The “necessity” of military dictatorship

13 10 2017

In the Bangkok Post, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak comes up with his repeated excuse for military domination. He claims the succession explains it:

The consequent royal transition is likely to be viewed in posterity as the principal reason why the Thai people have had to put up with Gen Prayut.

Later he states, as he has before, that:

To appreciate how Gen Prayut and his cohorts could seize power and keep it with relative ease, we need to recognise the late King Bhumibol’s final twilight. The royal succession was imminent by coup time, and the Thai people collectively kind of knew the special and specific circumstances this entailed. Power had to be in the hands of the military, as it had to ultimately perform a midwife role. Unsurprisingly, ousted elected politicians may have complained about and deplored the coup but none wanted to retake power during the coup period. They knew that after seven decades of the reign in the way that the Thai socio-political system was set up around the military, monarchy and bureaucracy, it had to be the generals overseeing this once-in-a-lifetime transition.

This is nonsensical propaganda. There were, at the time, and today, many, many Thais who reject this royalist babble. But Thitinan just ignores the deep political and social struggles that marked the period of discord that began with the Asian economic crisis in 1997 and which was punctuated by two military coups.

Thitinan appears to us to be expressing the views of the socially disconnected middle class of Bangkok, those who hate and fear the majority of Thais, and “protect” themselves by attaching themselves to the economic and political power of the Sino-Thai tycoons, monarchy and military.

Thais have “put up with” ghastly military rulers for decades. The military dictators and rulers have used the monarchy to justify their despotism. General Pin Choonhavan used the “mysterious” death of Ananda Mahidol; General Sarit Thanarat promoted the monarchy as a front for his murderous regime; General Prem Tinsulanonda made “loyalty” de rigueur for political office.

Thitinan is wrong and, worse, whether he wants to or not, he provides the nasty propaganda that is justification for military dictatorship. We can only imagine that the military junta is most appreciative.

One reason Thais “put up with” military dictatorship now is because anti-democrats want it, because many of them hate elections that give a power to the subaltern classes. And, as Thitinan acknowledges,

Gen Prayut and his fraternal top brass in the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have guns and tanks to intimidate and coerce. In their first year in power, the ruling generals detained hundreds of dissenters and opponents for “attitude adjustment”. They even put some of those who disagreed on trial in military court. They also came up with their own laws in an interim charter, including the draconian absolutist Section 44. And they have used and manipulated other instruments and agencies of the state to keep people in check and dissent suppressed.

To be sure, dozens of Thais are languishing in jail during junta rule. One young man, a student with his own strong views, has been jailed for re-posting a social media message that appeared on more than two thousand other pages. The junta also has banned political parties from organising, and has generally violated all kinds of human rights and civil liberties all along.

In addition, the generals have not been immune to corruption allegations….

Thais, it seems, must just “put up with” all this in order to facilitate the death of a king, succession and coronation. Thitinan goes even further, lauding The Dictator:

who grew up in the Thai system from the Cold War, who came of age at the height of Thailand’s fight against communism in the 1970s, seeing action on the Cambodian border against the Vietnamese in the 1980s, serving both the King and Queen and the people in the process with devotion and loyalty.

In fact, General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s military promotion was not forged in “battle” but in providing service to the palace and especially the queen.

Thitinan declares that General Prayuth is the “soul of the nation,” a term once used for the dead king:

When Gen Prayut spoke for the nation [after the last king died], he meant it. Fighting back tears, in seven short minutes, he said what had to be said, and directed us Thais to two main tasks, the succession and the cremation after a year’s mourning. Had it been Yingluck [Shinawatra], who is not known for her eloquence, she might have stumbled during the speech. Had it been Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is fluid and flawless in speechmaking, it would have lacked the soul of the nation.

It had to be Gen Prayut, the strongman dictator and self-appointed premier. He is an earnest man, purposeful and well-intentioned….

Make no mistake, this is pure propaganda for military dictatorship. Make no mistake, Thitinan is justifying military dictatorship for the West, “translating” Thai “culture” for those he thinks are Thailand’s friends. He is saying to The Dictator and to “friends” in the West that 2018 or 2019 will mark the end of an “unusual” time and a return to “normality.” That “normal” is Thai-style democracy, guided for years by the military and its rules.

For those who seek a more nuanced and less propagandist reflection try Michael Peel in the Financial Times. He was formerly a correspondent for the FT based in Bangkok, and has penned “Thailand’s monarchy: where does love end and dread begin?” (The article is behind a paywall, but one may register and get access.) Peel asks: “In a country where few dare to speak openly about the royals, how do Thais feel about their new ruler?”

That is, how do they feel about the succession that Thitinan propagandizes as having “required” military dictatorship working as midwife.





Lese majeste and repression

7 06 2016

In this post we wish to draw attention to two recent articles discussing lese majeste and its impacts both personal and society-wide.

It has become “natural” for royalist Thais to “defend” the monarchy in recent years. Of course, royalists have always done this – the restoration of the monarchy after 1932 and more especially after WW2 was about defending the monarchy and recalibrating to again rule. The latter kind of failed, except in the ideological space, but it was royalist generals Phin Choonhavan and most especially Sarit Thanarat who forged an alliance with the palace (and Seni and Kukrit Pramoj) to make the palace-military alliance that has been so powerful and handsomely rewarded generals and the royal family.

Much of the history of this remaking and partial restoration is unknown to average Thais who have been indoctrinated in schools and universities and by the use of mass media. This is attested in an article at the Bangkok Post, by Achara Ashayagachat, where her account of lese majeste and various kingly anniversaries seems to be one of a gradual political eye-opening.

On the spike in lese majeste cases, she says: “Observers attribute the increase of cases to intense political polarisation, following the 2006 military coup and concerns over the King’s health.” This is only a partial story, for as she states, lese majeste is “more often than not, it is used — or abused — as a political tool in cleansing or taking revenge on individuals or political opponents.”

It is a tool used by the royalist elite and its military allies, and not always for political opponents in the usual sense, but in a kind of “traditional” sense as well. This is seen in the post-2014 coup list of “68 lese majeste cases relating to opinions, poems, cartoons, and comments online during the last two years, excluding the 37 fraud cases that are linked to names of the royal family.”

These “fraud” cases have been made lese majeste cases, and we assume that it excludes the two men who mysteriously died in custody.

The second story is a long account of the anti-coup poet and cyber activist Sirapop who writes as Rung Sila, apprehended on 24 June 2014 and still imprisoned without bail, charged with various “crimes,” including lese majeste. The report is of Rung Sila’s case – until now, little known. He denies all charges and affirms that he will continue to fight the charges. He is being tried in secret before a military court. It took almost two years for his case to go before that kangaroo court.

His arrest was for failing to report to the junta. Even today, still jailed, he refuses to bow before that lot: “I did not believe that the coup makers, or, if you will, the traitors, would remain in power for long and I chose to defend rights, freedoms and the constitution peacefully and nonviolently, avoiding aggression, by simply not cooperating with the traitors.”

One aspect of the story that is revealing of events we at PPT had never previously heard was of the junta’s own involvement in the interrogation of Rung Sila:

There was a major session on the final evening in military custody with 50 officials led by an admiral with the NCPO. The admiral told him that he had been constantly monitored and that there were many items that had come to the attention of military war rooms during multiple periods of unrest…”.

He was interrogated by dozens of thugs, but the involvement of “an admiral with the NCPO” – the junta – is another eye-opener. (The only admiral in the junta at the time of the coup was Admiral Narong Pipatanasai.)

Both articles deserve attention.





King and constitution

26 04 2015

Back in 1947, royalists attempted to use a military coup and the subsequent constitutional drafting process, monopolized by military and royalists, to turn back electoral democracy. Wikipedia has a pretty good summary, emphasizing the role of the military, Democrat Party and palace:

The military overthrew the elected government of Admiral Thamrong Navasavat in 8 November 1947, amid the political chaos that followed the official finding that the mysterious death of King Ananda Mahidol was not due to suicide. The coup restored power to Marshal Plaek [Phibun], and was supported by Phin Choonhavan, Seni Pramoj, and the palace. The coup leaders alleged that government corruption had demeaned the sacredness of King Ananda’s 1946 Constitution….

The Regent, Prince Rangsit officially accepted the coup within 24 hours and immediately promul[g]ated the new charter the coup leaders had drafted. The King, who at the time was studying in Lausanne, endorsed the coup and the Charter on 25 November, noting “Those who were involved in this operation do not desire power for their own good, but aim only to strengthen the new government which will administer for the prosperity of the nation and for the elimination of all the ills suffered presently.”

The new charter gave the palace a persistent demand: a permanent Supreme State Council (later to be transformed into the Privy Council) to advise the monarch and handle his personal affairs. The Council would be composed of 5 members, appointed by the monarch and acting as a regency council in his absence. The Supreme State Council had been banned after the 1932 revolution. The palace was also given increased control over its own operations, including the Royal Household, the Privy Purse, and the Royal Guards. The King was given several emergency prerogatives, such as the ability to declare war and martial law.

A monarch-appointed Senate was established, and, with 100 members, equal in size to the House of Representatives. Like previous Constitutions, the monarch still did not have an absolute veto. However, the monarch-appointed Senate could, through a simple majority over the combined houses of Parliament, sustain a royal veto. The chairman of the Supreme State Council had to countersign any royal orders in order to make them official (when the constitution was announced, Bhumibol Adulyadej was still a minor and the Privy Council performed the king’s regnal duties on his behalf; thus in practice, the Supreme Council of State itself selected and appointed senators and had the power of veto). … A multi-member constituency system replaced the single member constituency system which had been in effect since 1932. …

Surprisingly, the Palace/Privy Council rejected the slate of Senate appointees proposed by the military. It instead filled the Senate with princes, nobles, and palace-friendly businessmen, leaving only 8 appointees from the military’s slate. With control over palace operations, the palace purged nearly 60 officials, clearing out earlier appointees from previous governments.

[The Democrat Party’s] Khuang Aphaiwong was appointed Prime Minister, and it was agreed that a new constitution would be drafted following House elections, which occurred on 29 January 1948. The Seni Pramoj and Khuang Aphaiwong-led Democrats won a majority and appointed a Cabinet packed with palace allies….

There are many parallels with the recent situation. The palace and royalists never cease in their efforts to expunge 1932, with the military now firmly royalist.

We should not be surprised when royalists again raise issues about the monarchy and the constitution. In considering the 1997 constitution, details about the sections on the monarchy were discussed in a secret session.

This time, looking at the draft 2015 constitution, the anti-democrat “monk” Buddha Issara proves he is no historian but a devout royalist by raising the role of the king, his “royal power” and the possibility that nasty constitution drafters are seeking to “diminish” those powers.

The “royalist monk … expressed alarm over a clause in the charter draft that permits Parliament to pass legislation without the King’s signature.” The report states:

According to Section 157 of the current draft, the Parliament must submit legislation to His Majesty the King for a royal signature. However, if 90 days pass without a signature, Parliament can re-submit the bill to the king with support from two-thirds of the chamber. In the event that the King does not sign the bill in the next 30 days, the Prime Minister will be authorized to enact the bill as a law.

The monarchist monk managed to consider this a clause to “allow politicians to limit the [k]ing’s power…”. He demanded that the clause be removed.

Royalist and miltiary puppet constitution drafting chairman Bowornsak Uwanno “explained that Section 157 has been included in Thai constitutions since 1949, including the recent 2007 constitution that was dissolved by the military junta who seized power last May.”

The 1949 constitution is explained at Wikipedia as yet another royalist intervention:

The Constitution of 1949 was promulgated on 23 January 1949, a permanent instrument to replace the temporary 1948 Charter. The drafting committee was headed by Seni Pramoj and dominated by royalists under the direction of Prince Rangsit and Prince Dhani.

The 1949 Constitution elevated the throne to its most powerful position since the 1932 overthrow of the absolute monarchy. The Supreme Council of State was transformed into a 9-person Privy Council. For the first time, members this council would be selected by the King alone. A 100-member Senate would also be selected by the King alone. The President of the Privy Council, rather than the Prime Minister, would countersign all laws. The King’s veto was strengthened, with a 2/3’s vote of Parliament required to overrule it.

The King could issue his own decrees with equal authority to the government. The King also gained the power to call for a plebiscite – the ability to amend the constitution via public referendum, bypassing Parliament and the Government. At succession, the Privy Council would name an heir – not the Parliament.

Referring back to that royal constitution means that Bowornsak is right when he states that “it is extremely difficult for politicians to decrease the [k]ing’s power.” He is also absolutely right when he states that the draft constitution “gives more power to the King than the British [constitutional monarchy] system.”

Royal power is one of the principal limits on Thailand’s democratization, and has been so for more than 83 years.

This is why Khaosod is wrong to state that “[f]ollowing a revolution that overthrew absolute monarchy in Thailand in 1932, the Thai king has been granted largely ceremonial powers through the constitution.” As even Wikipedia shows, the constitution has long been a site of conflict over political power, and the royalists have largely won out since 1946.





Remembering the People’s Party and their intentions

29 06 2010

See the Bangkok Post’s excellent article on the relatives of People’s Party/Khana ratsadon on democracy.

Some bits of it, but do read the whole thing: “it is significant that since 1957 the governments made possible by the 1932 revolution have not officially recognised June 24 as a landmark in the development of Thai democracy. It was recognised as a national day until the 1957 coup by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, which wished to erase the collective memory of the contributions of Khana Rasadorn, along with the legacy of Field Marshal Plaek Phibulsonggram, or Phibun, who was the last member of Khana Rasadorn active in Thai politics.” And the current king got the “father” required for restoring the monarchy.

Puangkeo Satraprung, a child of Phraya Phahon Pholpayuhasena, the leader of Khana Rasadorn: “The forefathers of Thai democracy greatly sacrificed not only their own lives, but also the future of their clans. If they had not succeeded, their descendants would also have been executed jed chua kote [down to the seventh tier]…”. Absolutely, and it would have been the monarch now falsely hailed as the father of democracy who would have had them all hung out on stakes.

She added that “one of the disturbing illusions regarding Khana Rasadorn was the notion that the June 24 coup was a pre-emptive move to seize power. She was referring to attempts in recent decades to show that King Prachadhipok was already leaning toward a democratic mindset and Khana Rasadorn made their move before he could benevolently hand democracy over to the people.” She says: “’I do not agree with the ching-suk-gon-ham [premature seizure] discourse. The histories of other countries tell us that unless you fight for democracy, you will not get it. This political discourse that has been taught and repeated for decades is the first distortion of the 1932 event that needs to be rectified…”. Mrs Puangkeo is totally correct.

Suthachai Yimprasert, an assistant professor of history at Chulalongkorn University, added that “June 24, 1932, was the start of an incomplete mission to establish the civil and political rights of the people through representative democracy…. We need to understand that Khana Rasadorn’s efforts to establish democracy were interrupted and finally deformed by pro-royalists military leaders…”. Suthachai mentioned Sarit, Phin Choonhavan, Thanom Kittikachorn and Prapas Charusatien.

Worachet Pakeerut, a law professor at Thammasat University, said that “the 1957 coup by Sarit, who reinstalled the royal power in the legal and political structure” had led “to the present problems…”. He said that “those who point out the intention of Khana Rasadorn to draw a clear constitutional line for the role of the monarchy are accused of lese majeste.” Unfortunately, the Khana ratsadon mission was “incomplete.”

Mrs Puangkeo remains optimistic. ‘”There’s a tiny flickering light at the end of the tunnel. There’s hope that the country will gradually evolve if we learn from the past.’”

There’s a lot more in the article.