Constitution to be revealed

4 04 2017

All media have dutifully reported that the king, who we guess is back from Germany or will be soon, will “formally enact the new constitution on Thursday, which also marks the anniversary of his dynasty’s reign over Thailand.”

That seems entirely appropriate in the sense that the regime came to power following a military coup that murdered the previous king.

But the symbolism doesn’t end there. It links the junta’s and king’s constitution to the monarchy. His father only seemed to take an interest in constitutions early on, when the hated Generals Phibun and Phao forced one on him and he had threatened to abdicate. After General Sarit ran his royalist coup, the king knew he wasn’t bound much by them. In 1991, he faxed the draft back and forth and said it was “good enough.”

The fact that citizens have “yet to see it in its entirety” is said to make the charter “unique.” It is that since the draft was “approved” in August 2016, in a “referendum” that was “organized by the military regime,” but after that, the king “instructed the drafters in January to alter some provisions in the charter, changes were approved by the junta’s rubber stamp parliament, but the document itself was never released to the public.”

More than that, the “referendum” itself was a sham event: “critics say many who voted for the draft did so because the junta never made clear what would have happened had they rejected it, and opponents of the charter were routinely punished for campaigning against it.” Punishment included fines and jail, along with numerous threats and a heavy military presence.

Another feature that marks out this charter is that it allows the military to control politics for years to come.

For all of that, “[a]ccording to a palace statement … [the k]ing … will preside over the ceremony at 3pm in the Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall.” Presumably, at some time after that, the citizens who are supposed to accept the bogus constitution will finally learn what is in it and, more interestingly, how the king has benefited from the changes he demanded.

To link the monarchy and the military to Buddhism, “[a]ll temples throughout Thailand are instructed to toll their bells at that hour to celebrate the occasion.”

We are sure “celebrate” is the wrong term. In fact, a dirge would be more appropriate as electoral democracy is to be buried by the junta.





Royalist “constitutionalism”

16 03 2014

As PPT has posted before, there is support for the anti-democratic movement from various scholars connected to royalists and Thailand’s right since the days of the CIA’s involvement in the U.S.’s support for anti-communist and authoritarian regimes fronted by the military. The royalists have regularly wheeled out the relatively unknown American Stephen B. Young to support the anti-Thaksin Shinawatra and anti-democratic movement and to promote palace-inspired and conservative royalist ideas regarding politics and forms of “Thai-style democracy.”

We have previously mentioned Young as a commentator who heads up his own organization, the Caux Round Table, which is about shameless self-promotion. While the royalists like to say Young is a “scholar,” this is a misrepresentation. His major publication appears to have close connections to CIA-funded operations. His other publications are his own rants published in pretty meaningless places or self-published as a result of royalist support for their talking head.

A reader sent us a long version of yet another “paper” that Young has produced on the royalist “vision” for Thailand, and we were content to ignore it and let it disappear without trace. However, the conservative Bangkok Post has seen fit to publish a shortened version, so we are pushed to comment. In his longer paper, not only does the author spell “constitutionalism” incorrectly, but is listed as “Stephen B. Young, Esq.” as if from the 19th century. Both seem appropriate for that paper, which is a travesty of uniformed nonsense about Locke, Rousseau and constitutionalism.Young

For more and better information on these 17th and 18th century philosophers and their impact on constitutionalism, try here, here, and here. A bit of searching produces many papers that are learned and which contradict Young’s sometimes bizarre interpretations of Locke and Rousseau in this longer piece. So odd is his interpretations of Thailand’s history are impossible to briefly characterize here. What is more significant is Young’s remarkable confusion in his call for conservative reform.

Young’s basic point is that Locke’s approach to constitutionalism is a kind of perfect liberalism, while Rousseau’s is more radical and leads to authoritarianism. He argues that Thaksin Shinawatra and the red shirts are the inheritors of Rousseau’s alleged authoritarianism via the People’s Party, 1932, Pridi Phanomyong and Plaek Phibulsonggram. Indeed, Young makes the claim that Rousseau’s thought is the basis of all totalitarianism, and notion that has been refuted time and again since the early 19th century:

These interpretations, based on the concepts of the “total surrender” of individual rights (“l’aliéna-tion totale”) and of the absolute sovereignty of the state over all its members, draw conclusions from the Contrat social that are fundamentally opposed to the intentions of its author. Indeed, for Rousseau, liberty was the most precious of possessions, a gift which nature has made to men. They can no more be deprived of it rightfully than they can be deprived of life itself; nor can they be permitted to divest themselves of it for any price whatsoever. The social pact should not be interpreted as abrogating, in effect, a right which Rousseau declared inalienable and inseparable from the essential character of man.

Based on false premises, Young proceeds to make a nonsense of Thailand’s modern history. His interpretation of Locke and Rousseau is a manipulation to make a political point that resonates with palace and royalists. His selective use of quotes from these two philosophers is banal. PPT could be just as selective and note that Locke was “a major investor in the English slave-trade through the Royal African Company. In addition, he participated in drafting the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina while Shaftesbury’s secretary, which established a feudal aristocracy and gave a master absolute power over his slaves.” Hardly liberal, but also an unduly narrow interpretation.

His claim that “Thailand now needs sustainable constitutionalism harmonising with its Buddhist culture of seeking the equilibrium of the middle path between extremes and aligning with the rule of law” is a plagiarism of much earlier conservative ideas about constitutionalism that were developed in the early 1960s by Kukrit Pramoj (opens a PDF) and other royalists as elements of military-backed monarchism.

Firmly based in this conservative tradition, both Western and Thai, Young wants to provide a way forward for Thailand. He begins with an interpretation that Locke’s writings allow a popularly-elected government to be disposed of if it is believed to threaten liberty or property. Young chooses to interpret this as meaning:

“Thaksin’s manoeuvres to concentrate power in his hand by means of bringing elected officials under his personal sway caused his government to lose its legitimacy under Locke’s constitutional system. So, under that system, by seizing too much power Thaksin forfeited his authority and the people of Thailand were within their rights to withdraw allegiance from him and his ministers and seek to replace his government with one more faithful to upholding the public trust.

Young does not explain how this interpretation can be applied in circumstances where pro-Thaksin governments have been elected in every single national election since 2001. His claim that “the people of Thailand” could rise up against the elected government is simply an acceptance of anti-democrat propaganda. Other anti-democrats and royalists have avoided this philosophical gap by simply rejected elections.

Young, however, demonstrating his confusion and lack of imagination by arguing for more elections and a political system that looks a lot like the U.S. presidential system:

The executive branch of the national government should be removed from direct dependence on the National Assembly. The chief administrative officer of the cabinet of ministers should be directly elected by the people for — say — a three-year term of office. The election of the chief administrative officer would be held in years when the House of Representatives is not elected.

His other suggestions on decentralization, police, the judiciary (which he acknowledges is politicized), impeachment, and House and Senate are essentially American. Fixed term legislatures may or may not be relevant for Thailand, but certainly limit the very Lockean interpretation of threats to liberty and property he claims are the base of his “constitutionalism.”

He then suggests a path forward for Thailand current political stand-off that has no basis in law or constitution.

PPT takes all of this a a sign that the royalists have been very confused and challenged by the Yingluck Shinawatra’s seeming ability to hold out against the old threat of military coup and the newer threat from judicial coup (at least for the moment). It seems that the old men who have always believed they have the answers for Thailand are flummoxed.

 





Surin lost on corruption

13 10 2013

PPT affirms, with longtime Democrat Party senior and Democrat Party-founded, funded and backed chair of the Future Innovation Thailand Institute Surin Pitsuwan, that corruption is a terrible problem for Thailand. In virtually all newspapers, Surin is reported as warning that corruption “has reached crisis point and must be tackled with urgency.”

But that hardly seems like a remarkable insight. And the urgency seems many years overdue. After all, others have been making similar claims for a very long time. Just for background, PPT just did a bit of a search and found various accounts from 1932 to the present that provide comments on corruption and politics in Thailand that destabilized governments.

In 1932, one of the main claims against King Prajadhipok was corruption, with part of the People’s Party’s first announcement of the Revolution stating, in part:

When this king succeeded his elder brother, people at first hoped that he would govern protectively. But matters have not turned out as they hoped. The king maintains his power above the law as before. He appoints court relatives and toadies without merit or knowledge to important positions, without listening to the voice of the people. He allows officials to use the power of their office dishonestly, taking bribes in government construction and purchasing, and seeking profits from changes in the price of money, which squanders the wealth of the country.1951 30 Jun

Note the bit about taking bribes on construction,  more or less congruent with some of the claims made by Surin in 2013!

The 1951 account is of a coup attempt against Field Marshal Phibun based on claims of corruption. This is the Manhattan Incident, which saw considerable fighting in the streets. All military regimes have been justifiably accused of rampant corruption by their opponents.

A notable example is the current king’s father-figure, the dictatorial General Sarit Thanarat. Following his death, and inheritance battle revealed massive corruption:

After Sarit’s death, his reputation took a heavy blow when a bitter inheritance battle between his son, Major Setha Thanarat, and his young wife, Thanpuying Vichitra Thanarat, revealed the massive extent of Sarit’s wealth (US$ 140 million). He was discovered to have owned a trust company, a brewery, 51 cars and some 30 plots of land, most of which he gave to the dozens of mistresses he was found to have had.

A 1990 account tells of the corruption that destabilized the Chatichai Choonhavan government. Claims of corruption allowed the military leadership to snipe, and with the king’s approval, resulted in a coup in 1991. 1990

Comparing levels of corruption between the grasping military leaders and the civilian leaders is not easy. A couple of academics tried it a few years ago. They came up with this:corruptionSurin, however, thinks that a crisis point has been reached. While PPT agrees that corruption is a problem, we also acknowledge that corruption occurs at multiple levels and has varying impacts. Yet we are not entirely sure why there is a crisis right now. Perhaps it is because Surin was performing, according to The Nation, “at the Democrat Party headquarters.”

Why didn’t Surin see a “crisis point” reached when he was a minister? After all, that 30-35% cost of corruption he claims for the contemporary period seems little different from the period when he was in a ministerial seat. We checked this with a regular PPT correspondent who encountered such levels when working on infrastructure projects in Thailand in the early 1990s when a Democrat Party government was in power. And, yes, that government fell over corruption: “the first Chuan government (1992–1995) fell when members of the Cabinet were implicated in profiting from Sor Phor Kor 4-01 land project documents distributed in Phuket province.”

We think Surin is being rather too much of a Democrat Party elder in making this point. We suspect that he is lazily linking to the royalist propaganda that only civilian politicians are corrupt bastards.

The real issue is thus lost in this royalist politicization: whether military, civilian, royal, Democrat Party-led, royalist or pro-Thaksin Shinawatra, corruption has been a major issue. It is most obviously not a recent problem. Politicizing in this way is unlikely to lead to serious consideration of the issue.

We can’t help wondering if corruption might be challenged if: (i) the military was depoliticized; (ii) the monarchy and its funding was made public; (iii) secret funds were made transparent; (iv) the courts abandoned double standards and accepted ideas of equality before the law; and (v) state officials were held responsible for their actions, including murdering citizens?





Mad monarchists lodge lese majeste complaint

7 07 2013

A report at Khaosod shows once more how bizarre the lese majeste law is in Thailand.

An ultra-royalist group – The Royal Monarch Alert Protection Network (RMAPN) – has filed lese majeste complaints. Nothing new so fare, but it is the reason that beggars belief. The allegations are made:

against a student activist group for distributing mock banknotes with portraits of historic figures involved in 1932 Revolution which ended the Absolute Monarchy and paved way for democratic regime in Siam.

Khaosod reports:

The “banknotes” were in fact postcards sold to participants of the rally marking the 81st anniversary of the Revolution in Bangkok′s Royal Plaza on 24 June 2013. The postcards were published and sold by League of Liberal Thammasart for Democracy (LTTD), a student group based in Thammasart University.

From Khaosod

From Khaosod

The postcards featured portraits of Pridi Phanomyong, Plaek Phibulsonggram, Pahol Polpayuhasena, and the writer Kularb Saipradit.

Claiming the postcards were “offensive,” RMAPN filed the lese majeste charge at Dusit police station. One of the mad monarchists claimed that the postcards “greatly offended the feeling of Thai people” adding that “only the faces of His Majesty the King are allowed to appear on Thai banknotes.”

Of course, the LTTD was remembering the 1932 Revolution on that date. But that is the point for the mad monarchists who hate that the absolute monarchy was overthrown all those years ago, and want it back!





On the Phibun threat (1957)

14 03 2013

Andrew MacGregor Marshall has another useful posting including archival material from 1957 at Zen Journalist. In another post we referred to material that showed clear palace involvement in the 1957 coup planning. In this we refer to a document that has the young king explaining his position on Prime Minister Phibun, who had been overthrown by General Sarit Thanarat.

The cable we refer to in this post can be downloaded as a PDF. Much attention will undoubtedly focus on Australian Minister for External Affairs, Sir Richard Casey, who is said to have known the king for some time and sees him as engaging in “baby talk.”

Casey

PPT doesn’t know what the relationship between Casey and the king was. However, British Ambassador Richard Whittington tends to agree with Casey’s assessment but does see “some progress” from a shy lad.

Arguably more significant is the king’s comment on Phibun:

Phibun

This perspective reflects the view of the old princes, his mother and the royalists such as Kukrit and Seni Pramoj. Phibun was hated almost as much as Pridi Phanomyong, and the king was imbibing from the waters of the anti-1932 royalists. Criticisms of Sarit and military regimes appear designed for the foreigners for the palace and royalists were in the political bed with Sarit and the royalist faction in the military.

Also revealing is the anti-communism exhibited by the king and his observations on politics in the northeast (where political opposition was seen as communism) and at Thammasat University, the latter considered to be influenced by Pridi.

Commies

These views were to influence much of the king’s and palace’s activism in the years that followed. Conservative kings will certainly worry about communists yet it is the congruence of fears about the northeast, poverty and communism that see U.S. get deeply involved in Thailand and in promoting the monarchy as a bulwark against communism.

Alleged communists and republicans are a feature of the post-1932 period and define much of the palace’s political shenanigans (even in 2010!).





Pridi, Thaksin and the royalists: Prawase confused

20 06 2012

Prawase

Whenever political tensions rise, senior citizen Prawase Wasi is usually moved to offer “fatherly advice.” At The Nation, not for the first time, he offers advice to Thaksin Shinawatra, most of it following Prawase’s long-held views on decentralization.

It is his comments on the return of Thaksin to Thailand that caught our eye. Prawase reportedly said,

Some people’s return can cause difficulties in society. [Former premier] Pridi Banomyong is an example – he had no case to face but he chose not to come back as he was worried it would cause possible conflicts.

At the Bangkok Post, Veera Prateepchaikul took this up, noting that Prawase wanted “the ex-premier to think about the conflict and chaos which could take place once he comes home.” Veera considers that Thaksin should “be a bit more selfless and to think more about the national interest than his own interest…”. He adds: “Regrettably, it will probably fall on deaf ears, like the rest of the advice previously given by Dr Prawase.”

Those who oppose Thaksin have see-sawed between “stay away” and “come back and go to jail” lines over the years since Thaksin left for exile a second time in August 2008. Essentially, Prawase is now saying to Thaksin, “Stay away forever.” He is asking Thaksin to die in exile.

Prawase chooses to point to the example of Pridi, a leader of the Khana Ratsadon that overthrew the absolute monarchy in 1932. That was a year after Prawase was born. The first time Pridi went into exile was 1933, when Prawase was beginning to walk. In November 1947, following a royalist military coup led by Phin Choonhavan, Pridi fled the country again. Prawase was just finishing high school. Pridi tried to come back to Thailand in 1949, but his attempted coup against military leader Plaek Phibulsonggram was defeated. Prawase was studying. Pridi went into exile again, never returning, dying in Paris in May 1983.

Pridi

Why did Pridi stay away for so long? When he was first exiled, in 1933, it was angry royalists, supported by the palace, that drove him out, accusing Pridi of being a “Bolshevist.” His last exile was essentially prompted by the military, royalists and, most stridently, the Democrat Party accusing Pridi of regicide in the shooting death of Ananda Mahidol.

In an interview in 1980 (a PDF), Pridi commented on his exile to journalist Anthony Paul:

In general, the circumstances are not yet suitable for me to go back…. I’m innocent about the king’s death. And if I return to my country … people would say, “Hah! He’s covered by the statute of limitations on his crime and now he’s coming back.” Therefore, people would say he wasn’t all that innocent since he waited until he was covered by the statute…. It is a question of honour and equity not a legal question.

Pridi may not have had a legal case to answer, but he still stood accused by royalists. It does not seem that Pridi was especially bothered by possible conflicts but by the fact that royalists – he refers to “his enemies” – continued to make false claims that Pridi was guilty of regicide.

He goes on to explain that he had sued a journalist and the hideously royalist Kukrit Pramoj for libel and won when they accused him of killing the king. He states that he always wins these cases.

Pridi was forever hated in the palace and by royalists for being the mastermind behind the 1932 Revolution. Astoundingly, that hatred remains today. Accusing Pridi of regicide was one of the ways by which the royalists could keep this popular politician from power.

In fact, while Pridi and Thaksin are very different figures, the problem in both cases appears to be with the royalists. Their desire to maintain social, political and economic dominance means that they have to beat down any popular politician, and especially politicians who appear to have betrayed the royalist elite.





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.