Don’t trust them

26 02 2020

Khaosod’s Pravit Rojanaphruk has an op-ed on military “reform” that warns:

Reforming the Thai army is much easier said than done. After all, the current army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong himself called the Royal Thai Army a “sacred” organization, setting the tone of whatever debate the society may have.

Gen. Apirat. Clipped from Khaosod

When someone wants an organization to be treated as sacred, it’s often because they want it to be above criticism, accepting neither scrutiny nor accountability….

Most significant in discussions of “reform” is that current “investigations” are internal to the Army. There’s no question that, following the Korat massacre, there will be any kind of independent scrutiny of the Army. In normal countries, there is usually some serious parliamentary oversight of the military. Not in Thailand.

Then there’s the sense of entitlement and real impunity that protects the perquisites, corruption and crimes of senior officers. This “culture” means that “reform” is all but impossible. The flow of funds to the top are unlikely to stop. As Pravit points out, “the sense of military entitlement is indeed so deep-rooted that it bypasses political divisions.”

Chaiyaphoom

Since the 2006 coup and especially since the 2014 coup, these attitudes have been further embedded. Think of the way that the military gets away with murder, literally. The case of Chaiyapoom Pasae where the military has withheld evidence, lied and more.

More recently, as outlined in The Thaiger, anti-military/pro-democracy activist Sirawith Seritiwat was attacked several times, once beaten senseless with baseball bats, in broad daylight. Police were assigned to “investigate.” Result? Nothing.

As the report observes, “Bangkok police have abruptly suspended their investigation into the brutal attack on a political activist and pro-democracy leader in June of last year.”

Sirawith posted on Facebook that police wrote to him, stating:

Sirawith. Clipped from VOA News

The investigation into the case has already been completed and the probe report was forwarded to public prosecutors, who recommended that “the investigation should be halted” on the grounds that evidence gathered could not identify who was involved.

In our view, it is unlikely that the police will uncover evidence against the attackers, most likely because the attackers are associated with the military, regime and/or police. The attackers were warning Sirawith, silencing him. It’s an old tactic. Sirawith “wondered police might be involved.”

If a “sacred” institution can run coups, murder, and engage in multiple other crimes and massive corruption, internal investigations are going nowhere.





On neo-feudal restorationism

2 02 2020

Pravit Rojanaphruk deserves considerable praise for daring to take up the case of the royalist vandalizing of statues commemorating the 1932 revolution and its leaders.

His latest op-ed “Why Did Statues of a Former PM Have to Go?” is a must-read. While he can’t name names, his view that this latest act of royalist erasure is cause for deep concern: “the removal of two bronze statues of him is something all Thais should be worried about.”

1932: The end of the absolute monarchy announced

On the lack of any explanation for the recent acts of cultural vandalism, he says:

To this day, I never received any straightforward answer from those running those facilities why the statues had to go. On my visits, it seemed to me that the military personnel were under a lot of pressure to remain taciturn, perhaps because the answer may be too complicated for the public to understand.

Phibul

In fact, most Thais have a pretty good understanding of these events. They know that King Vajiralongkorn is seeking to further aggrandize the monarchy. They know that the king has been land grabbing and is now building a huge palace precinct that “requires” the erasing of all other symbols of 1932 and the end of the absolute monarchy.

As Pravit has it, “If statues of someone so influential to modern Thailand could be removed without a trace, modern Thailand as we know it is in deep trouble.”

He observes:

Scholar Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian noted in her book “Thailand’s Durable Premier” that Pibulsongkram’s own goals were most likely to “permanently eliminate the rule of absolute monarchy and its deep-rooted prestige and influence over the people in the country.”

Could this be the reason why, in a climate where concerted attempts are being made to restore and revive the supreme dominance of the monarchy, that Pibulsongkram statues must go?

Yes, that’s it.

And he adds that Plaek Phibulsonggram’s ghost “and the ghosts of his fellow revolutionaries who overthrew absolute monarchy, are still a haunting threat to some. And to the powerful, ghostly threats must be exorcised.”

Probably, but we know that both his father’s and his mother’s families were vehement opponents of the 1932 revolution and that his father loathed Phibul.

Pravit concludes: “In the end, it is not just the memories of Pibulsongkram that are at stake – but that of modern Thai history itself.”

That’s true. But it is also Thailand’s political future that is at stake. Will the royalists overcome democrats and can the palace complete the more than 80 year struggle to undo the 1932 revolution?





With a major update: Re-feudalization and repression

26 01 2020

Somsak Jeamteerasakul has posted another before and after picture of the destruction of symbols of the 1932 revolution and the People’s Party. This time at the Field Marshal P. Phibulsonggram House Learning and History Center in Chiang Rai:

Meanwhile, yet another critical report seems to have been removed from the Khaosod news website.In this case, an opinion piece by Pravit Rojanaphruk titled “Opinion: The Talibanization of Bangkok’s Architectural Heritage” about the erasing of post-1932 architectural style from Rajadamnoen Avenue, has gone.

When one looks for the article at the site, the return is:

It was there.

And it was circulated:

And it was re-posted in Thailand:

Frustratingly, PPT didn’t copy the article before it was taken down. If any reader has a copy, please email us.

The last time this happened it was a news story about the trouble caused by Princess Sirivannavari when she and some rich friends had a holiday in the south and officials closed land and sea to allow her to have fun with “security.” Ordinary Thais lost income and work while taxpayer funds were burned.

As far as we can tell, in neither case has Khaosod explained why the articles have been disappeared. We assume the management and owners came under pressure. But from where? From notions of self censorship? Or from the regime? Or from the palace?

The fear about commenting on anything royal is reinforced. The erasure of memory and history gathers pace.

Update: Thanks to readers, including @barbaricthais and “a republican reader,” we have located the deleted Khaosod op-ed by Pravit. It is clear that the equating of royal vandalism and Talibanization annoyed/scared/worried some. The op-ed is reproduced here, in full, but without the pictures:

What struck me as rather disturbing as I met with people along the Ratchadamnoen Avenue to discuss the upcoming renovation is their sense of fear.

Very few whom I interviewed wanted to be identified. Some even said they did not want to talk at all about what could be the most significant change to the landscape of the historic avenue in 80 years.

The reason is rather straightforward. All of the ten art deco buildings along the avenues are to be replaced with a new “neoclassical” pastiches per instruction from the Crown Property Bureau, who owned the structures since the time when it was still under the oversight of a civilian government that overthrew absolute monarchy in 1932.

In the present time, the agency is a different kind of entity. Following a vote in 2017 by the junta-appointed rubber stamp parliament, the Crown Property ceased to be under the control of state and was placed under the supervision of new monarch, King Vajiralongkorn.

In early 2019, the Crown Property Bureau invited tenants of these art deco buildings along the 1200-meter stretch of the avenue to a meeting, and informed them that a decision has been made to replace the structures with a neoclassical façade.

Words of the meeting were relayed to me by one of the participants, who was apparently at a discomfort of discussing the topic, but I assured him there was nothing to worry; what he told me was perfectly in line with the Crown Property’s very own announcement of the plan on Jan 17.

Not everyone is thrilled by the makeover. Critics like Chatri Prakitnonthakan, an expert and author on buildings from the era of the revolution that toppled the absolute monarchy, told me the new façade will be “fake” because it’s more like applying a veneer on art deco architectural structure which is fundamentally different.

He also suspected a deeper agenda. Chatri said art deco architecture in Thailand symbolized a break from feudal absolutism. He believes there is a sinister attempt by some people to exact revenge on the long-dead revolutionaries by removing any relics related to their memories.

No matter what your political ideology is, Thailand has lost enough architectural heritage when its old capital Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese in 1767; the city was also subject to a series of looting and vandalism by both Thais and Chinese merchants in the centuries that followed.

Bangkok is relatively new, anointed as the capital in 1782. Why, then, are we defacing and deconsecrating the few architectural legacies and monuments that we have?

Let us not Talibanize our tangible heritage, our past, our history – lest we end up not knowing who we are, where we came from and surrounded by Disney-like environ.

In the fast-developing megacity of Shanghai, the Chinese managed to preserve many buildings constructed by former colonial powers despite the bitter history. Thais should also learn to cherish material cultures, buildings included, that speak about a crucial portion in our history, instead of trying to deface what we do not like.

Many have given up, resigned to the fate that one of the most historic landmarks in Bangkok’s Old City will be Disneyfied with the shallow neoclassical veneer.

Some even fear that Democracy Monument, the most visible memorial to the birth of parliamentary democracy in 1932, might be either altered or removed altogether eventually. Some have begun taking selfies with the symbolism-filled monument in a half-nervous jest. Just in case.

And if the renovation is truly inevitable, I hope they save at least one art deco building on Ratchadamnoen Avenue: the imposing Royal Hotel at the southeastern end of the avenue.

It was opened in 1943 by none other than the revolution’s co-leader Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram, and has since played a role in several key moments of Thai political history. Like when it was a safe haven for protesters in the May 1992 uprising against the military rulers, until soldiers invaded it, beating and forcefully arresting those inside.

I wonder if anyone will launch any campaign to save these historical relics at all. Given the current climate of fear and sensitivity of the issue, I wouldn’t be surprised if many will think more than twice before lending their signature – or even change their mind afterwards.





Updated: Fear of the palace

4 10 2019

PPT has been following the social media discussion of massive traffic jams and delays caused by processing royals. Only one English-language outlet has reported on this and the mainstream media seems reluctant to mention it. As usual, the reason for this reticence is fear.

Khaosod reported a couple of days ago that a royal blockade last Tuesday had “[c]ommuters frustrated with police’s traffic blockade during … rush hours…”. On social media, the commuters are “seething with anger over the blockade, which shut down a number of key roads and intersections in downtown Bangkok for a royal motorcade to pass through.”

Several posts are not just frustrated but expressing anti-royal sentiment. One social media post reckoned that there were now close to 750,000 angry tweets and posts. This is probably why the mainstream media is running in fear.

How things have changed. Just a few years ago, a palace official claimed: “The royal family never meant to bother the public.” Of course, the motorcades had been a fact of unpleasant urban life in Bangkok for decades, but politics and rising anti-monarchism back in 2012 caused the then king to issue “new rules” for the “treatment of royals on the roads” and in shopping malls.

Back then, “authorities distributed 25,000 handbooks to police and other officials with guidelines for directing royal convoys and new protocol for public appearances by the extended royal family.” The report added: “The manual overturns several practices that had quietly irritated the public in a country where open criticism of the royal family is illegal, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.”

For the malls, it was stipulated that they no longer had to “turn away shoppers if a royal family member shows up.”

It seems that these changes were simply too much for the current crop of royals and they are now happy to irritate the public.

Update: One fear, it is worthwhile reading an op-ed at Khaosod. Pravit Rojanaphruk writes of what is probably a hoax but demonstrates the effectiveness of intimidation associated with the monarchy. Royalists work in mysterious ways but all to “protect” the world’s wealthiest monarchs in a Thai world that is looking remarkably feudal. Interestingly, a recent photo of blocking entry to malls for royals is reproduced. We clipped it below.





With 3 updates: On (the real) National Day

24 06 2019

Back in 2009 on 24 June, PPT marked the 1932 Revolution by reprinting the first announcement of the khana ratsadon or People’s Party. The announcement is attributed to Pridi Phanomyong. We do so again today.

Pridi

In 2009 we noted that in recent years the anniversary of the event was barely noticed among the cacophony surrounding the celebration of various historically insignificant royal anniversaries.

In this reign and under the military junta, there has been a determined attempt to erase the symbols of 1932 and to erase anti-monarchism.

Royalists and the king seek to erase an event they consider horrendous for reducing royal powers and granting sovereignty to common people. Of course, for many years, the royalist aim has been to push the events of 1932 from the public agenda and to “forget” that the 1932 overthrow of the absolute monarchy.

As we did in 2009, we invite readers to consider the People’s Party Announcement No. 1, which would probably be considered lese majeste if the mad monarchists could get away with it.

PPT has extracted and lightly edited this document from the excellent book Pridi on Pridi, translated by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker, and published by Silkworm Books. It is available from the Pridi/Phoonsuk website.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE PEOPLE’S PARTY NO. 1 (1932)

All the people

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. He elevates those of royal blood (phuak chao) to have special rights more than the people. He governs without principle. The country’s affairs are left to the mercy of fate, as can be seen from the depression of the economy and the hardships of making a living – something the people know all about already.

The government of the king above the law is unable to find solutions and bring about recovery. This inability is because the government of the king has not governed the country for the people, as other governments have done. The government of the king has treated the people as slaves (some called phrai, some kha) and as animals. It has not considered them as human beings. Therefore, instead of helping the people, rather it farms on the backs of the people. It can be seen that from the taxes that are squeezed from the people, the king carries off many millions for personal use each year. As for the people, they have to sweat blood in order to find just a little money. At the time for paying government tax or personal tax, if they have no money, the government seizes their property or puts them on public works. But those of royal blood are still sleeping and eating happily. There is no country in the world that gives its royalty so much money as this, except the Tsar and the German Kaiser, in nations that have now overthrown their thrones.

The king’s government has governed in ways that are deceiving and not straightforward with the people. For example, it said it would improve livelihood in this way and that, but time has passed, people have waited, and nothing has happened. It has never done anything seriously. Further than that, it has insulted the people – those with the grace to pay taxes for royalty to use – that the people don’t know as much as those of royal blood. But this is not because the people are stupid, but because they lack the education which is reserved for royalty. They have not allowed the people to study fully, because they fear that if the people have education, they will know the evil that they do and may not let them farm on their backs.

You, all of the people, should know that our country belongs to the people – not to the king, as has been deceitfully claimed. It was the ancestors of the people who protected the independence of the country from enemy armies. Those of royal blood just reap where they have not sown and sweep up wealth and property worth many hundred millions. Where did all this money come from? It came from the people because of that method of farming on the backs of the people! The country is experiencing hardships. Farmers and soldiers’ parents have to give up their paddy fields because cultivating them brings no benefit. The government does not help. The government is discharging people in floods. Students who have completed their study and soldiers released from the reserves have no employment. They have to go hungry according to fate. These things are the result of the government of the king above the law. It oppresses the minor government officials. Ordinary soldiers and clerks are discharged from employment, and no pension is given. In truth, government should use the money that has been amassed to manage the country to provide employment. This would be fitting to pay back the people who have been paying taxes to make royalty rich for a long time. But those of royal blood do nothing. They go on sucking blood. Whatever money they have they deposit overseas and prepare to flee while the country decays and people are left to go hungry. All this is certainly evil.

Therefore the people, government officials, soldiers, and citizens who know about these evil actions of the government, have joined together to establish the People’s Party and have seized power from the king’s government. The People’s Party sees that to correct this evil it must establish government by an assembly, so that many minds can debate and contribute, which is better than just one mind.

As for the head of state of the country, the People’s Party has no wish to snatch the throne. Hence it invites this king to retain the position. But he must be under the law of the constitution for governing the country, and cannot do anything independently without the approval of the assembly of people’s representatives. The People’s Party has already informed the king of this view and at the present time is waiting for a response. If the king replies with a refusal or does not reply within the time set, for the selfish reason that his power will be reduced, it will be regarded as treason to the nation, and it will be necessary for the country to have a republican form of government, that is, the head of state will be an ordinary person appointed by parliament to hold the position for a fixed term.

By this method the people can hope to be looked after in the best way. Everyone will have employment, because our country is a country which has very abundant conditions. When we have seized the money which those of royal blood amass from farming on the backs of the people, and use these many hundreds of millions for nurturing the country, the country will certainly flourish. The government which the People’s Party will set up will draw up projects based on principle, and not act like a blind man as the government which has the king above the law has done. The major principles which the People’s Party has laid out are:

1. must maintain securely the independence of the country in all forms including political, judicial, and economic, etc.;
2. must maintain public safety within the country and greatly reduce crime;
3. must improve the economic well-being of the people by the new government finding employment for all, and drawing up a national economic plan, not leaving the people to go hungry
4. must provide the people with equal rights (so that those of royal blood do not have more rights than the people as at present);
5. must provide the people with liberty and freedom, as far as this does not conflict with the above four principles;
6. must provide the people with full education.

All the people should be ready to help the People’s Party successfully to carry out its work which will last forever. The People’s Party asks everyone who did not participate in seizing power from the government of the king above the law to remain peaceful and keep working for their living. Do not do anything to obstruct the People’s Party. By doing so, the people will help the country, the people, and their own children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. The country will have complete independence. People will have safety. Everyone must have employment and need not starve. Everyone will have equal rights and freedom from being serfs (phrai) and slaves (kha, that) of royalty. The time has ended when those of royal blood farm on the backs of the people. The things which everyone desires, the greatest happiness and progress which can be called si-ariya, will arise for everyone.

Khana Ratsadon
[People’s Party]
24 June 1932

Update 1: Pravit Rojanaphruk at Khaosod has a useful op-ed on the real National Day. He says that “Today, only history buffs and pro-democracy activists care to mark the day as one of the most important in the Kingdom’s history. Few newspapers have mentioned it this year.” We don’t think that’s entirely true. PPT has met many who remember the day, but they dare not do much about it in royalist Thailand. Then this:

What’s more, some important relics of the 1932 revolt have mysteriously disappeared. A brass plaque at the Royal Plaza marking the June 24 revolt went missing in 2016, only to be replaced by a new plaque extolling royalist ideology. No one has claimed responsibility.

At the end of last year, something even larger disappeared. The Constitution Defense Monument at Bangkok’s Lak Si intersection, which was at least three-stories tall, was removed. Again, no one was held responsible and the majority of the Thai press neglected to report the incident. The monument had marked the defeat of a royalist rebellion which sought to restore absolute monarchy.

It’s almost as if the day never existed, which says a lot about today’s Thailand.

Now, the press extols the virtues of royalist ideology instead….

Update 2: Seemingly making Pravit’s last point, the Bangkok Post produced an atrociously royalist and unnecessarily nasty attack on those who don’t think like Patcharawalai Sanyanusin and other mad monarchists. While the attack is couched in terms that suggest something milder, this op-ed is one of the ugliest we have read in the Post for some time.

Meanwhile, Thai PBS marked the day with a schizophrenic piece that acknowledges 1932 but then lists the role of monarchs after that event. Nor does it discuss why National Day was changed to King Bhumibol’s birthday by a military dictatorship in 1960. It is breathtakingly royalist.

Showing that 1932 remains a potent political symbol, Khaosod reports on “Opposition politicians … marking the 87th year since the birth of Thai democracy by calling for charter amendments aimed at ridding the junta’s influence.” Likely to cause royalists even more angst, it is reported that:

In an online post, the Future Forward Party said the 1932 revolt inspired Thais to seek not only a constitution to govern their country, but one guaranteeing rights, liberty and equality among citizens.

“Not every constitution is a ‘constitution’ by itself,” the party’s statement said. “Some documents that they are trying to describe as a ‘constitution’ may never really constitute a constitution, because they lack the principles we discussed.”

Update 3: What is it with the “new” Bangkok Post? Has it been decided that it has to be triumphantly royalist? As far as we can tell, 24 June came and went with not a peep from the elite’s newspaper, except for a nasty snipe at anti-monarchists. Now, two days later, it comes up with a story of “Siam on the world stage.” Nothing to do with 1932, but about Siam’s royals belatedly deciding to join the allies in WW1, not doing anything much at all, but getting in on the peace deal. So what’s the big deal? Nothing much at all. It is a footnote in anyone’s serious history. But, it is celebrated now because it is about royals and their doings. Pile it high!





Junta, queen and Prem

2 06 2019

Politics seems remarkably quiet as the junta seeks to seal its stolen election victory (all of the last three words need inverted commas). As in many political deals, the junta’s machinations with various anti-democrat parties is going on behind closed doors.

How much all of this will cost the taxpayer is anyone’s guess.

Meanwhile, with yet another holiday for royal stuff, its a queen’s birthday holiday. As expected, this is the first opportunity for the palace propaganda machine to lumber into action to give the former consort a royal makeover.

This is a palace process that follows patterns set in the previous reign that seeks to manipulate public opinion with propagandized “histories” and “life stories.” Of course, within a couple years, barring a fallout with the king, she will be another super royal, at least in the propaganda.

And kind of related, for those readers who haven’t seen it, Pravit Rojanaphruk’s op-ed that holds a mirror to the sycophantic (part) memories of Gen Prem Tinsulanonda. Divided opinions on Prem are actually a fair representation of this divisive royalist figure. His efforts built on the work of disgruntled princes and royalists that have sought to roll back 1932. That effort continues in the current reign.

 





Where are they? II

17 05 2019

Regime and monarchy critics Chucheep Chivasut (known as Uncle Sanam Luang), Siam Theerawut, and Kritsana Tupthai have been forcibly disappeared, may have been detained incommunicado or may have been killed. No one seems to know.

The junta has to come clean on their disappearance, whether that’s saying exactly where they are or bringing them before a court.

In the meantime, readers may find two recent accounts useful. First, on the hunting down of exiled critics of the monarchy, see Pravit Rojanaphruk’s op-ed. Second, read Korakot Phiangjai’s excellent account of Siam’s life and wonder how it is that such a person becomes an “enemy” and is hunted down by a murderous regime.

Thailand has been through some dark times and things do not look like they are going to improve.