Still getting the monarchy wrong

17 02 2017

Ralph Jennings, a Contributor at Forbes says he “cover[s] under-reported stories from Taiwan and Asia” but seems to specialize on China and Taiwan. Thus, venturing into things royal and Thailand is thus a stretch and a test of knowledge.

He’s right to observe that the monarchy in Thailand has “massive influence.”

But the picture he paints of the last king is pure palace propaganda when he states:

He had stopped coups, spearheaded rural infrastructure projects and met commoners in rough or squalid conditions. His actions helped strengthen people’s confidence in their country with an otherwise wobbly government.

Let’s correct a bit. He also initiated coups, as in 1957, and he supported coups, as in 2006, when it suited him. And that’s just two examples. He also supported right-wing extremists and acted as a prompt to massive blood-letting, as in 1976. The palace hand was always meddling in politics. The “infrastructure projects” are presumably the royal projects, many of them grand failures and, since the General Prem Tinsulanonda era, at great taxpayer expense.

And, “wobbly government” hardly seems to fit much of the reign, when the monarchy collaborated with ruthless military regimes, just as it does now.

The author is correct to observe that King Vajiralongkorn “is not expected to advocate changes in Thailand that reflect mass concerns or even go around meeting people.”

Recall that the dead king also essentially gave up “going to the people” for most of the last two decades of his reign. For one thing, he was too ill. For another, the “going to meet the people” was a political strategy for winning hearts and minds in his campaign to remake the monarchy. By the 1990s, this was largely achieved.

That King Vajiralongkorn is claimed to have “signaled little interest so far in shifting Thailand from quasi-military rule toward more democracy after a junta took power in 2014” seems an odd observation. And, in this quite natural political position for a monarchy such as Thailand’s, the new king follows the dead one.

That the new king wants more power for the throne is clear to all. That’s why the military’s “constitution” has been changed. But to say that the new version – we still don’t know the exact nature of the changes – allows the king “more freedom to travel overseas, where he has spent much of his life, and can appoint a regent to rule when he’s not around” is a misunderstanding of what The Dictator has let be known. The point of the changes was to allow him to not have a regent during his jaunts.

And, Mr Jennings must be the only one who thinks “[e]lections are due this year.”

He is right, however, to add that “[o]bservers believe that with King Vajiralongkorn, Thailand will continue to retain its strict lese-majeste laws, which ban any criticism of the monarchy.” That is a requirement of continued domination by a royalist elite.





Odd views

2 02 2017

A while ago we posted on how palace propaganda was seeking to change some of the old narratives to cope with a new monarch.

That post was about how an old network of tame authors and journalists prepared to continue their work of mythologizing the monarchy was being prodded and paid into action.

Some of it is also called to saccharin-ize a corrupt military regime. After all, the monarchy and military seem in step at present.

Some of it gets bizarre. At something called Global Rick Insights has an article by Laura Southgate who is identified as a Lecturer in International Security at Cranfield University, located at the UK’s Defence Academy. The sub-header in her “report” states: “Former head [sic] of Privy Council Prem Tinsulanonda is returning to political power in Thailand, which bodes well for the country’s political and economic success.”

On the face of it, the article is dated, despite the actual date on it, in thinking Prem is no longer head of the Privy Council. At the same time, arguing that an increasingly frail general “returning to political power” – when did he leave it? – is good for politics and economy seems to be somewhat silly.

The gist of the story, with some dubious data, seems to be that the military dictatorship is following Prem’s 1980s. We have pointed to that in the past, but we don’t see Prem as having much of a political role for much longer. The idea that he is good for the economy is banal:

Moving forward, it is vital that Thailand’s officials instill confidence in those looking to invest in the Thai economy.

Prem Tinsulanonda’s role as a key power broker can help Thailand achieve this goal. With his strong economic background and influence within the military and the monarchy, Prem is regarded as a stabilising force in Thailand’s politics. The continuation of his guiding role will help to reduce investor uncertainty at a time of domestic upheaval. This is good news for investors, and good news for Thailand’s economy.

Under the new king, it seems Prem’s only in his position for the sake of face and fealty. Given recent downturns and poor rankings, it seems canny investors are looking elsewhere.





Concocting constitutionalism

13 01 2017

The Bangkok Post describes The Dictator as “furious” about reporting on the relationship between the king and the junta’s government.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha seems to be in a lather over perceptions that the king has stepped beyond the bounds of his constitutional position. Prayuth reckons the reason for this is that the media hasn’t reported on the king’s demands of the government carefully enough.

It is very hard to believe that the media in Thailand would not be exceptionally careful about how they report anything about the monarchy. After all, they have to be very wary of the draconian lese majeste law, wielded like a child’s bat at a piñata by this military regime.

The Dictator insisted that “the [k]ing did not ask the government to amend the new constitution as reported by the media.” In full tantrum mode, Prayuth said he was “angered” by the alleged misreporting.He diagnosed the “problem” as the “local media … feeding off foreign media reports, saying this had caused damage, without elaborating.”

We can only guess that the “damage” is either to Prayuth or to (fake) notions of constitutionalism. Perhaps Prayuth has received a literal or verbal boot to his posterior from the palace. More likely, he’s reflecting a position that the junta learned from the 2006 coup and that is to distance the palace from the military thugs who have hijacked power.

We recall the efforts that Prayuth and his band of constitutional criminals went to after the 2014 coup to declare the palace’s distance from the junta. Smashing the constitution in 2006 was seen by pretty much everyone as the work of General Prem Tinsulanonda and a bunch of palace insiders as co-conspirators, with the king and the queen welcoming the coup leaders just hours after the illegal event. That was an eye-opening event for many in Thailand and took royal stocks to lows not seen since the mid-1970s.

This is why Prayuth and his junta wanted to makes sure that the palace was seen as somewhat distant from their illegal acts.

So Prayuth is worried that the new king’s actions in telling the government to changes aspects of the constitution he’s miffed about is being seen as constitutional meddling. It is exactly that, but that’s not the message Prayuth or the palace wants out there, even if the media’s reporting has been accurate.

In other words, Prayuth is constitutional fence mending after the the fact of meddling.

He declared that “he had never said the [k]ing had asked the government to amend the new charter awaiting royal endorsement.” He attacked the press: “How could you report that the [k]ing had asked the government to amend the charter? It’s not true…”.

It is true, but not the preferred story. As the Post story says,

Reporters responded by saying that the prime minister had said on Tuesday that the [k]ing had advised that there were three to four provisions that need to be amended to fit in with the monarch’s power.

Prayuth retorted:

I said His Majesty had spoken to the Privy Council, not directly to the government…”. He went on to weave the story: “The Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary sent a letter about the [k]ing’s observations to the government and the government agreed to make changes to the constitution of its own accord….

That story might be true or it might not, but it hardly matters for the facts of what’s happening. For Prayuth it matters because the junta wants to wipe the king’s fingerprints from constitutional meddling. We feel sure that the notion that the junta “agreed to make changes to the constitution of its own accord” is clearly a concoction.

So contorted and so legally dubious is this process of constitutional meddling that the junta has had to make several retrospective changes to the interim constitution.

The National Legislative Assembly has rushed the changes through to “allow the government to ask for the new constitution back from the [k]ing so revisions can be made.”

Once those retrospective changes are made, then the draft constitution, “approved” by a “referendum,” can then be changed to suit the king.

The Dictator may feel that concocting constitutionalism is like a magician’s card trick and no one will notice, but it’s too late, everyone saw the king.





Chipping away at 1932

12 01 2017

Several times since we began in 2009, PPT has marked the 1932 Revolution by reprinting the first announcement of the khana ratsadon or People’s Party.

Democracy Monument, BangkokIn recent years the anniversary of this event is barely noticed, buried by a the celebration of various historically insignificant royal anniversaries. While there has been a long-term effort to erase 1932 from school books and the public mind, under the military junta there has been a determined efforts to make invisible an event it consider horrendous for reducing royal powers and granting sovereignty to common people. Moreover, the junta and palace have been writing laws that reverse important changes made in 1932, not least in limiting the powers of the monarchy under the constitution.

One of the nominated changes is to allow the king to decide if he needs a regent when he is flitting back and forth to his home outside Munich.

The current order by the king to change aspects of the draft constitution, “approved” in a “referendum,” is an example of how the very notion of a constitutional monarchy is being rolled back.

The junta may have been surprised by the king’s demands, but they are unwilling to tell him to go to hell. That could be because they are in dispute with the king but feel he should get his way for the moment. It might be that the junta is happy enough to have General Prem Tinsulanonda lose some influence. It may be that the junta wants to further delay an “election” and this is their excuse. It could be that the junta may feel that its legitimacy depends entirely on the monarchy. It might be that the junta believes that a feudal Thailand a la pre-1932 is appropriate for a 21st century Thailand. Or it might be all of these.

Whatever is going on, it’s clear the junta has asked how high the king wants it to jump. It is rushing ahead with the demanded changes.

The Nation reports that quotes junta lawyer Wissanu Krea-ngam as sayin: “Now, … the situation in the country has changed, so they will have to be amended to meet the situation. Otherwise, we will be using principles that were written in 1932…”.

He’s clear on what’s being done here. As a reminder, in 1932, Article 5 stated:

If there is any reason that the king is unable temporarily to carry out his duties, or is not in the capital, the Committee of the People will execute the right on his behalf.

How things have changed and they’ll change further in the next few days.

Readers might ask why the junta wasn’t getting the king’s view as it developed its constitution. Wissanu says: “The clauses to be amended were not paid attention to before the referendum, because drafters had only copied them from the previous constitution.” Yet, you would think a royalist regime would have been talking with the soon-to-be-king. Maybe he was more interested in his concubines and fake tattoos than the work of rolling back 1932 constitutionalism. Perhaps he only realized the potential problems of the regency when Prem got the job back in October.

The chief of the charter drafters, Meechai Ruchupan might have been a bit contrite about causing the king some angst, but he’s still talking draft constitutions and says the proposed “amendment would give the [k]ing the option of either appointing or not appointing a regent should he not reside in the Kingdom.”

Another of the royalist dopes, Somchai Sawaengkarn, of the puppet National Legislative Assembly (NLA), ignoring constitutional history and practice,  babbled about it not being “necessary to name a regent because modern communication methods have made it easy and convenient to work remotely. The charter should be amended to meet this environment…”.

In another report, Meechai blathered that the demanded changes were “in line with proposed changes to the charter sought by the government…”. That is so nonsensical that it suggests he’s lost his marbles or is a great liar. It could be both. If the changes were “in line,” why the seeming panic and back-filling now?

Recalling Article 5 from 1932, this is what the same article looks like in the draft constitution:

16. Whenever the King is absent from the Kingdom or unable to perform His functions for any reason whatsoever, the King will appoint a person as the Regent and the President of the National Assembly shall countersign the Royal Command.

If this is to change, what does it mean for related articles? The other relevant articles state:

17. In the case where the King does not appoint the Regent under Section 16, or the King is unable to appoint the Regent owing to His not being sui juris or any other reason whatsoever, the Privy Council shall submit the name of a person suitable to hold the office of the Regent to the National Assembly for approval. Upon approval by the National Assembly, the President of the National Assembly shall make an announcement, in the name of the King, to appoint such person as the Regent.

18. While there is no Regent under Section 16 or Section17, the President of the Privy Council shall be Regent pro tempore. In the case where the Regent appointed under Section 16 or Section 17 is unable to perform his duties, the President of the Privy Council shall act as Regent pro tempore….

Our immediate question is what happens if the king dies or is badly injured and can’t appoint a regent? Another crisis and military intervention to again fix the rules and manipulate constitutional principles and practice?

The new king may well end up creating a republican military that “remembers” what motivated the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932. That would be positive in the long run….





Regression not change

4 01 2017

We usually consider claims about “change” as implying a move forward. When we read that “Real change is coming in 2017,” we realize that change can involve regression. In Thailand, regression as change is the task of murderous and repressive military regimes.

Accepting that the promised “election” is likely to be delayed to 2018, the Post claims that 2017 “is expected to mark a major change in the political landscape…”.

One change is that the draft constitution “passed” in a “referendum,” and “submitted the  for royal endorsement” will become the “permanent” constitution in 2017. That constitution is regressive and anti-democratic.

That “change” will feel something like 1984 when General Prem Tinsulanonda was Thailand’s royalist premier, Ronald Reagan was napping in the Oval Office and Margaret Thatcher was crushing miners. Indira Gandhi was assassinated, the U.S. embassy in Beirut was blown up and Michael Jackson’s album “Thriller” sold more than 37 million copies.

Interestingly, while the draft was voted on in August, as we enter January, it is still a draft.

The story implies that royal endorsement is not guaranteed, for the king can veto it: “if the draft does not receive royal endorsement on time, it will automatically be considered rejected.” We can’t imagine a king who is close to the military doing that.

A second “change” seems to be an “event”: the deceased king’s cremation. No change there as the new king is now in place.

Another change might be the junta’s “20-year national development strategy.” No change there either, just regression to a creepy Prem-like era of military dominance and manipulation of politics, all in the monarchy’s name.

Yellow shirts like Suriyasai Katasila believe that anti-democratic regression is “change.” However, he identifies a problem: “the military regime will continue to struggle to solve political conflicts which have lied dormant since the May 22, 2014 coup.” He says that junta “has not yet come up with substantive measures to deal with political divisions, which could flare up again when the military regime steps down…”.

In other words, he believes that the junta has failed to smash the red shirts, democratic activists and pro-Thaksin Shinawatra groups.  He predicts conflict.

There hardly seems anything new in the military’s political universe, with long-term “plans,” military-dominated upper house and assemblies and the military directing and manipulating political parties. Even many of the key players being resurrected from the Prem era.





Brotherly love

30 12 2016

The 2014 military coup was intended to make up for the failures of of the 2006 putsch. In many ways, that 2006 intervention was General Prem Tinsulanonda’s coup. He was deeply involved in planning it, ensured military “backbone” for the royalist coup and arranged for his Privy Council colleague, General Surayud Chulanont, to become prime minister in a royalist and military backed government.

Yet the 2006 coup was a failure because the coup masters misunderstood the nature of the electoral support for Thaksin Shinawatra. The old men who claimed Thailand as their realm and who opposed popular sovereignty mistakenly believed Thaksin was reviled throughout the land and not just in their royalist cabals and yellow shirted strongholds in Bangkok and parts of the south.

The lessons taken from the failure of Prem’s coup was that, in 2014, a far deeper and more extensive military repression was required in order to, as the yellow-shirted ideologues put it, uproot the Thaksin regime. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, General Pravit Wongsuwan and their junta-cum-government of military brass has been the ruthless military dictatorship that Prem and other palace-related monarchists wanted and needed.

This is why the grand old political meddler is so enthralled and enamored of General Prayuth. He sees a true “son” at work for the military brotherhood and for the palace. When the junta comes calling at Prem’s taxpaper-funded mansion, he’s so very happy.

As the Bangkok Post reports the most recent mutual posterior polish, General Prem was effusive in his praise.

prem-entralled

Prem told the well-wishers who came to pay their respects to the palace’s chief political player that “he was aware of the government’s hard work.” He praised the dictatorship: “The government [he means junta] is exhausted and the prime minister, even more so.” Prem expressed his full support for the junta.

General Prem showered praise on General Prayuth, saying the “more exhausted” Prayuth is, “the greater success there is because the prime minister is committed to bringing happiness back to the nation…”. Prem expressed his full support for The Dictator, declaring: “I’m glad the prime minister and everyone here is dedicated to the country’s cause. We may be tired but we are not despondent…”.

He seems to view his palace and the junta as a team, running the country as only they can, with vigor and determination translated as repression and political regression.

He also “urged Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and the armed forces leaders to do their best to help Gen Prayut,” and drew on palace propaganda for support, mythologizing the dead king: “If one feels on the verge of losing steam, he only needs to look up at the picture of the late King who had endured hard work for 70 years. That is far more than what any of us has gone through…”. Nonsense for sure, but it is the linking of monarchy and military that’s critical for the new reign and for wiping out the vestiges of popular electoralism.

Naturally enough, General Prayuth took to polishing Prem’s aged butt, praising Prem’s “experience, ability and loyalty to the royal institution [he means monarchy]…”. So happy are the two together that Prem took Prayuth off for a “private meeting … that lasted about 15 minutes.”

Later, Prayuth explained that the old general “inquired about his work plans for the next year.” We assume his plans for political regression, deepening surveillance and a sham election were all ticked off by the palace’s man.





Another privy councilor appointed

24 12 2016

The new king’s Privy Council appointments are looking rather haphazard and lacking in advance planning.

Although we stated that it was widely expected that the new king would put his stamp on the Privy Council. In an earlier post, we stated that he’d done that in very quick time. At the end of the first week of December, a bunch of old-timers were shoved out and military senior officers and members of the ruling junta were brought in. About a week later, two more were appointed.

Some 10 days later, the Bangkok Post reports that another general has been hurriedly appointed.

General Kampanart Ruddit, a former assistant army chief, suddenly resigned from the puppet National Legislative Assembly on Wednesday. On Friday he became the 12th privy councilor (13 including 96 year-old General Prem Tinsulanonda, its president).

It seems odd that the king is adopting a drip-drip-drip approach to appointments. Had he not prepared? Or is it that the military and Prem are negotiating this?

General Kampanart is a loyalist. He was formerly a commander of the 1st Division of the Royal Guards, placing him close to the palace, and commander of the 1st Army region. Following the 2014 military coup, Kampanart was reported as having “played an active role in monitoring and cracking down on anti-coup and anti-monarchist elements in Bangkok and the central region.”

When he declared his wealth on being appointed to the NLA, the then Lt. Gen. reported just under 100 million baht. Not bad for one who is meant to live on his relatively low military salary.

Like others at the top, when the coup came in 2014, he was rewarded with a Directorship at the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand. His brother, Admiral Luechai Ruddit, as navy chief of staff was appointed to the NLA in October.