Moving Prayuth

26 05 2021

The Bangkok Post reports on a recent media event where the red-yellow anti-government group, Samakkhi Prachachon, came together again to demand that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha “resign for poor governance over the past seven years.”

Prayuth gunning for democracy

The group, led by Adul Khiewboriboon and Jatuporn Prompan handed over a letter that “accused Gen Prayut of failing to fulfil his promises, adding he failed to achieve reforms and reconciliation, while political conflicts have worsened and corruption has increased.” Of course, from the day of the 2014 military coup, these were false promises.

Observing that “Gen Prayut had claimed he remained in power to protect the royal institution,” they claimed his use of Article 112 was “to destroy his political opponents.” Of course, the link between military and monarchy has become almost unbreakable and defines political power and action.

Interestingly, Jatuporn “called on Gen Prayut to follow in the footsteps of the late Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, who turned down a request to remain as prime minister after holding office for eight years.” He kind of mishmashes history. Prem was essentially brought down in a campaign for an elected prime minister and by wavering support in the military.

Prem and Prayuth

In fact, though, for all of his failings, those who supported the coup got exactly what they wanted. Gen Prayuth remains in power, though unelected, through the support of unelected, junta-appointed senators, put in place by a constitution that rigged the political system and election laws and a politicized and biased Election Commission that rigged the 2019 election outcome. That rigged system is supported by a Constitutional Court that is remarkably biased to the extent that it appears to fall in line with the regime as if it is an arm of government.

In such a system, moving Prayuth requires splits in the regime or a major political crisis that shatters the military-monarchy-bureaucracy alliance.





The Prasit affair

23 05 2021

Readers may recall our recent post about the fraudsters who bore remarkable similarities to the massive Mae Chamoy scam of the 1970s and 1980s. The similarities were royal and military.

Prasit 1

Prasit displaying loyalty

Following the negotiated surrender and arrest of fraudster-in-chief Prasit Jeawkok, the Bangkok Post had a recent editorial calling for the military to reveal its links with Prasit. As ever, self-censorship, fear and misplaced loyalty prevents the Post asking about palace links.

A couple of days ago, Thai PBS provided some background on Prasit. For those who can read Thai, we suggest going to the source of much in this report – the grifter’s own website. All of our photos are clipped from that website, where there are plenty more.

The report observes that the “wealthy businessman” was once considered “a saint and a model of success” by the yellow-shirted brigade. He is now outed as a fraudster who may have nicked more than a billion baht. As seen in the Mae Chamoy scam, such fraudsters usually share with influential people in military, police, and even palace.

As can be seen at his website, Prasit made much of his links to the palace and its activities and displayed the loyalty expected of  “good people.”

Prasit 10

Prasit claims he is a “reformed gangster” who abandoned his criminal past to establish a “billion-baht business empire” from which he now “gives back” to society. He claims a rags to riches story.

Like so many of his ilk, he’s made many influential connections.

Prasit 8

Prasit has also “given back” as a royalist and as a supporter of the military and its ruling regime.

He’s “been linked to the Thai military’s so-called ‘information operations’ (IO), which critics say target the government’s opponents and propagandize for the powers-that-be.” Opposition politician Pannika Wanich of the Progressive Movement accuses “Prasit of being instrumental in the Army’s IO by allowing free use of computer servers under his control.”

Prasit admits “”to owning phone applications and servers used by the military but said his goal was to combat fake news by spreading facts about His Majesty the King’s kindness.”

Like many rogues, Prasit promotes “his royalist credentials. Appearing on a talk show in early December, he unbuttoned his shirt to reveal the words “Long Live the King” tattooed on his chest.”

Prasit also makes much of his relationship with the late Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, former Cabinet members and, of course, senior military leaders.





Further updated: Crooks, fraudsters, and palace

16 05 2021

The story of four high-profile suspects arrested in connection with a fraudulent investment ring estimated to have made off with at least 1 billion baht reminded us of an earlier hi-so fraud.

In the recent case, police detained “Lt Col Dr Amraporn Visetsuk, chairwoman of the Tiao Puea Chart (Travel for the Country) project, and three others, on charges of public fraud and collaborating in fraudulent public borrowing. All of them denied the charges.” The one who got away was “suspected ringleader Prasit Jeawkok, chairman of the Kuen Khun Pandin (Paying Back the Land) project…”.

The story gets more interesting:

Last year, Pannika Wanich, spokeswoman for the Progressive Movement, accused Mr Prasit of being behind the army’s now-discredited “information operation” (IO) and allowing the army to use the servers under his control for free.

Prasit himself has “boasted of his royalist credentials and unbuttoned his shirt to show a ‘Long Live the King’ tattoo on his chest. Even if he supported IO, he declared, it was a ‘good IO’.”

Prasit has been praised by the wealthy Yuenyong Opakul or Add Carabao who is also a mad monarchist, writing “the song ‘Prasit the Giver,’ praising his good deeds under the Kuen Khun Pandin project in July 2019.”

All of this is vaguely familiar to anyone old enough to remember the fantastic Mae Chamoy fraud case in the mid-1980s that saw Chamoy Thipyaso and seven others found guilty of corporate fraud and on 27 July 1989, sentenced her to 141,078 years in prison. She only served 8 years.

It was her connections with the military, and especially the Royal Thai Air Force and also with the Petroleum Authority of Thailand, saw her chit fund scheme go on for almost 20 years, providing huge returns to some at the top of the pyramid scheme.

As the linked report states:

Chamoy

Among her clients there were prominent members from the military and the Royal Household, which prompted calls for the Thai government to bail out the banks and chit funds. Discussions of an unknown nature were made with King Bhumibol Adulyadej, following which the chit fund was wound up and Thipyaso arrested. She was [d]etained secretly by the Air Force for a few days.

Thipyaso’s trial only commenced after the losses of the victims from the military and royal staff were recovered….

Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles (pp. 308-9) has more on the scheme:

Chit funds were pyramid schemes that had blossomed over several years without intervention from the government, in part because many had strong government connections. One especially, the Mae (Mother) Chamoy Fund, was estimated at $300 million and involved large numbers of investors from the military and, it soon became apparent, the royal household, including probably Sirikit, Vajiralongkorn, Ubolrat, and Chulabhorn. With such prominent and politically significant people likely to lose massively in the Mae Chamoy collapse, [Gen] Arthit [Kamlang-ek] stepped in again. He threatened a coup if the government did not rescind the [recent baht] devaluation and bail out the banks and chit funds.

This time, King Bhumibol himself rescued [Gen] Prem [Tinsulanonda], without saying anything. Prem went to stay at the Phuphan Palace for nine days, and each day the media ran pictures of Prem with the king, queen, and crown prince. Making the message clear, when Prem returned to Bangkok he was escorted by Prince Vajiralongkorn and Chulabhorn’s consort Captain Virayuth. When Arthit then flew to the Phuphan Palace, Prem turned around and went back. What was said in their discussions with the king was not made public, but the episode ended with Prem still in power and Arthit unpunished for his series of mutinous acts. The devaluation stood and the Mae Chamoy Fund was shut down, but only after more backhall dealings managed by Prem. Fund manager Chamoy was arrested and held in secret by the air force until, it is believed, the losses of palace and military personnel and other high officials were recovered. Only afterward was she tried and sent to prison. Her hearing was held in camera and the records were sealed, presumably to protect the palace. Meanwhile thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of people who didn’t have special protectors lost their savings.

Are we completely mad to wonder if there aren’t some coincidences of news now and news then?

Update 1: Adding to the mystery and protection of fraudsters, it is reported that Prasit Jeawkok has done a deal with police to surrender to them on 17 May. It is common for influential people to arrange this kind of deal and arrive to meet police with influential figures and lawyers. At the same time, we are told that “the Second Army pledged the suspect, Lt Col Amaraphon, who is attached with the Second Army’s Support Command, will face punishment if she is found guilty.” That’s a familiar refrain, seldom ever carried out.

Update 2: Thai Enquirer has two op-eds on this case, here and here. Is anyone surprised that Lt Col Amaraphon already has bail? Scams like this produce huge cash flows for big shots.





Thailand and Myanmar’s generals

25 02 2021

Oren Samet has a useful article at The Diplomat. “The Myanmar Public Fights Not to End Up Like Thailand” makes some points that need attention. It begins:

A week after overthrowing Myanmar’s elected civilian government on February 1, coup leader [Gen] Min Aung Hlaing sent a letter to Thai Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha asking – with no hint of irony – for his help in supporting “democracy” in Myanmar. The letter was revealing not for what it said, but for who it was addressed to. Prayut is, himself, a former general, who overthrew Thailand’s elected government in 2014 and has been in charge ever since. When it comes to coups, Thailand’s generals know what they’re doing.

As we know, and despite initial silence and opacity, in recent days, representative’s of Myanmar’s military junta have been meeting with Thai counterparts – most of whom were a part or associated with Thailand’s own military junta in 2014-19.

As far as we know, this is the first overseas visit by a Myanmar government representative since its hugely popular and elected government was thrown out by the coup.

According to Samet, the Myanmar generals are following a Thai script:

When Min Aung Hlaing made his first televised statement since taking power, he repeatedly emphasized that government policies would remain unchanged and welcomed continued foreign investment. Despite the disastrous consequences of previous military takeovers in Myanmar, he promised that this coup would be different.

He might as well have said, “this time we’re doing it Thai style.”

Samet rightly points out that Gen Min Aung Hlaing:

has close connections to the Thai military. He received multiple high-level honors from the Thai authorities, even after orchestrating the Rohingya genocide in 2017. Prem Tinsulanonda, a previous Thai general turned prime minister, considered Min Aung Hlaing his “adopted son.”

Thailand’s royalist military and the interfering Gen Prem has, from the ashes, helped in bringing authoritarianism back to Myanmar.

But, as the world knows, the Myanmar generals are facing stiff opposition. This is not, as Samet claims, being unable to follow the Thai example, but different circumstances. In 2014, the Thai generals didn’t face widespread opposition because they had eliminated, through repression and jailings, the red shirt opposition and its leaders. At the same time, like Thailand’s yellow shirts who hated Thaksin Shinawatra, in Myanmar, several public intellectuals with civil society links have gone over to the generals and express an intense hatred of Aung San Suu Kyi and her alleged arrogance.

The other thing that the Thai military might have shown their buddies across the border is that it is possible to wait out civil opposition while picking off some of that oppositions leadership. The men with guns know that peaceful protest can often be waited out.





Monarchy, politics and partisanship

11 11 2020

Remember all the bleating about the king being above politics?

We all know that this is buffalo manure, demonstrated by the king himself in recent days.

Interestingly, there’s more evidence of the palace being directly involved in politics that emerges on an almost daily basis.

One example is in The Nation, where Parliament president Chuan Leekpai has stated that “he had consulted Privy Councillor [Gen] Surayud Chulanont … about plans for a national reconciliation committee to resolve rising political conflict.” Chuan added “that Surayud, a former Army chief and post-2016 coup PM, declined to express an opinion on the topic.” Sort of: “he asked all sides to consider the community at large…”.

What’s wrong with that? After all, the old meddler, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, was interfering all the time. But that was wrong. Like the king, the Privy Council is supposed to be above politics, and under the constitution, providing advice to the king, not to leaders of the legislature.

A second example is about other bodies that claim to be “neutral.” The Office of the Chularatchamontri claims that it and all “Islamic organisations at all levels maintain political neutrality.” This didn’t stop them staging “a mass gathering for Muslim residents who stand united in wanting to protect the country’s three pillar institutions.” The report adds:

The event called Ruam Palang Muslim Pokpong Sathaban Chart Sat Kasat (Uniting Muslim Power to Protect the Nation, Religion and the Royal Institution), was presided over by Aziz Pitukkumpol, the Chularatchamontri.

The event took place at the National Administration Centre for Islamic Affairs Chalerm Phrakiat in Bangkok’s Nong Chok district. It was attended by a large crowd of Muslim residents who wore yellow and waved the national and royal flags.

We understand that the Office is a bureaucratic and state organization, and probably was ordered to mobilize, and that the Chularatchamontri is appointed by the king, but why babble about “neutrality” and then act in highly partisan manner?

No one is above politics, and the right continues to use offices of the state for political purposes. The king will be pleased.





Challenging monarchism I

27 10 2020

Pro-democracy protesters have dramatically changed Thailand’s political and cultural landscape.

One of the best examples is in newspaper reporting. Some outlets have gone full-on mad monarchist, but all are reporting on the monarchy as never before. It was only a few weeks ago that Thais relying on the mainstream media might easily have thought that the king and queen were living in Thailand. Almost no outlet ever mentioned much about the royals spending all their time in Germany and Switzerland.

That’s all changed.

These outlets have to report on events such as last evening’s march to the German Embassy in Bangkok. In reporting such events, the media find that they must say something about them. Sure, they still self-censor on the most radical statements and the students poking fun at the monarch and even purloining his recent statements to ultra-royalists as anti-monarchy memes. For example, when Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha ignored the demand that he go, the Khana Ratsadon 2563 named the 26 October march to the German Embassy “Very Brave, Very Good,” with the note: “Because we can’t talk sense with the dog, we shall talk to the dog’s owner.” A huge banner read: “Reform the Monarchy.”

While not mainstream, like many other outlets, Thisrupt explained why the protesters were going to the German Embassy: “Today, Khana Ratsadon will march from Samyan Intersection to the German Embassy on Sathorn Road. Germany has been the residence of … King Rama 10 for many years. ”

The Nation reports: “Pro-democracy demonstrators submitted a letter to the German embassy in Bangkok on Monday asking its government to investigate whether HM the King is ruling from German soil.” The protesters stated; “The request is aimed at reinstating … the King to Thailand so the Palace is placed under the Constitution and Thailand can return to being a genuine constitutional monarchy…”.

A Thai PBS photo

Thai PBS reports: “Thousands of protesters ended their rally in front of the German Embassy on South Sathorn Road after submitting a letter addressed to the German government stressing their call for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to resign and demanding a probe into … the King’s frequent visits to Germany.”

Can anyone imagine such a reporting even a month ago?

Even anti-democrat ultra-royalists have had to acknowledge that the king they claim to revere prefers to spend his time living the high life in Germany. Their tiny rally at the German Embassy before the thousands of pro-democracy protesters showed up, begged the German government to ignore the “false information” about their usually absent king.

We don’t think the monarchy can recover from this. Of course, after its involvement in the 1976 massacre at Thammasat University, the monarchy took years to recover its ideological hegemony, mainly through military-backed government led by unelected premier and groveling royalist Gen Prem Tinsulanonda. In parliament, ultra-royalists like the reprehensible Paiboon Nititawan, an MP for the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party, continue to wind the clock backwards, “accusing protesters of trying to overthrow the monarchy.”

Military supporters like Paiboon may want the extreme repression and bloodshed they’ll need to push the anti-royalist genie back into the bottle. We think the bottle is also broken.





A tale of two demolitions

22 09 2020

The Crown Property Bureau’s voracious appetite for land isn the so-called royal precinct has finally gobbled up the Si Sao Thewes residence, which had belonged to the Royal Thai Army.

The Bangkok Post reports that the residence is now demolished. This follows the death of Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, the former prime minister, president of the Privy Council, and incessant interfering old man who lived there, on the taxpayers’ account, from 1979 to 2019.

The army is reported to have “returned the historical residence and grounds to the Crown Property Bureau in 2019…”. This is a bit like how the national zoo was “returned” to the king in 2018. This grasping is so the king can build an enormous palace. Given that he resides in Germany, this is just an erection to show how superior he is. But perhaps he’ll move back when the new palace is completed. He’ll be well into his 70s then.

Indicating that the Army was “pushed” into giving up the land, the report states there had been a “plan to turn a building situated on one side of the grounds and used as the army club into a museum of valuable woods.” As army chief, “Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha … presided over the laying of a foundation stone for a new army club there.” Soon after, that plan was shelved and the lad was gulped up by the CPB.

(We should correct the Post story. It states that Prem left the premier’s position “[a]fter eight years … refusing to stay on for another term, saying ‘I have had enough’.” True, he did say this, but the real truth is that many in the political class wanted him gone. Ignoring the conflict to make Prem “revered” is a nonsense.)

Related, as they protested the monarchy’s land grabs, the demonstrators on the weekend declared Sanam Luang to be Sanam Ratsadorn and planted a people’s plaque.

Clipped from Khaosod

Within hours, the plaque was gone. It is reported: “The plaque appeared to be removed some time after 10pm, when Sanam Luang was closed off from the public, and before 5am, when the gates reopened.”

Clipped from Khaosod

Police had already stated that “they considered the plaque illegal, since it was placed there without permission from the authorities.”

On cue, Fine Arts Department director Sataporn Thiengtham jumped about spluttering that “the group behind the plaque … broke the laws that protect historic sites.” When asked if he wasn’t babbling double standards, he denied this.

As the report points out, stooge Sataporn’s “department took no action when several key monuments associated with the 1932 revolution that toppled the absolute monarchy disappeared in recent years.” This included the “commemorative plaque on the Royal Plaza…”.

All of this is about the king’s neo-absolutism and his need for wealth and land.





The king and his antics II

11 09 2020

Thailand’s king and his antics in Europe have attracted plenty of unfavorable comment, The most recent is from The Statesman. While we think that most of PPT’s readers will know all of the facts and antics recounted, we consider the article by Francis Pike, with our added illustrations, worth reproducing in full:

The depraved rule of Thailand’s Caligula king
Protestors are risking it all to take on the monarchy

Fu Fu

The Roman emperor Caligula was renowned for his extravagance, capricious cruelty, sexual deviancy and temper bordering on insanity. Most famously, before he was assassinated, he planned to appoint his favourite horse as a consul. This is probably a legend. But King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who ascended the Thai throne in 2016, adopted Caligula’s playbook for real. In 2009 the then crown prince promoted his pet miniature poodle Foo Foo to the post of air chief marshal, in which capacity he served until his death in 2015, aged 17. Foo Foo’s cremation was preceded by four days of formal Buddhist mourning.

The poodle first came to the attention of the general public when a video was released showing him eating cake from the hand of Vajiralongkorn’s third wife, Princess Srirasmi, while she cavorted in a G-string at the dog’s lavish birthday party. At a 2009 gala dinner in honour of Vajiralongkorn, Foo Foo was kitted out head to paw in black-tie dress and, according to a WikiLeaks-revealed account by US ambassador, Ralph Boyce, ‘jumped onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses, including my own’.

When on parade the new king wears crisp, snowy-white, gold-braided, Ruritanian military uniforms or elaborate Thai regalia that make him look like a Buddhist temple in human form. In downtime his dress code can at best be described as kinky: trainers and low-hung jeans paired with the skimpiest of crop tops. His back and arms are festooned with possibly fake tattoos.

Vajiralongkorn is famously lecherous. Indeed, in his youth, Thai aristocrats would pack off their daughters to Europe to get them out of his clutches. Happily for Bangkok’s elite, the crown prince’s tastes, after his divorce from his first wife, an aristocratic relative of his mother, were consistently low-rent. His second wife was an aspiring actress, albeit of the soft-porn variety.

Prince, and kids in earlier times

The marriage did not last. After Vajiralongkorn put posters all over the palace accusing her of adultery, she fled to London and later to the US with her children — apart from a daughter who was kidnapped and brought back to Bangkok. The daughter was elevated to the rank of princess, but her mother and brothers had their diplomatic passports and royal titles revoked by the crown prince. The Thai public was left horrified by his treatment of his family.

Another marriage followed in 2001, to the aforementioned Srirasmi, though it was not publicly announced until 2005 when the crown prince, by then in his early fifties, declared it was time to settle down. How-ever, in 2014 he stripped his wife of her royal titles because of her relatives’ corruption. Srirasmi’s parents were jailed for two and a half years each for lèse-majesté.

Sineenat

Five years later, on 1 May last year, and just three days before his official coronation, Vajiralongkorn married for the fourth time, to Suthida Tidjai, a former Thai Airways hostess, giving her the title of Queen Consort. The Thai people were dumbfounded when just two months later, the new king named his mistress, Major General Sineenat Wongvajira-pakdi, as his Royal Noble Consort; it was the first time this form of address had been used for more than 100 years. The new relationship lasted three months. On 21 October, Sineenat was stripped of all her titles and disappeared from public view, supposedly for being disrespectful to the queen.

The king’s extravagance is no less remarkable than his private life. A monarchy that was impoverished in the postwar period had, by some estimates, increased its wealth to between $40 billion and $60 billion by last year. Most of the wealth resides in land; ownership of some four square miles of central Bangkok makes the Thai monarchy the world’s wealthiest by a large margin. Overseas holdings include a major stake in the Kempinski hotel group.* Indeed, for years Vajiralongkorn has spent months on end at the Munich Kempinski with his harem and servants. In addition, he owns a mansion on Lake Starnberg to the southwest of Munich. In spite of his huge allowances as crown prince, affording him ownership of two Boeing 737s, it is thought that he had to resort to begging funds from the then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to cover his gambling debts.

Why do King Vajiralongkorn’s private shenanigans matter? Royal families throughout Europe have long weathered sexual and financial scandals. Juan Carlos may have had to step down as king and go into exile, but the Spanish monarchy has survived. So too has the Belgian monarchy after the former King Albert II admitted to a love child. There is no suggestion that Prince Andrew, cherubic by comparison with King Vajiralongkorn, will bring down the British royals because of the Epstein imbroglio. But the key difference is that, unlike Thailand, all those are constitutional monarchies.

Bhumibol and Ananda

In Thailand the monarchy is integral to the country’s real power structures. This was a 70-year legacy of Vajiralongkorn’s father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Bhumibol’s reign started under a cloud following the killing of his 20-year-old predecessor, King Ananda Mahidol, by a single shot to the head with a Colt .45 pistol. After a questionable trial two servants were executed for the murder, though it is widely suspected that the king was accidently shot by Bhumibol, his brother. For the first decade of his rule King Bhumibol was entirely powerless and lived under the rule of the quasi-dictator Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram, who, during the second world war, had allied Thailand with the Axis powers.

Bhumibol, Sirikit, Prem

But gradually, as Thailand inched towards a democracy, Bhumibol won the adoration of the Thai people thanks to his moderating influence and good works, such as paying for medical facilities for the poor. His political power increased. In 1952 he bravely refused to preside over ceremonies for Phibunsongkhram’s new militaristic constitution.** However, Bhumibol’s finest moment came in 1981 when he faced down the ‘April Fools’ Day’ coup d’état by fleeing Bangkok and raising the Thai royal standard at the military base at Khorat, where General Prem emerged as the new military strongman. There followed what is now known as the ‘Network Monarchy’ era, a coalition of military interests and those of the financial and industrial elite based in Bangkok. As a former American deputy-president at Thailand’s Bank of Asia noted: ‘Thai politics has been about dividing up the pie among the elite.’ At the centre of the web stood the Thai monarchy. Elected democratic institutions remained largely an adornment to this oligarchic structure.

In 2001 a business chancer and mobile phone billionaire, Thaksin Shinawatra, later the owner of Manchester City FC, swept to power with his Thai Rak Thai party promising a populist agenda including reform of health and education. Much to the chagrin of the ‘Network Monarchy’, Thaksin won a sweeping electoral victory again in 2005. Bhumibol, who loathed Thaksin, gave tacit support to the coup that first removed him and then sent him into exile two years later. Until his death in 2016, Bhumibol thwarted, either by military or judicial coup, the democratic will of the Thai people, who since 2001 have consistently voted into power Thaksin-backed parties and their proxy leaders. Bhumibol’s historic reputation, albeit tarnished by his thwarting of the democratic will, became an important pillar of resistance to Thaksin’s outsiders. After Bhumibol’s death in 2016, the critical power of the monarchy was left in the hands of his dissolute playboy son.

Will King Vajiralongkorn redeem his dire youthful reputation and do a ‘Prince Hal’, moving to the path of royal righteousness? The signs so far are not good. Just over a week ago, the Royal Noble Consort Sineenat suddenly re-emerged with no information other than an inventive Royal Gazette announcement that ‘It will be regarded that she was never stripped of the royal consort title, military ranks and royal decorations’.

More important than this saga of extra-judicial fiat, the king intervened in the drafting of a new constitution by the military junta in 2017 to grant himself new powers over the appointment of regents. In addition, the new constitution asserted the king’s rights to ‘manage’ during any constitutional crisis. Given that Thailand has had 17 military coups since 1932, this is not trivial. Two crack regiments have also been put under his direct control. As the political exile and professor at Kyoto University Pavin Chachavalpongpun has noted, the king ‘is basically running the country now, though he’s not doing that like his father did through moral authority. He’s using fear to solidify his position and to take command.’

It is therefore interesting that in the past month, demonstrations of up to 10,000 people have called for the powers of the king to be curtailed. Protestors have defied Thailand’s draconian lèse-majesté laws — which can incur up to 15 years’ imprisonment — to chant ‘Down with feudalism’. It remains to be seen whether the protests are a straw in the wind of future political instability. The new king’s attempt to transition from a monarch with influence within the ‘Network Monarchy’ to a monarch who rules is fraught with danger. But at least Vajiralongkorn is unlikely to come to Caligula’s sticky end; the king has a ready-made home for an exile in his beloved Bavaria.

*For discussions that reflect changes in ownership, see here and here.

**The refusal to attend was a fit of pique and self-interest.





Updated: King controls Army, Air Force and Police

29 08 2020

The winner in this years reshuffles of the military and police is King Vajiralongkorn. While loyalists have been in charge of these forces for decades, the palace has always had and expressed preferences. Vajiralongkorn has previously been involved in contests over the appointment of police chiefs.

Yet the recent approval of heads of Army, Air Force and Police suggest that the appointments have all been made to satisfy the king.

Nikkei Asian Review has recently recounted how “[t]rusted military allies of Thailand’s monarch have moved to extend their reach into the armed forces…”.

Whether this amounts to “alienating Prime Minister [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha from a pillar he needs to prop up his government,” remains to be seen. After all, Gen Prayuth is a staunch royalist and has been premier for more than six years. The last prime minister to serve longer was Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, another royalist, and he had to face down coup attempts.

According to unnamed sources, it was palace favorite and Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong who boosted “Gen Narongphan Jitkaewthae, the assistant army chief, to succeed him in September as the new commander of the army, which has 335,000 active-duty troops.”

Gen Narongphan is known to be trusted by Vajiralongkorn while Gen Prayuth is reported to have  favored Gen. Natthapon Nakpanich, the deputy army chief. But, of course, it is the king “who wields ultimate authority in this Southeast Asian kingdom.”

The report goes on to observe:

In a country where demonstrations of loyalty to the monarchy are prized, both Apirat and Narongphan wear theirs around their neck — special shirts with a red rim around the collar. The shirts show they have passed special training for soldiers in the elite Royal Command Guard, also known as Royal Guard 904, which answers only to the king.

The two generals also belong to the King’s Guard, a Bangkok-based military faction with a rich army pedigree. The monarch himself served in the ranks of the Wongthewan, as the King’s Guard is called in Thai, during military service in the 1970s while he was crown prince.

Given the king’s connections with the Air Force and with Air Chief Marshall Sathitpong Sukwimol as his long-serving private secretary the rise of palace loyalist Air Chief Marshall Airbull Suttiwan has been expected.

Meanwhile, at the police, Gen. Suwat “Big Pud” Chaengyodsuk, “a former commander of a royal protection police unit” has been approved as the next national police chief. Big Pud is reported to have “attended the same military cadet class with the current army chief Gen. Apirat … and was a classmate of Chakthip [Gen. Chakthip Chaijinda, current police chief] when they studied at the Royal Police Cadet Academy.”

Most significantly, Big Pud commanded the “police commando unit tasked with providing security to the Royal Family members and carrying out other tasks assigned by King Vajiralongkorn.”

The chances are that after these appointments are approved that a harder line will be taken against students and anti-monarchists.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that there’s been pushback on the Air Force appointment, with Air Chief Marshall Airbull reportedly pushed aside after complaints, that included barb that “the nomination of ACM Airbull from ‘a special signal’ was damaging.” In the past, unless Vajiralongkorn has changed his mind, he has tended to be insistent. Let’s watch this.





Updated: Amnesty? Why now? II

21 07 2020

We had an earlier note on a new proposal for political amnesty, this time from the yellow-shirted side. Since then, there’s been considerable discussion and speculation regarding the “real” source of the proposal.

The Bangkok Post summarizes some of this discussion. It is worth reading. Some will remark on the “fate” of People’s Alliance for Democracy leaders:

On Feb 13 last year, the court upheld eight-month prison sentences for six former PAD co-leaders for their role in the seizure of Government House during 2008 street protests.

Five of them were later granted a royal pardon on the occasion of … the King’s coronation.

It is also worth noting that it was only last month that Supreme Court upheld rulings by lower courts against five leaders of a United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship protest in July 2007 that marched from Sanam Luang to the taxpayer-funded residence of the then president of the king’s Privy Council, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, accused of fomenting the 2006 military coup.

Given that cases from more than a decade ago continue to drag on, perhaps there’s motivation for some. Maybe something else is going on behind closed doors. We still can’t determine the source of this new amnesty proposal, but it does appear to have high-level support.

Update: Interestingly, amnesty proposer Kamnoon Sidhisamarn is also urging a light touch with student demonstrators. Clearly, something has changed, at least for Kamnoon.








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