Coronation date set

1 01 2019

As many will know, when the current king succeeded his father, things were a little bumpy. Accession was delayed, and while the junta backdated the reign, Thailand was king-less and under the grand old manipulator Gen Prem Tinsulanonda as regent for a time.

But the time has arrived. Presumably 1 January is suitably auspicious for announcing the coronation. The king has decided that his coronation, when he crowns himself, will be over three days from 4 to 6 May.

We guess that rules out May for an election, should the junta want to delay as long as is (currently) legally possible.

Here’s footage – mainly still photos – of the last coronation:

There’s no film of King Ananda Mahidol’s coronation because he was killed before there could be a ceremony. But here’s the footage of King Prajadhipok’s coronation:

Forgetting history

31 12 2018

The Bangkok Post seems to have had a brain fade. In an editorial, the history of the 1980s is rewritten with little attention to the facts.

It begins with a contradiction: “Gen Prem Tinsulanonda was last involved formally in politics just over 30 years ago. Last week, he climbed back into the ring for just a few moments.” If Prem’s advice to and support of The Dictator was a political involvement, then he’s been doing this for decades, even before he became Army chief in 1978.

It continues:

Gen Prem was prime minister of Thailand for twice as long as Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] has served, with less than half the disputes. No democrat desires a military leader, but everyone admits Gen Prem earned his title of “statesman”.

This is historical buffalo manure. Prem seized the premiership with palace support and the support of military factions. A commentary at the time stated:

In March of this year, General Kriangsak Chomanan was forced to step down as Prime Minister of Thailand and was replaced by his rival, General Prem Tinsulanond. Unlike his predecessor whose bickering with the royal house may have hastened his downfall, Prem has the confidence of the monarchy.

This wasn’t a coup, but was seen at the time as a silent or pseudo-coup. Emphasizing this, for a time, Prem remained Army commander while premier (FEER, 12 Sept. 1980).

In power and never facing election, Prem faced several coups (links to a short PDF), only prevailing because the king took him in as a much-loved unelected military leader, which encouraged the military to congeal around Prem. In fact, Prem went through three administrations as five cabinets. In this sense, the current military dictatorship has been more stable!

Prem also faced several assassination attempts, and there were countless disputes that destabilized the government and forced several reshuffles. Using the palace’s support and the support of parts of a factionalized military, Prem hung on until he was pushed from the premiership in 1988 – Wikipedia also gets this transition wrong – by anti-Prem and anti-military movements including the Petition of 99 (clicking downloads a short PDF).

Clearly, then, the editorial writer at the Bangkok Post has forgotten the history of which it was a part. It gets worse when the editorial states: “The 98-year-old president of the Privy Council made no attempt to keep political power when he left the prime minister’s post to an elected, civilian regime in 1988.” We can simply point to Wikipedia and the notion of the network monarchy (clicking downloads a 21-page PDF) as examples of Prem trying to manipulate everything to do with Thailand’s politics.

The Post should get its history right and then it might see the similarities between Prem and Prayuth.

Prem “votes” for The Dictator

27 12 2018

The groveling before the grand old man of conservative and royalist Thailand Gen Prem Tinsulanonda takes place a few times each year. It is military types who usually slither in to see Prem as, over many decades, they have owed him their positions and the perquisites that come with them.

The great political manipulator of the ninth reign has ordained military premiers and their unelected governments. He has sometimes anointed civilian governments that are prepared to kowtow to his and the king’s will. Those who don’t  are in trouble. Those he dislikes have been in serious trouble.

Now he’s ancient and increasingly frail, the snail trails to his taxpayer funded villa are a ritual. Even so, whatever he utters during these tedious meet and greets, have tended to be important for royalists as they saw him as channeling the king’s views. Prem made the most of this impression to promote himself and his influence. We can guess that his position as president of the Privy Council doesn’t count for much in the tenth reign, but royalists will still carefully listen.

Prem dispensed his usual “advice,” but the most important thing he did was “vote” for The Dictator, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, praising The Dictator “for running the country with a strong determination to bring peace to society and drag Thais out of poverty. This was a role model for being the country’s leader…”. Prem should know. He ruled with palace backing for about a decade, hardly ever showed up in parliament and never faced the electorate.

Harnessing monarchs in “election” campaigning

21 10 2018

Demonstrating loyalty has been a hallmark of the monarchy for decades. Unelected politicians, all military leaders or military pawns, have demonstrated loyalty to the throne, none more obsequiously than Gen Prem Tinsulanonda. Displays of loyalty have been about defining a narrow and hierarchical politics for Thailand where the monarchy has been positioned as the keystone of the polity.

Except for some very short periods when freedom of speech allowed real debate and where politicians were pushed from below, elected politicians have also been required to adjust themselves to the straitjacket of monarchy-defined politics.

The Dictator has made his career from his proximity to the palace. It is therefore no surprise that as a prime minister campaigning for that position following his junta’s rigged election, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has campaigned by demonstrating and demanding loyalty.

He’s making King Chulalongkorn Day a major event and asked people to “wear pink on King Chulalongkorn Memorial Day [this] Tuesday.” The Dictator “said wearing pink is a way of commemorating the great king who is credited with abolishing slavery, reforming the bureaucracy and modernising the country’s infrastructure.”

He was the most absolute of kings, something The Dictator appreciates.

The junta has designed “religious events and ceremonies…, beginning with morning alms giving to monks, followed by a wreath laying ceremony at the Royal Plaza, and an evening candle-light vigil at the Sanam Luang.”

All of this royalism shines a light on the prime minister campaigning to be prime minister after the rigged election.

King and Privy Council

14 10 2018

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a well-known critic of the monarchy. He has a new article at The Diplomat. Most of it, though, will be familiar to PPT readers. However, it is worth remaking some of his points.

He focuses on the recent reorganization of the Privy Council and notes that the:

king’s decision to evict old members of the Privy Council close to his late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the stripping of the power from its president, General Prem Tinsulanonda, as well as the appointment of his close confidants as new Privy Councilors, suggests that, more than just a process, this is part of the growing aggrandizement of political power of Thailand’s new King….

In fact, the king has not really done anything that should not have been expected. Any new king would want to have his most trusted advisers in place.

The dead king made sure he had pliant royalists as advisers “working outside the constitutional framework to compete with other elite groups for administrative and political power.”

They protected and advanced the king’s and monarchy’s positions:

Successive coups have over the years strengthened the partnership between the Privy Council and the military. The Privy Council played its part in endorsing past coups, including the most recent one in May 2014. Prem, in the aftermath of the coup, openly praised the coup makers for being a force that moved Thailand forward. This underlined the quintessential role of the Privy Council as an engine behind the Thai politics.

In the past reign, the link with the military mostly revolved around Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and, to a lesser extent, Gen Surayud Chulanont. The Privy Councilors

… constructed a complex web of relationships as a way to sanctify the royal power above other institutions outside the constitutional framework. In his overt intervention in politics, Prem placed his trusted subordinates in key positions in the bureaucracy and in the army. He had an influence on the defense budget, and dominated national security and foreign policy, and thus the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Pavin also notes that the:

Privy Council under Prem also had its members seated on boards in major conglomerates including Bangkok Bank, Charoen Phokphand, the Boonrawd group, and the Charoen Siriwatanapakdi business group. For the Privy Council, reaching out to these powerful factions was as crucial as allowing them to reach in, thus consolidating a network of interdependence. The Privy Council’s strong ties with the bureaucracy, the military and businesses effectively circumscribed the power and authority of the government of the day.

The new king wants similar influence, but he’s been busy pushing the old duffers aside. Prem is infirm, doddery and being made essentially powerless:

On October 2, Vajiralongkorn added three more Privy Councillors to its team: Amphon Kittiamphon, currently advisor to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha; General Chalermchai Sidhisart, former army chief, and; Air Chief Marshal Chom Rungsawang, former Air Force chief. This latest move can be regarded as Vajiralongkorn’s plot in strengthening his political position by setting up a new trusted team to replace the old one—the team that has its links with the current military strongmen.

At present, 10 of the 16 councilors have been appointed by the current king. He can appoint another two. At the same time, he has already ditched three he appointed, presumably because they annoyed him about something or other. So the “trusted team” is being put in place, but there’s still some work to do or dying to be done.

Pavin also mentions the “law was enacted in regard to the ownership of the rich Crown Property Bureau…, [where] crown property assets reverted to the ownership of the king with the bureau’s investments now being held in Vajiralongkorn’s name.”

He might have mentioned that the king is now personally the largest shareholder in both the Siam Cement Group and the Siam Commercial Bank, the latter ownership having been seen in stockholder information fairly recently. (We also think Pavin should update the $30 billion assets of the CPB/king. That was from data collected in 2005 and imperfectly updated in 2011. We would guess that the real figure is closer to $50-60 billion.)

Pavin is undoubtedly right that while “many predicted that Vajiralongkorn, perceived as having lacked moral authority, could become a weak king.” As he now says, “He is quickly proving them wrong.”

Updated: 6 October 1976

6 10 2018

PPT waited a few hours before posting our tribute and remembrance to the victims of royalist-rightist violence  in 1976. We waited because we wanted to link to any stories we saw in the English media. So far, we have seen one at the Bangkok Post, about an event at Thammasat University. We were also reminded of the website launched a couple of years ago from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, and established and maintained as an archive about the massacre of 6 October 1976.

We draw on our post from last year as a way of recalling those terrible events and the loss of so many lives.

On this day in 1976, royalists and rightists were mobilized with and by the police and military in a massacre of students and others they had decided were threats to the monarchy. With claims of lese majeste and communists at work, these “protectors” of the monarchy and royal family engaged in an orgy of violence, killing, injuring and arresting thousands. Central to this royalist rage was the then crown prince, now king, Vajiralongkorn.

For a radio program on the events, listen to the BBC’s Witness story on the October 1976 events in Thailand, with  archival audio footage of reporting from the time and Puey Ungpakorn, and a present-day interview with Thongchai Winichakul. Read Puey on the terrible events by following the links here.

The king and the royal family fully supported the massacre at Thammasat University.

In remembering this massacre in the name of the monarchy, we are reminded that the current military dictatorship bears many of the characteristics of the dictatorship that resulted from the murderous events of 6 October in 1976.

Thanin Kraivixien was a dedicated fascist judge who served the king. His government was established to turn back the political clock and established a 12 year plan to do this. Today, four years of military dictatorship is meant to be followed by 20 years of rewinding under military, royalist and rightist tutelage.

Mercifully, Thanin’s extreme authoritarianism only lasted a year but military-backed rule continued until 1988, first with General Kriangsak Chomanan as premier. He was replaced by the more reliable royalist posterior polisher, General Prem Tinsulanonda. Even after 1988, when Gen Prem was seen off, he retained considerable political influence as he moved into the Privy Council and he has repeatedly supported military coups. His support for the current dictatorship has been given several times.

The current military regime remains exceptionally prickly about this event of 1976. And justifiably so in that military fingerprints are all over one of Thailand’s worst massacres of civilians. So it is that last year Khaosod reported that a film about the event was prevented from being screened on the anniversary. By the Time It Gets Dark or ดาวคะนอง is a 2016 film directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong.

The only good military regime is the one that has been defeated. Until Thailand’s military dictators and military dictators are defeated, the country remains in a recurring pattern of political crisis and darkness.

Update: We should have mentioned the excellent account of the 6 October massacre and associated events in a story at the Los Angeles Review of Books by Suchada Chakpisuth and translated by Tyrell Haberkorn.

Quotes on an “election”

4 10 2018

PPT has seldom agreed with former Democrat Party foreign minister Kasit Piromya. However, in a piece at Asia Times, he provides a useful perspective:

“Thaksin and his legacies, his party, personality cult and populist policy measures,” are Prayut’s biggest threat, said Kasit Piromya, a former foreign minister under a Democrat Party-led government and prominent critic of Thaksin and Yingluck’s rule.

“Prayut and his allies have to be certain that they will have the majority before the holding of the election. They will not go to the election in order to lose…they could keep on postponing the election date,” Kasit said in an interview.

“The constitution and related laws are not democratic, so an election in substance cannot be democratic,” Kasit said.

He’s right about the essential undemocratic nature of the proposed “election” – journalists take note.

While not directly on the “election” at some time next year, Thitinan Pongsudhirak’s account of the “new” military carries some interest for The Dictator’s plan. Like others, he seems to hope that splits between junta leaders and the new military leadership will destabilize the junta’s control. We think the tea leaves are dissected to much, but never discount the arrogance of military leaders. Look at the several challenges Gen Prem Tinsulanonda faced when he was premier with palace support.