Fear, the monarchy and democracy

17 11 2019

We feel the Asia Times interview with Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of the Future Forward Party is worth reading in full. We were most interested in the comments – or lack of them – on the monarchy. That’s the fear that resurgent absolutism had created:

Asia Times: Your party has already made waves in challenging military power. What was the thinking behind your party’s voting against an emergency decree to move elite military units into the King’s royal guard?

Thanathorn: I refuse to answer this question. My official answer would be our secretary general Piyabutr (Saengkanokkul) has already answered this in parliament. That is our official answer (related to the decree’s lack of transparency).

Asia Times: Some construed that as a direct challenge to royal power. Was that the intent?

Thanathorn: I refuse to answer this question.

Asia Times: Why do Prayut[h Chan-ocha]’s ruling Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP) members consistently try to portray you and your party as anti-monarchy?

Thanathorn: Because we have no corruption cases, we have never been in government before. I think that’s the easiest way to demonize someone in Thailand.

Basically, tyranny anywhere in the world you need to create an imaginary enemy. It was Thaksin [Shinawatra] before, an imaginary enemy of the nation.

So now I have become an imaginary enemy of the state. And the easiest way to build that momentum is to brand the person you want to demonize as anti-monarchy.

Thanathorn is clearly right in his comments on the monarchy and democracy. We fear, though, that democracy is the last thing the grasping king wants:

Asia Times: Is there an inherent conflict between an emphasis on unity and loyalty, and the push, pull and contest of democratic politics?

Thanathorn: Let me put it this way: Everywhere in the world where monarchy still exists, a sustainable and strong monarchy happens to be in a democracy.

However, if there is no democracy and there is a monarchy, the institution creates stress, enormous stress in that society.

So I think the long-term prosperity of the monarchy as an institution goes together with democracy. Unless and until you build a strong democracy, monarchy as an institution will not be sustainable.





With two updates: Can the king’s fake emergency be questioned?

17 10 2019

Not that long ago, the king, approved by The Dictator, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, issued a decree that transferred the 1st and 11th Infantry Regiments to the palace for the king’s personal use.

As we said at the time, in neo-feudal Thailand, this is perhaps no longer remarkable. However, the proclamation’s claim to constitutionality by citing Section 172 of the junta’s constitution was a surprise. That section states:

For the purpose of maintaining national or public safety or national economic security, or averting public calamity, the King may issue an Emergency Decree which shall have force as an Act.

The issuance of an Emergency Decree under paragraph one shall be made only when the Council of Ministers is of the opinion that it is an emergency of necessity and urgency which is unavoidable.

In the subsequent sitting of the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers shall submit the Emergency Decree to the National Assembly for its consideration without delay….

Of course, the declaration is fake. There was and is no emergency. Perhaps that’s why Gen Apirat Kongsompong decided to make a furious and deranged speech that pretended a threat existed. Indeed, a threat to the monarchy from the parliamentary opposition! To be sure, that is buffalo manure, but the Army boss seems to have had an (invented) “emergency” in mind.

In a self-censored story, Khaosod reports that the “emergency” decree is due to go to parliament today. It is the Prayuth government that has “to defend its emergency decree…” in parliament.

The report states that the parliamentary session “will focus mostly on whether the government’s decision to enact the law unilaterally without going through the usual parliamentary channel was appropriate, and not the merits of the transfer itself.”

In neo-feudal Thailand, questioning the grasping and gorging by the king is off limits. This is not because of law, but because of fear of the king’s vindictiveness and the enormous power he already wields.

The report mentions brave democracy activist Arnon Nampha who:

urged the opposition to vote down the decree because there was no real emergency that warrants its bypassing of parliament. He also said severing the army’s chain of command over the two units would lead to legal complications.

He added:

Members of the Parliament must have the courage to stand up and prevent the risks of expanding royal power, in order to protect the principle of democracy with the King as head of state.

It seems highly unlikely that opposition parliamentarians will show the same strength of spine:

But there are signs that the opposition will not put up much of a fight due to the sensitive nature of the Royal Decree. Major parties are expected to pose no challenge….

The only sensitive thing is that it involves the king. In neo-feudal Thailand, questioning the king is no longer possible and is potentially dangerous. The king’s fake emergency cannot be questioned.

Update 1: In the end, it was only the majority of the Future Forward Party that showed that it supports constitutionalism – yes, even the junta’s flawed constitution – and the notion of a proper and lawful constitutional monarchy. The rest of the parliament fell into support of absolutism or were spineless. But even FFP could not take a stand against a grasping and ever more powerful neo-feudal monarch, arguing “that use of an executive decree for a “non-urgent” matter showed a problem of the cabinet misusing its power in violation of the constitution.” In fact, this is about the king and his demands of the military-backed regime.

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul is correct that “the executive decree violated Section 172 of the constitution, which says executive decrees should be used for urgent issues. He said the executive decree did not reflect any urgency.” The regime and the palace are now likely to seek to destroy him.

The monarchist jellybacks like Deputy Defence Minister Gen Chaichan Changmongkol and Democrat MP Pirapan Salirathavibhaga declared “that passage of the executive decree was important and urgent.” They couldn’t say why. As reported, “The government insisted there was an unspecified “emergency” that required the bill to be passed immediately.”

Other opposition parties, including the Puea Thai Party – now a pretty hopeless bunch – joined the jellybacks.

The erratic king was perhaps expressing his anger at his divine will being questioned by “postponing” his royal boating display scheduled for next week.

Update 2: Reuters has more on the “Democrat” Party’s Pirapan. In defending the indefensible, Pirapan began with the usual mad monarchist trope: “Thailand is a unique kingdom…”. THe point of this banality is to assert that Thailand’s monarchy is somehow allowed to do anything it wants and that its crimes and misdemeanors cannot be criticized and the monarch, no matter how mad, stupid or infirm, cannot be questioned. He then stated: “The monarchy is a representation of national security so in the Kingdom of Thailand, we could not separate national security from the monarchy…”. Of course, this statement reflects all kinds of laws established by military juntas and their puppets, but is entirely beside the point. The point is about the constitutional monarchy, the constitution and the false “emergency.” Of course, the Democrat Party has a long history of supporting the restoration of powers lost by the absolute monarchy decades ago. Indeed, that’s been its reason for existing.





Updated: 1931 moves closer

10 10 2019

A defining feature of recent royalism and especially of this king’s (still short) reign has been the rolling back of limits on the monarchy’s “prestige.” That has meant expunging the changes that made for a constitutional monarchy. It is clear to PPT that King Vajiralongkorn wants his reign to mark a return to the monarch’s economic and political power prior to the 1932 revolution.

The king has made it clear that he hates the limits on his power. He has demanded and got changes to the junta’s constitution – the changes made in secret – and taken full personal control of the monarchy’s treasure and made the Crown Property Bureau his own, expunging even the minor limits on what he could do with his property and huge wealth. Those limits were imposed after 1932 (and watered down under his father).

The king has grabbed land that he reckons belongs to his royal family and that was “lost” after 1932. New laws in 2018 gave the king enormous power to grab land.

The king has vastly expanded his political power by taking control of large police and Army units – up to regiment size – for his and his family’s “protection.” Most recently, this has involved the illegal use of emergency powers in the constitution.

At the same time, the obsessive–compulsive king has promoted retro-fashion that favors pre-1932 uniforms, haircuts and attire. Personally, he has promoted royal polygamy.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Why are we recounting all of this? One reason is because the king has, with the support of the military junta and now supported by the post-junta military-backed government, he’s gotten away with all of this with barely a peep of dissent. (Of course, dissenters are threatened, jailed, disappeared, tortured and murdered.)

Under this king there’s also been a concerted effort to expunge the symbols of 1932. It wasn’t that long ago that a monument to the defeat of the royalist restorationist rebellion in 1933.

Known as the Boworadej Rebellion, it was led by Prince Boworadej and supported by the anti-democratic King Prajadhipok.

The king, probably reflecting the influence of his grandmother’s and his mother’s family’s hatred of the 1932 People’s Party revolution, the king has demanded that the military adopt symbols of the pre-1932 royal family.

The most recent effort has involved the Army’s celebration of leaders of that rebellion – a coup – who engaged in treason and mutiny.

It is reported that:

two halls in the army’s museum are named after royalist rebels who attempted to overthrow an elected government eight decades ago.

Clipped from Khaosod

Prince Bovoradej and Phraya Si Sitthisongkhram, who led the 1933 failed revolt, now grace the two rooms at the Royal Thai Army headquarters’ newly renovated museum, which honors illustrious figures in army history. The rooms were inaugurated today by none other than Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and army chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong.

The Army “said the naming was meant to honor the two men for their loyalty to the monarchy…”.

The Army has tried to downplay this move, but no one should be fooled. This is yet another nail in the coffin of the constitutional monarchy as the king pushes for a neo-feudal political arrangement.

A democracy activist, Abhisit Sapnaphapan wrote:

“This is a declaration that even though they did not succeed that day … their legacies are being continued today…. Welcome to the old regime of absolute monarchy.”

Another observed: “Thai people united and brought down Bovoradej’s revolt to defend their constitution, yet Tuu [Gen Prayuth] is naming a meeting room after Bovoradej…”.

It is late 2019 but 1931 seems just around the corner.

Update: Readers might find an interview with Pridi Phanomyong from 1977 of some interest. It has emerged from behind a paywall, here.





Forgetfulness

1 10 2019

PPT is wondering about the “forgetfulness” that characterizes post-2014 Thailand.

Our wondering was partly prompted by Pithaya Pookaman, a regular contributor to Asia Sentinel. One issue is the awful standover man/MP/Minister/fraudster/former heroin trafficker/purveyor of fake degrees Thammanat Prompao. He’s gone very quiet and we assume that a bigger boss than him has told him to shut up. The advice is probably that quietness will see all that “trouble” dissolve. We previously mentioned that he would probably get away with his lies and deceit. He’s powerful, influential and well-connected. How many countries have convicted drug traffickers as ministers? But his sins can be “forgotten.”

Pithaya refers to “the farcical election in March 2019 that laundered the authoritarian power of the military junta under [Gen] Prayuth [Chan-ocha] into a shaky and unwieldly 19-party coalition…”. But what happened to the complaints about the election and the toadies at the Election Commission? Is that best forgotten? For the junta and its new regime, it probably is, but it seems stealing an election is not an offense when done by the military in 2019.

He also reckons that “the political conflict in Thailand is not between … the rich and the poor.” How quickly the basic facts are forgotten. We recall Amartya Sen’s confusing rhetoric on this, perhaps better forgotten. And it may be easily forgotten that back in 2007, per capita provincial GDP for the provinces that voted for the Democrat Party were more than 220,000 baht. For those voting for the People Power Party was just over 90,000 baht. It seems to us that those who gain most from electoral politics are those with the least.

Somyot and his money (or someone’s money)

Meanwhile, as China celebrates its nationhood, it was only a few days ago that Song Tao, the head of the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee met with Gen Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. It should not be forgotten that they reportedly “agreed to enhance cooperation between ruling parties for further development of bilateral ties.” Ruling parties…

Then there’s the long forgotten raid on the high-class Victoria’s Secret brothel. In recent days “[a]nti-human trafficking advocates [have been] calling on … Prayut[h] to look into a controversial decision to drop human trafficking charges against key suspects in last year’s Victoria’s Secret brothel crackdown.”

This involved underage women, including “services such as sex with virgin girls for which it charged customers as much as 100,000 baht as it was a ‘high demand service’…”.

The report remembers that “[f]ormer national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung last year admitted that he had borrowed “around 300 million baht” from [brothel owner] Kampol [Wirathepsuporn], whom he described as a friend.” It forgets to say that nothing at all has happened about Somyot’s corruption, his relationship with a sex trafficker and unusual wealth. Well, only unusual for regular people, not senior police who are mostly on the take and become seriously wealthy. Of course, Somyot was a big junta supporter and servant.

And, of course, there’s lots that is conveniently forgotten and some that’s forgotten because a lot of people are fearful of the power of military, monarchy, tycoons and other varieties of influential people.

There’s the case of Chaiyapoom Pasae, a kid shot and killed by the military and where that military has actively thwarted investigation.

Then there’s the bodies floating in the river, the disappeared anti-junta anti-monarchy activists, including men extradited to Thailand who simply disappeared. Can they really be forgotten?

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Related, there’s the king. Do people really forget his missing missus? Do they forget the missing plaque and the missing monument commemorating the defeat of royalists?

But let’s not forget the protesters murdered by the military and never adequately investigated, in 1973, 1976, 1992 and 2010 (to mention just a few of the military’s murderous efforts).

There’s so much forgetfulness that any rational observer could only conclude that it isn’t forgetting but lying, covering up, maintaining impunity and great fear.

 

 





Updated: Fear, power, absolutism

1 10 2019

Is King Vajiralongkorn under threat? Based on his latest aggregation of power to himself, it seems the king feels threatened. Exactly why or how is unclear.

We make this observation based on the latest royal proclamation, dated 19 September and issued yesterday.

Self-crowned

This is another proclamation that moves command of Army units to the king, in this case, the 1st and 11th Infantry Regiments which are now officially transferred to the palace.

In neo-feudal Thailand, it is perhaps no longer remarkable that the king grasps wealth and power ever closer, but the announcement appears to claim constitutionality in Section 172 of the junta’s constitution. That section states:

For the purpose of maintaining national or public safety or national economic security, or averting public calamity, the King may issue an Emergency Decree which shall have force as an Act.

The issuance of an Emergency Decree under paragraph one shall be made only when the Council of Ministers is of the opinion that it is an emergency of necessity and urgency which is unavoidable.

In the subsequent sitting of the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers shall submit the Emergency Decree to the National Assembly for its consideration without delay….

In an explanation attached to the royal proclamation, countersigned by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, it is stated (roughly translated) that the reason for the promulgation of the Royal Decree is that the units involved have given security to the King and royal family and so these these units need to be ready in all aspects to perform duties efficiently, neatly, rapidly and with maximum security. This transfer of Army personnel and some budget from the 1st Infantry Regiment and the 11th Infantry Regiment is to ensure the safety of the King, the Queen, the Heir, the royal family and the king’s representatives including conducting all missions according to royal command and according to the royal tradition, in a timely manner and providing the highest security. This security is an emergency making it inevitable and urgent that, in order to maintain national security, that this proclamation has been issued.

What is the fear? Or is it that the monarch wants all political and economic power aggregated to his person? Is it to be an absolutist state?

Update: Khaosod has reported these transfers of power to the king. It notes the unusual nature of the proclamation:

The royal decree was enacted without going through the usual parliament channel due to unspecified “emergency” circumstances. It effectively separated the 1st and 11th Infantry Regiments from the military chain of command and handed them over to King Vajiralongkorn’s control….

The decree said the urgency of the move was necessary to provide better security to the Royal Family, royal residences, and VIP guests visiting on the monarch’s invitation.

It seems the Army no longer has much independence of the monarch. That’s exceptionally dangerous for Thailand.





Asia Society shame

28 09 2019

The Asia Society surprised many by giving The Dictator Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha a stage in New York. Why have a “leader” who has had a hand in the murder of protesters, a military coup, more than five years of military dictatorship and a rigged and stolen election on your stage? As far as we can tell, this isn’t unusual for the Asia Society.

Readers might want to watch Gen Prayuth bumbling through the dictator-friendly discussion, which seems to have followed his speech (we can’t find a video of that). Gen Prayuth’s demeanor during the interview is of an uncomfortable person. He fidgets, bellows, points, gets prompts, forgets the microphone and fails to listen to the translation, wants to end the interview early and more. Unprofessional, incompetent, sometimes incoherent and appearing as a bozo. But that’s what he does in Thailand, with its muzzled press day in and day out.

In the discussion, he is seen claiming that while criminals evade the law – meaning Thaksin Shinawatra – he claims he himself has never transgressed the law. Short memory? Just one example: What about that unlawful 2014 coup? Oh, yes, that was made legal by the (in)justice system and by the junta itself after the event. Oddly, reflecting his irritation, Gen Prayuth makes the claim (again) that he had to stage the coup to stop the “conflict” – this time he refers to a pending “civil war.” He gets rather agitated. Finally, he babbles about Googling stuff.

And, during his speech there were silent protesters:

That the Asia Society expelled silent protesters should cause shame. Is that what now happens in the “land of free speech”? One protester does make some noise as she is bundled out by burly security guards.

Meanwhile, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has pointed out how the junta hangs over Thailand like a lead weight. It begins:

The 19 September 2006 coup was a turning point for the expansion of powers of the armed forces over the democratically elected civilian government since the end of Cold War, in light of the reorganization of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC). The coup makers’ legislative branch passed a statutory law to restructure ISOC, giving rise to the formal and systematic expansion of the military power over civilian affairs.

The trend of such expansion of powers and duties of the armed forces/security authorities continued, even under democratically elected governments. From the 22 May 2014 coup until today, the military’s power reach has continued to increase. ISOC is legally permitted to take charge of so-called “internal security” matters in lieu of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), following its dissolution. Now the powers and duties of ISOC have been expanded even further.

The report highlights five points:

  • Expansion of the definition of “internal security”
  • The composition of ISOC Regional and Provincial Committees now includes personnel from various public authorities including the police, public prosecutor and administrative organizations
  • The powers and duties of the Regional and Provincial ISOC increased from those of 2008
  • Secondary laws amended to require other public authorities to directly support the roles of ISOC
  • The internal reorganization of ISOC

The report concludes:

Military supremacy over civilians, as always

The overall expansion of ISOC’s roles and powers is inseparable from the attempt to proliferate the power of the armed forces, from the NCPO era until after the elections.  Investing such powers in ISOC stands contradictory to the principle of civilian supremacy, an essential benchmark of democracy; members of constitutional bodies should be elected. The public should have a role in managing resource distributions, public administration and the role of the military, not to mention military activities concerning internal security.

Under this principle, the armed forces and security agencies in a democratic society should be of equal status to other public authorities. A government chosen by free and fair elections should have the power to control these organizations, determine their budgets, and give them instructions, as well as to prevent them from getting involved with any civilian affairs, which should not be decided under a military mindset.

Under the incumbent ISOC, the military authorities will continue to have a dominant role over several civilian authorities and affairs. The democratization of the armed forces or security agencies is therefore urgently needed and can be done so only after an amendment of the Internal Security Act to reduce the powers and roles of ISOC.

We doubt the Asia Society is interested.





Updated: Constitutional Court’s “logic”

22 09 2019

Wasant Techawongtham is a former news editor of the Bangkok Post. He writes:

I’m no legal expert, so I may not fully comprehend the legalese language of many court rulings, some of which just go right over my head, not because of the language itself but the logic within them.

While the Court has threatened those who question its decisions, Wasant states:

The two latest rulings by the Constitutional Court have just left me scratching my head with bewilderment and frustration. In this, I’m not alone. Many legal experts have had to scamper to their law textbooks to make sure they have not missed some important principles.

He writes of the Court’s 11 September determination that “it has no authority to rule on the question of whether Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has violated the constitution” on his unconstitutional oath.

Despite a clear and precise statement of the content of the oath in the Constitution, the Court said that the oath was a matter between the king and executive.

Wasant points out the constitutional fallacy of this “decision”:

As I understand it, we have three pillars of democracy — the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. Each provides checks and balances against the others, and each has the duty to respect and protect the country’s constitution.

The fact that Gen Prayut failed to utter a complete oath is no longer in dispute. Such an act is a violation of Section 161 of the constitution which requires that a minister “must” make a solemn declaration as specifically stated before the King.

As everyone in neo-feudal Thailand must, Wasant protects his posterior by trying to “explain” that the king could not possibly have been involved in Gen Prayuth’s unconstitutional oath: “The King cannot be held responsible or complicit in this act.”

He concludes: “I can see no reason why the Constitutional Court could not rule on the matter.” Anyone who is fair and reasonable can only comprehend this ruling as yet another politicized decision by the Court.

Wasant then turns to the other recent ruling by the Constitutional Court on Gen Prayuth’s status as a state official and thus ineligible for the prime ministership. He describes the Court’s rejection of this petition as a “victory for the beleaguered general-turned-politician.” He adds: “it is also one of the most fuzzy and confusing rulings that is extremely difficult for laymen to understand.”

He quotes Political scientist Prajak Kongkirati who asked the right questions:

… [Gen Prayut] uses state power but he is not accountable to the state? He was not appointed by any law but issued and enforced laws concerning all public and private entities as well as the people? He was not legally a state official but received a salary from the public purse? He held on to power temporarily but stayed on for more than five years, longer than any elected government in Thai political history?

Wasant adds a question: “[Gen Prayuth] … wore official [state] uniforms to attend official [state] functions but was not a … [state] official?”

He concludes that:

Bolstered by the two court decisions, Gen Prayut must have felt he could do no wrong. On the day of the House debate, he walked away from the meeting without answering the central question: How would he take responsibility for the constitutional blunder he created after he had said publicly he would solely bear the responsibility?

Thailand is left with Gen Prayuth as The Dictator and prime minister following a coup, political repression, unbridled power as head of a junta, a rigged election and and rules thanks to politicized court decisions.

For several years the Constitutional Court has delivered politicized decisions based on clear double standards. Its attention now turns to the Future Forward Party. We would be hugely surprised if the Court doesn’t consign the party’s leader and the party itself to its dustbin of dissolved political parties. Of course, these dissolved parties are all pro-Thaksin Shinawatra or anti-junta.

Update: While mentioning op-eds at the Bangkok Post, Veera Prateepchaikul is unhappy with “the prime minister [who] did not himself clarify why he omitted to recite an important part of the oath as stipulated in the constitution…”. He handed over to deep swamp slime mining creature Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam to concoct something that sounded legal. As Veera sees it – and most everyone else –

In his clarification … Wissanu was as slippery as an eel as he beat about the bush before referring to the Constitutional Court’s ruling that the swearing-in ceremony was an affair between the government and … the King. In short, he offered no clarification as to whether the omission of the final part of the oath by the prime minister was intentional or unintentional.

And, of course, said nothing about who might have ordered Gen Prayuth to omit reference to the constitution. Veera says Gen Prayuth’s “attitude can only be seen as a lack of acceptance of the opposition’s role as a check-and-balance mechanism of the executive branch, if not his contempt for it.” While that contempt is well-known, the whole story of the unconstitutional oath is also suggestive of the king’s contempt for parliament and the constitution.

Sadly, Veera then gets into some obscurantist royalism:

It is a straightforward and non-complicated issue that could be fixed with an honest explanation, which any good leader should offer. It is not a sensitive issue as claimed by Mr Wissanu because it is separate from the swearing-in ceremony.

Clearly, it isn’t. If this unconstitutional oath was an error, then it would have been easily fixed. Because it hasn’t been fixed and because those involved won’t say anything, the finger is pointing at the king.