The royal elephant in the room

20 02 2021

Reading a report at the Thai Enquirer on Move Forward’s Rangsiman Rome and his speech in parliament requires insider knowledge.

Reporting that he “showed the four-page document from 2019, when the Royal Thai Police force was under the leadership of [Gen] Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and of current Deputy Prime Minister [Gen] Prawit Wangsuwan,” it is left to the reader’s imagination and inside knowledge to work out what this is about, adding:

The so-called chang or elephant ticket is allegedly a list of police officers assured of promotion. The ticket, according to Rome, is a vehicle for positions and connections within the police, bypassing the official merit-based system for promotion.

Immediately the hashtag #ตั๋วช้าง began trending, used millions of times.

Like an earlier politician forced into exile, Rangsiman spoke of the patronage system. Rangsiman implied “Prayut and Prawit were aware that such corrupt practices were taking place, accusing the administration of allowing the police to indulge the ‘godfathers’ operating gambling dens and the drug trade, while cracking down on pro-democracy protestors like criminals.”

The closest the newspaper gets to talking about the elephant in the room is when it reports that the MP said “he was aware that he was breaching a dangerous taboo against some of the country’s most powerful vested interests.” That’s code for the monarchy and that he was speaking of the involvement of the palace in police promotions and corruption was clearer – but still unstated – when he said:

This is probably the most dangerous action I’ve ever taken in my life,” he said during the hearing. “But since I have been chosen by the people, I will fight for the people…. I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but I have no regrets over the decisions that I have made today.

It is Khaosod that reports the speech more directly, helped by the slimy lese majeste bully Suporn Atthawong.

According to this report, Rangsiman’s “bombshell revelation” was that “a handful of government favorites and a royal aide can dictate appointments and removals within the police force at their whim…”.

He went further, saying that the documents showed that “police officers can gain immediate promotions without going through the formal route if they manage to obtain a ‘Ticket,’ a document signed by Maj. Gen. Torsak Sukvimol, the commander of the Ratchawallop Police Retainers, King’s Guard 904.” That’s the younger brother of the king’s most important official.

The link to the palace is clear:

The MP said the scheme is run by Torsak’s brother, Sathitpong Sukvimol, who serves as Lord Chamberlain to the royal palace. Documents shown by Rangsiman shows that Sathitpong in 2019 wrote to a certain institution asking for 20 police officers to receive either new ranks or titles.

The slimy Suporn has rushed in with Article 112 allegations:

We have transcribed every word and letter of the speeches that Mr. Rangsiman Rome referenced the monarchy…. Our legal team has looked into it and concluded that the information is sufficient for prosecution under Article 112.

Of course, the king’s previous interference in police promotions has been well-documented. A recent academic piece, drawing on Wikileaks, summarizes this, stating that Vajiralongkorn twice “intervened in matters to do with the appointment of the national police chief, in 1997 and 2009, both seemingly with personal motives…”. We also know that there were several periods when the king was crown prince that there were rumors that he was involved with crime figures.





Patronage and ideas sclerosis

22 04 2020

Readers will be over the moon to learn that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s request for help from Thailand’s filthy rich billionaires has received a positive response:

Thailand’s top business leaders are ready to help the government ease the crunch of the coronavirus crisis, and plan to offer their ideas to lift the country out of the economic quagmire.

There was much mutual back-slapping and self-congratulations:

Suphachai Chearavanont, chief executive of Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group, “hailed the prime minister’s gesture as a smart move.”

He compared Thailand’s wealthiest to ministries:

Each of the businesses is like one ministry. They are from the real sector and they are running their own micro economy. If they work under the government, the prime minister will automatically have twenty more ministries working for the administration….

A Bangkok Post editorial notes that Gen Prayuth “wanted the rich to do more to ease the suffering of the masses,” urging them “to propose tangible projects in writing by next week on how they can help more.”

The editorial proclaims: “Requesting the captains of industry to help the country during a crisis is not wrong.” It might be asked why he even has to do this.

One reason is that it is “natural” for those in a symbiotic relationship to rely on each other. Since at least the late 1950s, the relationship between the wealthiest capitalists and military rulers has been cosy and has resulted in massive exploitation of people and environment. The military has created a social order where the rich get richer and the very rich are bloated, with cash flowing to them from multiple state coffers, semi-monopolies and corrupt relationships.

A second reason is that the junta post-junta regime is bereft of talent and ideas. As worshippers at the fount of great wealth, that’s where they seek “ideas.” The trouble is that most of these Sino-Thai tycoons live in a cocoon of inter-married families, royalism, nepotism and exploitation and know little of the world of those of Comrade Gen Prayuth calls the “masses.”

In fact, he should have gone farther, asking that more people on the top of the national wealth pyramid pitch in.

The Post editorial states it “is indisputable that many business moguls have long reaped the benefits of crony capitalism. They have utilised greater resources in the country to create wealth, inevitably widening the inequality gap.”

Observing that “Thailand is among the 10 most unequal countries” in the world, it notes that those with great wealth “have enjoyed the advantages of the political patronage system.” (We recall when Jakrapob Penkair got into terrible lese majeste trouble for his description of Thailand’s patronage system.)

Yet the Post – it is owned and operated by tycoons – feels the need to defend the beneficiaries of the patronage system, saying the the huge income gap “does not necessarily mean that these billionaires are villains. They have contributed greatly to the country and the economy, created a large number of jobs and developed many social projects.”

They have created businesses that have made them hugely wealthy on the backs of poor farmers and workers. They have used some of this wealth to grease the wheels of bureaucracy and military, adding to their wealth. They have funded the monarchy, cementing a ruling class in power for decades.

When they “give,” they do so for reasons that grow their wealth and power.

It even gets into some fake history, declaring: “The Chinese ancestors of several billionaire dynasties successfully established business empires in Thailand without state support.” Which are they? We can’t think of any.

Many old books on Thailand’s capitalist class tell a different story (see, for example, Bankers and Bureaucrats (PDF), Capital Accumulation in Thailand, and even Chinese Society in Thailand: An Analytical History.

The Post reckons that asking the “super-rich” for help “does more good than harm.” There’s no evidence for this. The ideas they’ve come up with so far suggest idea sclerosis.

Has anyone looked at how much or how little tax these tycoons pay?





Each grovel is a democratic setback

20 10 2018

The various UN agencies have been a happy hunting ground for palace officials and royalist toadies who seek honor after honor to be conferred on royals. One example was the great sucking sound attached to the launch of the UNDP’s report on sufficiency economy under the previous post-coup government. And the UN award invented for the previous king.

Each grovel by the UN before the world’s wealthy monarchs is a setback for democracy because it lauds feudal ridiculousness.

The latest report of groveling involves UNICEF. It is revealed that Princess Sirindhorn “has been honoured with a life-time achievement award … in recognition of her relentless efforts to improve the quality of life of children in Thailand.” UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore declared that the princess had made “significant contributions and unwavering commitment to improving the lives of children in Thailand…”.

An AP Photo

We scratched our collective head on this and decided to determine what she is said to have done for kids.

So, we looked at a UNICEF report.

It says Fore gushed that Sirindhorn got the prize most especially for “her advocacy and Royal Patronage projects on issues such as combatting iodine deficiency, promoting good nutrition for disadvantaged children, promoting literacy and education activities and her focus on marginalized groups living in remote areas…”.

Well, she may have patronized such things, but the ideas, work and outcomes have almost nothing to do with this royal.

Sitting atop stuff in Thailand is the way the feudal system of patronage is. So UNICEF is rewarding feudal patronage.

There are a bunch of dedicated medicos who worked on IDD from a time the princess was a coddled baby. The same is true for nutrition. They should be rewarded, not a feudal figurehead. We could go through the whole list of “human development, including nutrition, health and hygiene, education, water resource development and agriculture” and point to scores of deserving people and not one of them is a pampered princess.

The 1983 “projects to improve access to and quality of education for children in the remote areas and marginalized communities” was essentially counterinsurgency and run by the murderous police and military.

Her Royal Highness has also led an Iodine Deficiency Disorder Control Project since 1990. Combined with significant efforts by UNICEF around systematic salt iodization by salt producing companies in Thailand, Iodine Deficiency Disorder rate in primary school children has continuously been under 5 per cent.

UNICEF should know better, but its people in Bangkok are dedicated and servile royalists.





Elections vs. the patronage system

11 04 2017

The Puea Thai Party may think it has a chance of doing well in an election, even if it is the junta’s “election.” We have serious doubts that they could win another election under the junta’s rules. Even if they did, the junta’s constitution will stymie them as a government.

In line with their faith in electoral democracy, the Puea Thai Party has demanded a “general election early next year, revocation of ‘unconstitutional’ orders of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the military junta] and freedom to express opinions about legislation.”

Somewhat oddly, at least in our view, the party sees the “promulgation of the 2017 constitution last Thursday started a process to restore democracy…”. We see it as the beginning of a period of military-backed government.

Meanwhile, the enemies of electoral democracy met with General Prem Tinsulanonda, the President of the Privy Council. The now frail Prem beamed as he accepted the obeisance of some members of the junta (who was missing?), cabinet members, military commanders-in-chief, the national police chief and other top officials.

General Prem “wished Prime Minister [General] Prayut Chan-o-cha success in his handling of the country’s administration and advised him not to be discouraged by problems he has encountered.” For the grand old political meddler, “success” involves “returning happiness” to “the Thai people.”

The Dictator was puffed up and proud, praising General Prem, “who he said was a role model for everyone in the country in terms of loyalty to the nation, religion and the monarchy.”

Readers will be amused to learn that The Dictator “presented a vase of flowers and a basket of gifts to Gen Prem, who in return distributed a CD on the tribute to the late King … and a book of prayer to everyone present.”

Just the thing for men who were responsible for the attacks on red shirt demonstrators seven years ago to the day that eventually left scores dead and thousands injured.

Meanwhile, it seems that Prayuth has decided that as The Dictator, he deserves Prem-like obeisance. He will “open Government House on April 12 for cabinet members, members of the National Council for Peace and Order, armed forces commanders and other officials to perform a rod nam dam hua [water-pouring] ceremony for him to mark the Songkran Festival.”

The juxtaposition of these political positions is defining of Thailand’s political present and indicative of its futures.





The patronage system

24 12 2016

The puppet National Legislative Assembly’s (NLA) has been allocated a series of tasks by the junta, all meant to uproot the so-called Thaksin regime, meaning all remnants of the electoralism of the period 2001 to 2006.

Anti-democrats and the military dictators believe that Thaksin Shinawatra established an extensive patronage network in business, politics and the civil and military bureaucracy that needs to be abolished if the royalist elite and “network monarchy” is to maintain its ascendancy. They often linked patronage and vote-buying.

We at PPT had not previously heard of what The Nation calls an NLA “ad-hoc committee on how to fight the deeply-entrenched patronage system,” led, of course, by one of the top brass, Admiral Saksit Cherdboonmuang.The committee was the Admiral’s idea and was established in February.

Apparently, it has been at work developing a “367-page report with detailed proposals on how to end the domination of the patronage system in Thailand’s bureaucracy.” PPT hasn’t seen the report, but the Admiral says the ” patronage system causes damage in various dimensions. For example, it discourages many talented people from working in the government sector…”. Patronage, he says, leads to corruption.

Saksit reckons “that when it came to the delivery of government services, people … will think they just can’t go through normal channels of service delivery. They will think they need to find personal connections to get good services…”.

Anyone who has dealt with the bureaucracy will recognize this. That said, quite a few departments were much better following changes that began with the 1997 constitution. For example, getting a passport became a standardized procedure without the need to pay extras or to know someone.

The Admiral also “lamented that patronage had long been a part of the bureaucracy, pushing civil servants to prioritise personal relationships over a merit-based system.” He added:

It encourages junior officials to kow-tow to senior officials, who in turn bow to political-office holders so as to maintain beneficial relationships. In this cycle, businesspeople have also lobbied government officials and political-office holders.

Again, everyone will recognize this pattern. Having many minions makes life comfortable and is a display of power. It is also well-known that senior bureaucrats, police and military become very wealthy by their positions and their control of bureaucratic knowledge, rules and hierarchy.

None of this is new, being described long into the past by historians who describe favoritism, nepotism and corruption.

It starts when they are young

It starts when they are young

Saksit said his committee had compiled guidelines on how to stop the patronage culture from damaging the bureaucracy. These include a “ban free gifts, feasts, and bribes.” Government officials will also be “advised to avoid playing golf with people who may pose a conflict of interest.”  Reportedly, the recommendations include advice that “senior officials should reduce the number of assistants, because close work relations can also foster patronage feelings.”

Like many things in Thailand today, under the military dictatorship, this is doublespeak. There’s good patronage and bad patronage. Bad patronage is associated with nasty elected politicians. Good patronage is unmentioned, because it is a system that is based in hierarchy, military and monarchism.

It continues for university students and military recruits

It continues for university students and military recruits

As one commentator observed:

The patronage system is deeply ingrained…. The government is the parent. The people are the children…. The parent naturally has a fascist tendency to demand that the child not do this, not to do that.

This brief description fits the military dictatorship like a glove.

The last person who criticized this system of “good” or royalist patronage in any detail was probably Jakrapob Penkair.

Jakrapob, a former spokesman for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin, made a speech at Bangkok’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) on 29 August 2007. Royalists declared the speech anti-monarchy and he had to resign as a minister in May 2008. Under pressure from the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, on 22 March 2010 the case was sent forward for consideration for prosecution. Jakrapob had fled Thailand a year earlier. While the lese majeste case was reportedly dropped, Jakrapob remains in exile.

And continues to the top

And continues to the top

In that speech [opens a PDF that may be considered lese majeste in Thailand], Jakrapob stated that the then (2007) political crisis represented a “clash between Democracy and Patronage system directly.” He added: “It’s a head on clash.” He traces the history of patronage in Thai history:

One of the noted examples was that Great Father Ramkamheang … proposed to have a bell hung in front of his palace and anybody with specific problems could come and ring that bell and he or his people would come out and handle the problems. That was one of the first lessons the Thai students learnt about Thai political regime that you have someone to depend upon.

When you have a problem turn to someone who can help you, so before we know it, we are led into the Patronage system because we asked about dependency before our own capability to do things.

The lesson for today is that loyalty is paramount: “If you have loyalty to the King, unquestionable loyalty to the King, you would be protected, in order to show this protection more clearly, people who do otherwise must be punished.” Hence, under the military dictatorship of royalist generals, lese majeste is considered a more dire crime than premeditated murder.

Jakrapob talks of the modern era where the “[p]atronage system is problematic because it encourages unequality [inequality] among individuals. And that’s a direct conflict to Democracy. It encourages one person into thinking of depending on the other or others. It breeds endless number of slaves with a very limited number of masters. It prevents Thailand from coming out of age.”

That’s why Thailand has so many coups; the idea is to prevent the royalist patronage system being changed or overthrown.

We don’t think the Admiral is talking about this patronage system. After all, he and all his junta buddies and every single member of the military’s officer corps benefit greatly from royalist-preferred patronage.





Listening to yellow-shirted opinion

26 03 2010

A meeting was held at the royalist-dominated Chulalongkorn University that claimed to be on the topic “Why Society Must Listen to the Little People,” and is reported in the Bangkok Post (25 March 2010). While the meeting did include two red shirt representatives, PPT wants to look at the yellow-shirted opinion.

The Post summarizes the meeting as saying that red shirt demands for a dissolution of the lower house of parliament will achieve very little for democracy until politicians can be kept in check and made accountable for their actions.

Niran Pithakwatchara from the government’s tame National Human Rights Commission, claimed that “true democracy had never existed in Thailand and people on the lower rungs of society were mere pawns in the politicians’ games.Sonthi Limthongkul used this same line repeatedly.

So don’t get rid of the government says Niran, but exercise the “rights” provided by the military’s 2007 Constitution to “keep tabs on the holders of power.Niran calls for “civic networks” to watch the politicians. But who might watch the military, the privy council and the monarch and family? Are politicians reflective of the structure of their society or are they the only problem? Niran goes on to claim that the red shirts should somehow fight for equal benefits from state policies. In fact, though, he sees them as fighting for Thaksin Shinawatra. His comments show why PPT refers to the NHRC being the government’s tame body. Currently it seems to fight for no one.

Senator Rosana Tositrakul, a staunch promoter and defender of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, decided to explain that “a dissolution of the House or a general election would not dispense with the system of the bureaucratic elite, or amataya, which is a key platform of the UDD movement.” As PAD intellectuals have argued, the problem for the senator is that politicians are a part of the so-called patronage system. The “people elect MPs who then use their popular support to negotiate seats in the cabinet.” She’s right on this.

Bringing back that system was critical for those who drafted the military’s 2007 Constitution that the senator has cheered. Like many others, she asks what the red shirts want after a dissolution. PPT’s understanding is that the red shirts have called for a dissolution and then an election. Presumably each party would promulgate an electoral platform. We suspect that is not what the senator wants.

Surichai Wankaew, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn who worked for years to develop grassroots politics and then jumped into the military junta’s appointed parliament when the chance came, noted that the “highly partisan” political divide allows the “urban population to dictate national priorities.

Maybe the professor has lost his spectacles, for this domination has been in place for a very long time and hardly seems the product of recent “partisanship.” Apparently the professor thinks the House should not be dissolved until after the people have set conditions to improve the political system, which the holders of power must adopt.” This seems to involve some kind of PAD-like notion of politics.

It is as if politicians are the only cause of political problems in Thailand. This is a myopia that seems to prevent these yellow-shirted politicians – each has been or is a politician – from getting beyond slogans about “the people,” and recall that they are the ones saying that it is the red shirts who are all about slogans and lacking substance. Each also has a claim to grassroots activism. It seems, though, that the grassroots has abandoned them.





Royalists complain, offer advice, launch websites

7 02 2010

 

PPT has kind of thought that the royalists would be pretty happy with the Democrat Party-led coalition they maneuvered into power with the help of the military a year ago. While the government hasn’t dealt a death blow to Thaksin Shinawatra and the red shirts, in terms of being royalist, the Abhisit Vejjajiva government would seem to have done the right things.

 

The government has jailed critics on lese majeste and Computer Crimes charges, blocked tens of thousands of critical website, had millions brought out to demonstrate “loyalty” and “love” in various ways, and it has spent millions if not billions on royal propaganda and other royal things.

 

But it seems this may not be sufficient. The Bangkok Post (7 February 2010) reports that Privy councilor Air Chief Marshal Kamthon Sindhavananda has said that the Abhisit government appeared to be “on the defensive” when it came to preventing insults against the monarchy. Kamthon complained that the government was way to slow in responding to attacks and insults aimed at the monarchy.

 

PPT foolishly imagined that the palace might have been grateful that the government seems to have shifted the bad press regarding lese majeste off the front pages of newspapers. Apparently not. It seems the old guys at the privy council want even more people locked up.

 

When asked about Kamthon’s comment yesterday, Abhisit looked uncomfortable, but said he would listen to the honorable one’s advice and he “pledged to improve mechanisms to safeguard the royal institution. The premier reaffirmed that “protecting the monarchy is the government’s top priority.

 

It seems that the privy councilor may not be happy with Abhisit’s new “committee charged with providing advice on lese majeste cases to make sure the monarchy is not embroiled in politics.

 

In the same report, there is a photo of gleeful banned politician Newin Chidchob displaying his great love for the monarchy by launching the Bhum Jai Thai Party’s king lover’s website. Newin said the website will give Thais another channel to express their love and allegiance to the King.One of hundreds. Expecting challenges, Newin said that his “website staff will continually monitor and filter out messages posted on the website that are deemed inappropriate.

 

The site is actually a mess, so maybe he should have had someone update the website before “launching” it. But that isn’t really the point as Newin simply wants to be seen as a staunch royalist.

 

In a related Bangkok Post (7 February 2010) story Privy Council president General Prem Tinsulanonda is reported to have made a speech at Rangsit University (where there are strong royal, yellow shirt and Democrat Party connections) calling for “good” leaders.

 

Taking a leaf out of Jakrapob Penkair’s 29 August 2007 speech to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT), Prem claims that “nepotism, cronyism and the patronage system are key factors in making Thai leaders ignore justice and the rule of law.

 

Jakkrapob said essentially the same thing, and got charged with lese majeste because he linked the system to the current monarch and his flunkies, including Prem.

 

The Post states: “Without identifying any leader, Gen Prem said that forms of relationships in Thai society – relatives, friends, and those who do someone favours – are key factors in shaping the mindset of Thai leaders.” Of course, a monarchy is a prime example of nepotism and everyone knows that an “in” with the palace is exceptionally powerful, so maybe Prem is living in a very large and well-appointed glass house.

 

Prem’s solution is to look to the military – what a thing to say when coup rumors are everywhere! The old general disparages politicians when he says: “many people have volunteered to be leaders but they lacked the charisma needed to lead people.” Prem urges a search for “charismatic [barami] leaders to work for the good of the country.

 

Prem seems to support Abhisit when he states: that “good leaders [must] be able to differentiate between the good and the bad and uphold justice. They must have moral integrity and must make sure their colleagues also maintain those standards.” That’s exactly the image Abhisit tries to portray.

 

And, of course, leaders “must be loyal to His Majesty the King and act in the best interests of the country.” Good old-fashioned Thai-style democracy, repacked from the late 1950s.

 

Regular readers may remember that about a week ago PPT said that, as the political heat rose we could expect more noise from the palace. It seems to have begun in earnest.

 

 








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