day; and abolishing the custom whereby commoners are obliged to prostrate themselves before members of the royal family in Thailand—the only place in the world where this custom still exists.

They also note that the specter of republicanism lurks. The authors reckon that “royalists ought to welcome open discussion of the monarchy and its place in national life” as the monarchy’s role needs to modified to meet modern-day realities. They note that “continued suppression of discussion makes impossible” any rational discussion of the monarchy’s future.

The authors conclude that “Thais have a right to debate freely and openly the reform of the monarchy to suit a more modern and democratic future.” PPT agrees but it seems pretty clear that the royalists so not acknowledge any such right.