With several updates: Royalists, recycling and ratbag rightists

31 08 2020

Watching the ultra-royalist Thai Pakdee group “rally” on Sunday was reminiscent of some of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee events. There was some yellow, some whistles, old head and arm bands, and the white, flag-themed t-shirts all seemed recycled from Suthep Thaugsuban’s efforts to overthrow an elected government and/or provide the political space for a military coup.

Thai PBS reports that mostly aged royalists rallied in support of the absent monarch and the junta’s constitution and to demand strong legal measures against student and pro-democracy activists. It was a full bag of rightist demands, recycled from earlier movements going back to the People’s Alliance for Democracy and the military-backed rightists of earlier decades.

Former Democrat Party member, former Action Coalition for Thailand member, and long-term yellow shirt Warong Dechgitvigrom led the rally, and denied he planned and “confrontation” with rallying students and other pro-democracy groups. He did not say that his assigned task is to rally support from the right and royalists and to provide a potential base for further military-backed intervention, should that be deemed necessary by the powers that watch over him and his ilk.

Like his predecessors, Warong blamed all of Thailand’s “troubles” on “politicians,” accusing them of “plunging Thailand into deeper political divide, separating the old and new generations.”

His claim was that his ragtag ratbags had:

come together to protect the [m]onarchy, to retain the Thai identity, to do away with all forms of monopoly, to attain career equality for all Thai people, through the application of technology, and to enhance national prosperity via a sufficiency economy.

He also called for the “Education Minister and all university rectors” repress the student-based activism by not allowing space for rallies and to stop “lecturers, who may harbor anti-[m]onarchy leanings, from ‘brainwashing’ their students.” In this, he is recycling rightism from the 1970s.

In addition, Thai Pakdee planned to recycle rightist demands on the Japanese Embassy to stop Pavin Chachavalpongpun criticizing the monarchy.

The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship’s Jatuporn Promphan, who has sounded rather royalist of late, said Thai Pakdee had “an extreme right-wing agenda, similar to a combination of the former Nawaphol, Red Guard and Village Scout groups.” We are not sure how Red Guards get into the mix, but his reference to Thai rightist heritage is apt.

The recycling of rightists and their rhetoric is dangerous, often leading to the unexplained/uninvestigated bashing of regime critics, probably by rightists working with the authorities.

It is dangerous also for regime and monarchy critics who live in exile. Rightist rhetoric gives cover and justification for the several enforced disappearances in Laos and Cambodia. These are very likely black ops by the Thai military operating on orders from the regime and the palace.

These acts of violence have been meant as “warnings” to anti-regime and anti-monarchists, to instill fear and to silence them.

Getting away with abduction, torture and murder in “brother authoritarian” regimes is relatively easily arranged, often a quid pro quo for similar operations by those regimes in Thailand.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

But it seems that this is not enough. The regime’s panic about anti-monarchy exiles in Japan, the USA and Europe is heightened, probably provoked by recent activism targeting the king in Germany.

The Nation reports on recent efforts to threaten those overseas based critics. Jom Petpradap, a “journalist living in exile in the United States has accused the Thai government of making veiled threats to his life and safety.” He has received a “package sent to him from Thailand [that] contained threatening materials” that made it clear that he is under surveillance and being followed.

Other exiles and outspoken monarchy critic Andrew MacGregor Marshall have reported similar packages and/or stalking.

Rightists in Thailand are also recycling Alt-Right inspired propaganda.

Thisrupt has a limited report on this development, noting that these conspiracy-based “revelations” of “plots” against the right’s Thailand mirror efforts in the 1970s to link student movements to international communism and efforts to overthrow the monarchy.

Something called “Thailand Vision” has been claiming a “plot,” backed by the USA – claimed to be promoting a “color revolution” in Thailand – and funded by Thai and international billionaires and capitalists. Like racists and rightists elsewhere, George Soros is identified as one of the culprit. Soros is remembered by Thai rightists as a culprit in the 1997 economic crisis. But his real “crime” is support for liberal causes.

In an elaborate concoction, Thailand Vision actually recycles claims made in earlier years by a self-exiled American, yellow-shirted conspiracy theorist who has been writing for one of Russia’s propaganda outfit, the New Eastern Outlook, which provides links to a range of alternative media sites, some of them anti-Semitic, others climate change deniers and many libertarian. Some of the co-authors have links to the extreme right in the U.S., including Lyndon LeRouche. and with connections to Alex Jones and much of the anti-imperialist alt-right.

In earlier times, it was Thaksin Shinawatra who was the “culprit” in motivating the international liberal/globalist conspiracy to bring down the monarchy. Now it is Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and international capitalists “behind” NGOs and international “co-conspirators” like the German newspaper Bild (for its tabloid journalism n the king in Germany), Business Insider, PixelHELPER, Freedom House, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and even Netflix!

In Thailand, “co-conspirators” include almost all of the NGOs and other organizations that are not rightist and sufficiently royalist, including the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, Thai Volunteer Service, Asian Network for Free Elections Foundation (ANFREL), Union for Civil Liberty, Prachatai, 101.world and The Isaan Record.

This might all sound bizarre, but in the recent past, such conspiracy nonsense has gained traction among former leftist yellow shirts like the late Kraisak Choonhavan and the regime/junta.

Recycling propaganda is about promoting notions of “threat” and mobilizing rightist reaction.

Update 1: We missed a Khaosod story about the ultras on Sunday. As well as one rally speaker – the youngest – seeming to incite violence and, later, calling for military dictatorship, coupled with a “Down with Democracy” screech, “speakers dish[ed] out conspiracy theories that implicate the governments of the United States and other Western countries in the ongoing anti-government protests.” Celebrity Hatai Muangboonsri said onstage: “Western powers want us to be divided. They encouraged a mindset that hates the pillars of our country…”. The reaction from the US Embassy was predictable. There’s also a strain of pro-China agitation from the ultras, who have mostly opposed Hong Kong democracy protesters.

Update 2: Two stories at The Nation deserve some attention. The first is about a street sweeper attacked outside the Thai Pakdee rally at the Thai-Japanese Stadium in Din Daeng. He was allegedly beaten up “because he was wearing a red shirt.” The story states: “It is assumed that the guard of Thai Pakdee royalist group may have assumed that Sukhon [the man beaten] had worn red to show he was associated with the anti-coup red-shirt movement.” The second story is a most unconvincing “denial” by Warong. Yellow social media is denigrating the cleaner as a “red buffalo” who got what he deserved as a Thaksin supporter. Fascism is on the march.

Update 3: In another story at The Nation, Student Union of Thailand spokesperson Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul insisted that the only people “behind” the student protests were the students themselves. She was logical in pointing out that the use of social media to raise political awareness among students and the young generation means that the students have a lot of supporters: “It wakes up many people. There are a lot of people who think like us.” She added: “It is human nature that if we know that many people share our views, then we have the courage to speak out … our fear is lessened…”. She added that she doesn’t even know all of the groups who associate themselves with Free People. Unlike Russian-paid trolls and yellow-shirted dolts, she’s brave, smart and appears (rather too) innocent.

Update 4: We added a link to Update 1 and corrected a point there.

Update 5: The Nation reports that Warong has “denied that the 15-year-old who posted a message on Facebook Live encouraging dictatorship was a member of his group.” He declared:  “he is not our member. I don’t know. Go ask him. He’s just a kid”.

Clipped from Khaosod

As the above picture shows, Warong is dissembling. He’s shown pulling a Thai Pakdee shirt over the lad’s yellow shirt. He’s applauded and lauded. Warong is trying to mislead people because he doesn’t want Thai Pakdee portrayed as it really is: an undemocratic, pro-military, pro monarchy mob that promotes the dictatorship.





Lug nuts and dipsticks II

27 08 2020

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has sounded daft and predictably reactionary when he babbled about Facebook. His commentary focused on “the Royalist Marketplace page on Facebook operated by Pavin Chachavalpongpun and the Facebook page of Somsak Jeamteerasakul, both of which contain plenty of sensitive issues related to the monarchy.”

“Sensitive” is royalist-speak for anything that is truthful and critical of the long-absent monarch.

As Thai Enquirer reports, he told reporters that student activists “were being led, in-part, by anti-establishment dissidents living abroad who wished to harm the country.”

That report explains that the general’s “statement echoes those of the army chief and other members of the cabinet who say that the students were being guided by a mysterious third hand while other conservative media figures has blamed the United States and the CIA for funding and influencing the students.”

Unlike the students, the geriatrics are lazy, relying on yellow-shirted social media for banal accusations by ultra-royalists and bloggers aligned mad “anti-imperialist” and “leftist” American conspiracy theorists hosted by Russian disruptive media.

In recent days, other geriatric royalists have given their “advice” to students. The Bangkok Post had an interview with failed politician, junta posterior polisher and appointed cabinet member Higher Education Science Research and Innovation Minister Anek Laothamatas.

He deems that the students are ignorant and proceeds to provide a “historical primer” on earlier student movements in Thailand. His paternalism continues as he dismisses their protests as a function of age rather than knowledge and justified political despair. He denigrates them: “The students of today don’t know very much about the past. They have been galvanised by a rather one-sided information passed to them in the social media.”

Presumably, when Anek joined the communists in the jungles, he was similarly dull, led about by the nose, and hotheaded rather than informed and, then, frightened and angry about military massacres. But, no, his arrogance and self-righteousness shines through: “my generation,” he asserts, knew the “real world.”

Like his geriatric leaders, Anek rejects any notion that the students “joined the anti-government protests of their own free will and that they were not led by any political elements or politicians.” Impossible!  Without evidence, he declares “it can’t be denied that some people might try to pull strings.”

His real point is that the students are not “respectful.” Like his yellow-shirted buddies, he considers “they have crossed the monarchy and customs lines, which many people regard as a violation. It’s a blatantly offensive act which might be met with a backlash.” His rhetoric invites rightists to provide the backlash.

Anek then wanders about, praising the general and polishing his posterior.

Thai PBS has another report on ultra-royalist Warong Dechgitvigrom, who also has “advice” for the students he is agitating against, or as the report has it “leading a crusade against anti-government protesters and to protect the country’s most revered institution.”

“Most revered institution” is ultra-speak for the monarchy and the monarch.

The yellowman is apoplectic: “The father of the country is being harassed.… How can Thai people stand by?”

“Father” is ultra-speak for the king. Rarely has Vajiralongkorn had this moniker, previously used for his dead father to instill paternalism.

Warong “has countered these calls with three demands of its own – no dissolution of Parliament, maximum legal action against anyone who seeks to topple the monarchy, and no change to the Constitution except via the proper channels.”

Like Anek, he then rambles about his experience, but he’s more outspoken: “When I was president of Chiang Mai University Student Union, I once wanted to overthrow the monarchy like you, brothers and sisters. But the masterminds were senior students linked with the Communist Party of Thailand…”.

He seems to believe that he was gullible as a student and, therefore, today’s students must be as impressionable and dumb as he was. Perhaps he should reflect on his own conversion and wonder why it is that he has needed an ideological prop throughout his life.

Reflecting the view expressed by Anek and paternalist geriatrics, Warong believes student activists are misled by social media and “fake news.” And, he confirms that there must be people leading the students astray: “scriptwriters are preparing speeches for the protest leaders…”.

The ultras and the regime are petrified. They fear that their corrupt paternalist system is being shaken to its roots. This is why they are even willing to support a king who appears to be more of a nation hater/chung chat than any student activist. After all, he demonstrates his disdain for the nation, sucking up its taxpayer money but living in self-imposed exile, not unlike a fugitive Red Bull scion.





Updated: Lug nuts and dipsticks I

26 08 2020

A reader has provided us with a letter that was given to the Japanese Embassy by a bunch of ultra-royalists yesterday. We haven’t seen a report on this event, but they seem mainly supporting the regime’s attacks on Facebook, which appears to be entirely about Pavin Chachavalpongpun’s wildly popular Royalist Marketplace. This causes them to call for Japan to deport Pavin back to Thailand or for the Japanese government to censor him.

There’s also a Thai-language version where some of the several errors in the English, including the king’s name and Pavin’s university. The English version does, however, display the  deranged thinking that flows from ultra-royalism. And, as in previous ultra-royalist/rightist campaigns, pressuring foreign governments is a part of broadening political hysteria.

As the broader yellow-shirted movement has been doing for some time, it is seen that the ultras blame Pavin for leading students astray. It seems that the aged paternalists are unable to conceive that any Thai can think for themselves. They perhaps draw that conclusion from their own acceptance of and belief in palace and regime propaganda.

Statement

People of Nation, Religion and Monarchy, No. 1

Subject: Friendship between Thais and Japanese People

To: H.E. Japanese Prime Minister

Thailand is under the democratic system with the King as spiritual leader of Thai people. All Thais adore and respect our King above all things so it becomes our longtime culture, the same as the Japanese people do. H.M. the King Vachiraklao Chaoyuhua is kind to every group of Thai people, he is the center of spirit and unity for all Thais. At present, it is known that Mr. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Thai who has committed criminal charge escaped the arrest warrant to Japan and uses face-book under the the name of “Pavin Chachavalpongpun”, “Royalist Market Place”, and posted false articles of lese majesties against the King and the royal families. He posted indictment, and ideology to students with improper words, rude and detest and persuaded students to protest the King and the royal families. He also gave an interview to foreign media that made all Thais felt uneasy to let this man hurt the King’s feeling. Thais felts uncomfortable that you let the man lives happily in your country and to protect this Mr. Pavin Chachavalpongpun to commit such activities till now.

As a representative of Thai people who love the Royal institute and do not want anyone to hurt the feeling of the King, the same as the Japanese people do toward your Emperor who is your spiritual leader – in case you let this commitment to be continued it will affect the longtime Thai and Japanese friendship from the activities of this Mr. Pavin Chachavalpongpun. We hope you will understand the feeling of Thai people and we request you as following:

1. To let your government use authority to immediately stop the lese majesties commitment of Mr. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, and deport him back to Thailand to face charges in Thailand. This is for keeping good relations between Thai and Japanese people.

2. To remove Mr. Pavin Chachavalpongpun from the post of teacher in Tokyo University and not to let him no longer act as lecturer in the institute.

3. Your government should act faithfully to solve the problem and not to support this activities of Mr. Pavin Chavhavalpongpun, and report us every step of your procedure.

4. All Thai people hope that our request would get your response and we will keep waiting for your proceeding, and would take some action if we did not get anything from you.

Hope to get your cooperation from your Government

People of Nation, Religion and Monarchy

25 August 2563

Update: There’s brief mention of the ultras’ call for deporting Pavin here.





Updated: Protecting regime/protecting monarch

25 08 2020

If it was needed, two reports today again demonstrate how the political fortunes of the regime and the monarch are tied together.

One report is of student activist Panupong  Jadnok, arrested for (we think) a third time while “protesting in Rayong outside a market being visited by Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut[h] Chan-o-cha.” Expecting Gen Prayuth and his cabinet to show up, “Rayong Mike” was protesting “a land reclamation scheme at Ban Phe municipality market when police showed up with an arrest warrant.” It seems the warrant was “issued by Thanyaburi Court over Mr Panupong’s role in the Aug 10 political gathering at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus…”. That’s when the 10 demands were issued for the monarchy to be made properly constitutional.

A second report is about Facebook’s capitulation to threats from the regime regarding Pavin Chachavalpongpun’s dissident Royalist Marketplace group. Facebook has geoblocked it for Thailand, claiming to be acting on legal requests from the regime: “Access to this group has been restricted within Thailand pursuant to a legal request from the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society.”

As can be seen in the above clip, even though only formed in April, the group had more than a million followers, and it may be assumed that most of these were young people in Thailand. This “demand” certainly makes a mockery of claims that the monarch is revered. Rather, he’s widely disliked.

But, this huge popularity and the sarcasm of the site caused the regime considerable angst.

Pavin responded, saying “Facebook had bowed to the military-dominated government’s pressure.” He added: “Our group is part of a democratisation process, it is a space for freedom of expression…. By doing this, Facebook is cooperating with the authoritarian regime to obstruct democracy and cultivating authoritarianism in Thailand.”

According to Reuters, Facebook is reacting:

Facebook said on Tuesday it was planning to legally challenge the Thai government after being “compelled” to block access to the group.

“Requests like this are severe, contravene international human rights law, and have a chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

“We work to protect and defend the rights of all internet users and are preparing to legally challenge this request.”

Despite being blocked, always the entrepreneurial anti-monarchist, Pavin is said to have a “new group of the same name already had over 455,000 members on Tuesday.”

Update: For more on Royalist Marketplace, its blocking and the new site, see the excellent article at Prachatai.





Squashing anti-monarchy sentiment

19 08 2020

As mentioned in an update to our previous post, we considered the “light touch” by the regime to be a ruse. And so it is.

The Bangkok Post reports that “[a]rrest warrants have been issued for six activists who took part in a demonstration at which students issued a 10-point call for reform of the monarchy last week…”. This refers to the rally at Thammasat.

It seems that the charges are not about the demands for the reform of the monarchy but “for breaching internal security and measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus as well as computer crimes.”

Police “explained”:

Pathum Thani police chief Pol Maj Gen Chayut Marayat said on Wednesday the Thanya Buri Court approved the arrest warrants on Friday after police had conducted an investigation following complaints registered at Klong Luang police station.

Pol Maj Gen Chayut did not give details on who filed the charges with the police. Other charges can be filed against them later if police have evidence….

In addition, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, who sent a video into the rally, is also causing the authorities worries:

The Ministry of Digital Economy will file a complaint against exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun for creating a Facebook group deemed critical of the monarchy, ministry spokesman Putchapong Nodthaisong told Reuters. The group, called Royalist Marketplace, has more than one million members.

“We have filed a request to Facebook to delete the entire group, but the platform hasn’t been cooperative,” Mr Putchapong said. “So the ministry is now going to use the Computer Crime Act.”

Expect more as the regime seeks to squash anti-monarchy sentiment.





Updated: Defying regime, military and monarchy

11 08 2020

Some of the media seems flummoxed by the ongoing attacks on the regime and monarchy and are reverting to “form.”

Thai PBS, in reporting that Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha “feels uncomfortable with the rally at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus last night, during which some speakers touched on ‘sensitive issues*’,” promoted the story that the rally had “provoked widespread criticism of the University.”

Thammasat University appears to have panicked and has reportedly “offered an apology for the alleged transgression, which was blamed on non-student protesters.” It is said that “Dr. Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, a vice rector of the university, said … he regretted any breaches of the law, allegedly committed by non-student protesters…”. We haven’t heard of any charges, so Prinya seems to have jumped the gun. He did say he had “attended the protest site from 7pm to 8pm … which he found to be orderly and peaceful.”

He added that he had later learned of alleged “breaches of the law” which he described as “some speakers had used some improper wording,” which it is claimed “provoked some public uproar.” From PPT’s survey of social media, the demonstration of 3,000 to 10,000 students (depending on source) also drew considerable public support.

Cod Satrusayang, in an opinion piece at Thai Enquirer sounds staggered that “[f]or the first time in my experience and perhaps the first time since the mid-70s, Thais were willing to address, confront and talks bout the institutions* that many had deemed too cherish and too sacred for so long.” We guess he might have missed the red shirt rallies in 2010. He says the large crowd of “students, workers, activists and everyday citizens cheered and applauded as leader after leader gave speech after speech about the need to transform the country into what could best be described as constitutional royalism.”

He makes some reasonable comments on why it has taken so long for a proper discussion of the monarchy and politics. But he then returns to form, sounding not that different from the military’s various claims of “plots,” claiming “cheerleaders [are] egging the students on to carry out their own grievances…”. He singles out Pavin Chachavalpongpun who “called in to talk about the monarchy and its role in Thai politics.” Cod seems to think that exiles have it easy and that they should be activists in Thailand. He seems to forget that several exiles have been  tortured, abducted, and murdered in exile and he neglects that going into exile is usually a last resort.

He goes further, declaring “what is wrong is cheerleading the students on, knowing full well how the Thai state has historically handled such situations, while not prepared to face any consequence of their own.” This is nonsense and potentially incites rightists and other royalists. And, we’d guess that most students involved would reject all notions that they are the dupes of others. In fact, that’s an ultra-royalist shibboleth. Perhaps Cod is pissed that it has been exiles who have, until now, been the only ones who could raise the very issues that the students now consider.

What was said at Thammasat. In an AP report at Khaosod that “[s]tudent leaders … delivered an unprecedented challenge to the country’s constitutional monarchy on Monday, strongly criticizing the king and demanding changes to lessen what they believe is its anti-democratic nature.” It states:

… the protest’s direction turned when a student went on stage, read out the 1932 proclamation that ended the absolute monarchy in what was then called Siam, and declared that in fact it lives on despite the country’s nominal status as a democracy.

A number of speakers then took the stage and detailed perceived problems with Thailand’s monarchy….

Many in the crowd cheered, clapped and flashed three-fingered salute that has been adopted by Thailand’s pro-democracy movement. Yet others in the audience appeared stunned by the content of the speeches.

The report notes that “[a]iring their grievances in direct language normally expressed in whispers, the speakers criticized the king’s wealth, his influence and the fact that he spends almost all his time in Germany, not Thailand.”** Arnon Nampa told the students: “We shouldn’t have to speak using symbols. Direct discussion is best. That’s what I think, so I choose to speak directly, out of respect to my own dignity, to that of the listeners and of the monarchy…”.

Demands were made:

… The rally ended with another leader, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, reading out a manifesto with a list of 10 demands for reforming the institution of the monarchy.

Among them were separation of the king’s personal wealth from the royal palace’s vast fortune held by the Crown Property Bureau; forbidding the monarchy from playing any role in politics or endorsing any military coups; abolishing the excessive glorification of the monarchy; and investigating the deaths of critics of the monarchy.

Reflecting on the trepidation of people like Cod, the AP report observes: “Such open defiance of the taboos around speaking ill of the monarchy will infuriate ultra-conservatives and the military, who are unlikely to let it go without a response.” All the more so when activists announced that “a new protest would be held on Wednesday — the Queen Mother’s birthday…”. The king is likely to be in town as well.

*Royalist terms for monarchy and, sometimes, the monarchy.

**The king is scheduled to return to Thailand tonight, for another visit of just a few hours.

Update: The rally planned for today (Wednesday) has been postponed. The special king’s TG taxpayer flight is due in Bangkok just before 8 am today. His daughter, Sirivannavari, has arrived after a delayed TG flight (scheduled as a repatriation flight) from Frankfurt; it hasn’t just been the king and queen swanning about in Europe.





Military, palace, regime and repression

6 06 2020

With the enforced disappearance of military and monarchy critic Wanchalerm Satsaksit, it seems appropriate to post, in full, a recent story from The Economist. It seems to PPT that the “disappearance” of the activist probably has much to do with the palace, the military and the regime in Bangkok wanting to silence criticism:

Voice of treason
The Thai government tries new ways to curb online critics
But the critics are feeling emboldened, too

RUNNING A COUNTRY is much easier if you can silence naysayers. Just ask Thailand’s prime minister, [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha. Having seized the job after leading a coup in 2014, he clung to it through an unfair election last year. One of the secrets to his success has been the severe restrictions on what Thais can say about both their government and the monarchy. More than 900 people endured “attitude adjustment” in the years after Mr Prayuth came to power, according to iLaw, a Thai NGO. Approval of a new constitution in a referendum in 2016 was eased by a ban on criticising the draft. As of 2017 at least 100 people were either detained awaiting trial or serving prison sentences for lèse-majesté. But the authorities are not content with the same old gags. They are always coming up with new ways to silence dissent.

The lèse-majesté law, for example, has fallen from favour. It attracted censure from abroad, as anachronistic and repressive. Since last year those writing rude things about King … Vajiralongkorn … or criticising the government have been targeted instead under laws on sedition, computer crimes or defamation. In November the government also inaugurated an anti-fake news centre. An emergency decree passed in March gives the authorities power to prosecute those deemed to be spreading misinformation about covid-19. At the time Mr Prayuth warned Thais against “abuse of social media”.

Online rabble-rousers are sometimes summoned by police or other officials, but not prosecuted for any crime. The intimidating process is often enough to shut them up. One Thai student describes how local authorities contacted his university last month to complain about his Facebook posts querying government spending, before asking him to visit the police and eventually hand over his iPad and Facebook account details. He doesn’t yet know whether he will face charges. But he believes he attracted attention for helping to lead student protests on his campus earlier this year. “If the most active figures are suppressed by the government then this might also result in the ending of the student movement,” he says.

Even as the government’s approach evolves, disgruntled Thais are also changing how they use social media. Frustration over the miserable state of the economy, the king’s antics and the handling of the coronavirus are boiling over online. In recent months netizens have expressed views that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. “We have never seen this level of open defiance, towards the monarchy in particular, before,” reckons Andrew MacGregor Marshall of Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland.

Notable outbursts include rage on Twitter over traffic jams in Bangkok caused by road closures linked to the movements of royal motorcades. So vehement was the criticism that in January a government spokeswoman announced that the king “has acknowledged the traffic problem and is concerned for the people”. Roads are no longer fully shut for royal motorcades. Another bold move was the creation in April of the “Royalists Marketplace” on Facebook. Its members advertise satirical services to lampoon the monarchy. Its founder, Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University, offered pet grooming with a picture of the king’s late poodle, Foo Foo. (In life the animal was made an Air Chief Marshal.) The marketplace has attracted 500,000 members in less than two months. Mr Pavin says at least two of them have lost their jobs for being in the group.

Other Thais are cautious almost to paranoia. Fears last month that Twitter might in some way be sharing information with the Thai government led tens of thousands to switch to an alternative social platform called Minds. “The assertion we’re in co-ordination with any government to suppress speech has no basis in fact whatsoever,” says Kathleen Reen, who works for Twitter in the region.

That will come as a relief to the many Thais who have been using such hashtags as #WhyDoWeNeedAKing and #RIPThailand. “[Thais] have the platforms to release their frustrations,” explains Titipol Phakdeewanich of Ubon Ratchathani University, “but it is not easy to translate that to a real movement.” That suits Mr Prayuth.





Patrolling Royalist Marketplace

29 05 2020

Khaosod reports that “a man was detained and questioned for his involvement in a popular Facebook page lampooning the monarchy.” The page is Royalist Marketplace, discussed earlier this month at New Mandala by Pavin Chachavalpongpun. Formed a month or so ago, it had 436,830 members when we looked today.

Royalist Marketplace “routinely mocks the monarchy with its satirical posts.”

The man stated that he was later released. There are also reports that several others had been detained, “asked to sign an agreement pledging not to make any critical comments about the monarchy in the future,” and released.

One of these detainees “said eight police officers took him away from his home without warrants, questioned him about the group and his political opinions, and ordered him to delete his posts in the Royalist Marketplace.”

In his New Mandala piece, Pavin stated that Royalist Marketplace is “a platform for discussion on all things monarchy. Content is mixed, ranging from business advertisements, serious discussion on the monarchy, to parody and sarcasm.” Of the latter, he gave examples:

One member sold a used teak bed, using a photo of the bed on which King Ananda Mahidol was found dead in 1946. Another member offered a building dismantling service, referring to the dismantling of the house of the former royal concubine, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, after her falling from grace.

There’s plenty to parody with the current absentee king.

Discussion that is more serious sees:

… members unpick a variety of issues submerged deep at the core of the institution: the future succession, the power of the Crown Property Bureau, the declining reverence of the institution, the increasingly absolutist nature of the monarchy.





Monarchy down

15 05 2020

For several years, Pavin Chachavalpongpun has been a relentless critic of the monarchy. He has another op-ed available, this time with The Washington Post.

There’s not a lot that is new in this op-ed. However, Pavin’s main point is challenging for royalists: he shows that anti-monarchism is rising and he believes that republicanism is growing.

Of course, it is difficult to judge these matters in Thailand where the media self-censors and is censored on the monarchy, the lese majeste and other repressive laws are in place and where the monarchy enjoys support from related institutions like the military, bureaucracy and judiciary. It is recent social media activism and protests against the king (in Germany) that gives Pavin hope.

On lese majeste (and, presumably, other repressive laws), Pavin states:

The problem for the king is that such a law can work only as long as his subjects continue to regard the monarchy with a measure of reverence. His father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, could still claim to serve as a symbol of national unity. But Vajiralongkorn (officially known as King Rama X) no longer appears to enjoy such respect. Lacking any sort of comparable legitimacy, he has chosen to rule by intimidation instead. Thailand has become a kingdom of fear.

We are not sure we agree with all of this. After all, lese majeste has been a major element of political repression and intimidation for most of this century. That law had nothing to do with reverence.”

An interesting angle in the article is the argument that Vajiralongkorn now has a powerful “network”:

critics worry that the king has established an unprecedented degree of control over the military, the police and the judiciary that raises serious questions about palace accountability and the rule of law.

Under Bhumibol there was the “network monarchy.” Now we have Vajiralongkorn’s network. Will it be enough to secure the absent king’s interests and those of the ruling class? We suspect it won’t be protesters that bring down the king, but fissures in the ruling class. These will develop when the filthy rich and/or the military brass realize that Vajiralongkorn is threatening their interests.





Monarchy, Bahrain and a refugee

7 05 2019

Paul Sanderson at The Sydney Morning Herald has a long article on coronation. But it is not the shallow accounts that mark discussion of the monarchy mainly because Sanderson has a unique hook for the story:an account of why “refugee and footballer Hakeem al-Araibi was imprisoned for more than two months on a Bahraini Interpol red notice that should never have been issued…”.

From The Guardian

We won’t recount the quite useful discussion of the rise to power of the current king, but will briefly deal with the al-Araibi story as it interweaves with the death of Vajiralongkorn’s father in October 2016. Vajiralongkorn didn’t take the throne for about six weeks, although that is not what the “record of reign” now says.

Sanderson states:

Stories of what happened in the weeks and months that followed Bhumibol’s death are only now emerging, whispered quietly by government officials and senior diplomats who fear that speaking openly will transgress the world’s strictest lese-majeste laws.

He says “what they say could provide at least a partial explanation” of al-Araibi detention and asks: “Was it related to the new Thai king’s endeavours to consolidate his political and financial power?”

Regular readers may recall that monarchy was mentioned in our first post on al-Araibi’s detention, although there was no information on exactly what was going on at the time that gave special focus to this unfortunate man’s detention.

Sanderson is more specific, asking “what role did a $1.6 billion commercial deal between the royal houses of Bahrain and Thailand play?”

Noting Vajiralongkorn’s various grasping land property deals in Thailand, Sanderson observes that it was when “the old king was in a coma, that his heir negotiated a deal with the royal family of Bahrain that would earn him nearly $1.6 billion.” The deal saw “Thailand’s Crown Property Bureau sold a 60 per cent stake in the Kempinski Hotels Group for €1 billion to the Bahraini royal family.”

PPT earlier posted on the opaque deals that gave Kempinski to the CPB.

As Wikipedia has it, “Effective 16 February 2017, the two existing shareholders of Kempinski AG formalized previous plans for an equity transfer between them. The majority shares of Kempinski AG shall be held by the existing Bahraini shareholder while the shareholder from Thailand will now own a minority.”

This deal was more than a year before the footballer was snared at Bangkok’s main airport, but the business dealing between the two royal houses remains and Vajiralongkorn’s purse was swelled substantially by the deal.

This may help explain al-Araibi’s 76-day detention. As Sanderson states, “one of the biggest mysteries was why the south-east Asian kingdom persisted with the case to refoul him long after a wrongly issued Interpol red notice was revoked.”

Obviously, the Bahrain monarchy wanted him. But what was Thailand doing?

Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs only spoke in code. The country, it said, “finds itself in the middle of a case involving two countries competing for Mr Hakeem’s custody”. The ministry repeatedly stressed the case could not be dropped once it had started.

Thai Immigration Police chief Surachate Hakparn was a little clearer. He said the order to keep Araibi in detention came from “above”. He has since been removed from his post. Rumours abound that he offended the king in another matter.

Academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a former diplomat, puts it this way:

It’s not just about feeling Thailand owes Bahrain…. This is beyond skin deep because it’s between two royal families. The Thai king is in the process of wanting to be respected by other royal families. Being a diplomat in Thailand, the number one priority is not about maintaining good relationships. The number one priority is about making sure you serve the royal family…. This royal family travels. Fifty per cent of our operation [in the Foreign Ministry] is about the monarchy, we have to serve the monarchy before anything else.

Kempinski remains a private company and little public information is available. However, published data continues to list two Thai members of its supervisory board are from royal agencies.

Other relations between royals in each country are topics of speculation. It is stated that “a senior Bahraini royal was in Thailand in the days after Araibi’s arrest.” It remains unclear how the relationships between countries and between royal houses has been impacted by al-Araibi’s case.