Updated: Royalism undermines popular sovereignty

14 08 2017

Everyone knows that the prince, now king, began his purges of the palace from late 2014, when he “divorced” Srirasmi. Dozens of her family and associates were jailed. Then there were the clearances that saw “unreliables” ditched, deaths in custody, lese majeste jailings and the use of a personal jail. Some fearful palace associates, now out of favor, fled the country.

This was followed by an aggregation of control to the palace. The constitution was secretly changed to accord with the king’s desires and then secret meetings of the puppet assembly gave him control over formerly state bureaucratic departments and the vast wealth of the Crown Property Bureau to the king.

Has he finished? Probably not. Fear and favor mean that an erratic king will lose interest in some people and some things and will need to be rid of them. Then he’ll desire control over other people and things.

But one of the other things that is noticeable is the “normalization” of the reign, as if nothing has changed or that the changes made are in line with the normal activities of the king and palace. Yet even this “normalization” has been a process of promoting a heightened royalism.

The media has been used recently to promote royalism. The excuse has been the queen’s 85th birthday, with a series of “stories” about “people nationwide” celebrating her birthday. Many of the photos showed military men and bureaucrats doing the celebrating.

The Dictator was especially prominent, leading the junta in an alms-giving exercise for 851 monks at the Royal Plaza, claiming it was also a tribute to the dead monarch.

More specific propaganda pieces have dwelt on “merit” and filial piety. For example, the Bangkok Post has run pictures of the king, his mother and Princess Sirindhorn making merit together.

Other royal stories include a donation to of 100 million baht to Siriraj Hospital, with the king thanking the hospital for taking care of his father. The money is said to have “come from revenue from selling his diaries featuring his drawings…”.

While we might doubt that so much money can be made from the sale of a collection of childish drawings, the junta’s support for the king has been strong and maybe it bought many diaries and distributed them.

But back to deepening royalism. The Nation reports on a “revival” of Kukrit Pramoj’s restorationist story “Four Reigns.” Kukrit was an incessant promoter of royalism, ideologue for the dictatorial General Sarit Thanarat, booster for King Bhumibol and diplomat for royalism translated for foreigners.

The Four Reigns is now Six Reigns. According to The Nation, the “restaging of Thailand’s most commercially successful musical play is more pro-absolute monarchy than ever.”

The play opens with the scene in which the spirit of Mae Phloi starts to recount her life story and confirm her unwavering love for “kings”, and the background is the familiar image of people gathering outside the wall of the Grand Palace paying respect to the late King Bhumibol.

And with the last scene showing Thai people paying respect to King Vajiralongkorn, the play now covers six, not four, reigns.

Clearly, the play … tries, more clearly than the original novel, to prove … that Thailand was much better before 1932 than after. This outdated attitude doesn’t sit too well in 2017 Thailand, as we try to build our political system from “military junta under a constitutional monarchy” to “unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy”, a kind of democracy that is already difficult to explain to our friends from many countries.

This royalism can only deepen as the cremation of the dead king approaches and as Vajiralongkorn and the junta further embed his reign and undermine notions of popular sovereignty.

Update: The new king is the old king propaganda continues, with two stories at The Nation of the king’s donations to 300 flood victims and 39 students in the south. We should add that there is no evidence provided of where the funds come from. Like royal projects, it may be that “donations” are all taxpayer funded.





Lese majeste that isn’t

17 07 2017

One of the ways in which the courts have undermined the rule of law has been by applying the lese majeste law to persons, dead, alive, fictional and historical, and some animals.

Anyone reading that sentence will be baffled, but it is a fact that the Thai courts have applied the law to threaten real and imagined opponents of the royalist regime and have tended to ignore what the law actually says.

On or about 20 August 2015, the Kamphaeng Phet provincial court issued arrest warrants for Kittiphop Sitthirat, 23, Atsadaphon Sitthirat, 45, and Wiset Phutthasa, 30, on lese majeste accusations. Later, a fourth name was added, Noppharit (surname not known), 28. Some were arrested on 21 August 2015.

They are accused of having made false claims about the monarchy, falsifying public documents, fraud, and impersonating officers from the Bureau of the Royal Household. Most significantly, they were accused of using Princess Sirindhorn’s name and so we call them the Sirindhorn 4.

All denied lese majeste charges when they appeared in court on 21 December 2015.

At the time, Noppharit, the fourth suspect, told the court that he does not know why he has been arrested and charged. He stated that he does not know the other three suspects and is not involved in the alleged crimes. He was arrested on 21 August 2015 and requested bail. As usual, the court denied it because the case involves the monarchy and there was a flight risk. All of this is the standard and cruel court practice in lese majeste cases.

Lawyers for Noppharit made an obvious submission, asking the court to consider whether the case falls under Article 112 since that law does not apply to Princess Sirindhorn. It doesn’t.

As has often been the case in the use of the lese majeste, the court chose to ignore the actual law and dismissed the request, saying “under the current procedure, it is not yet necessary to consider the request from the fourth suspect.”

In May 2016, the Provincial Court at Kamphaeng Phet sentenced Kittiphop, 23, and Wiset, 30, to four years’ imprisonment for lese majeste law, for making false claims about Princess Sirindhorn for financial benefit.

Now, Prachatai reports that “[h]uman rights lawyers are arguing that suspects accused of defaming Princess Sirindhorn should not be indicted with the lèse majesté law.”

PPT is confused by the report, given earlier reports of convictions, but we will accept that Thai Lawyers for Human Rights is correct in stating that “during the period of 18 July–December the Provincial Court of Kamphaeng Phet will hold trials for four suspects indicted with violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code…”.

The report adds that the “four suspects have been detained indefinitely, since the court has repeatedly denied bail.”

It states that “Noppharit also submitted two requests that the court reconsider whether false claims about Princess Sirindhorn falls under Article 112. The court, however, rejected the request.”

TLHR has “pointed out that indicting the four with Article 112 significantly affects interpretations of the lèse majesté law and the country’s judicial system in general…”. The report goes on to explain previous cases related to royals not covered by the lese majeste law. These are worth setting out in full:

In 1989, the Royal Thai Police submitted a request to the Council of State to conclude whether Princess Sirindhorn is an heir to the throne. The Council concluded that based on the 1924 Palace Law of Succession and a statement from the Bureau of the Royal Household, the only heir-apparent to the throne at the time was the then Prince Vajiralongkorn, now the current King.

The Council ruled further that defaming the princess falls under Article 326 of the Criminal Code, the criminal defamation law, under which a case can only begin if the injured party files a complaint against the offender, or gives authorisation to another person to file it. However, in Noppharit’s case, the plaintiff is Wat Sai Ngam Buddhist Monastery.

In 2012, Thanyaburi Provincial Court sentenced Anon (surname witheld due to privacy concerns) to two years in prison for defaming Princess Sirindhorn and Princess Soamsawali during a private conversation. He was initially indicted with Article 112, but the court ruled that the alleged crime fell under the normal criminal defamation law. The Appeal Court later dismissed the charge against him.

In another case in 2004, Nonthaburi Provincial Court handed 10 years of imprisonment to Prachuap (surname withheld due to privacy concerns). He was indicted with two counts under the lèse majesté law for making false claims about Princess Sirindhorn, the then Prince Vajiralongkorn, the Queen, and Princess Bajrakitiyabha.

In 2005, the Appeal Court reduced the jail term for Prachuap to five years after concluding that Princess Sirindhorn was not an heir-apparent. Later the Supreme Court reduced his imprisonment to 4 years, reasoning that Prachuap is loyal to the monarchy and had never committed a crime before.





Taxpayer-funded royalism

30 06 2017

The effort to “regularize” the junta’s irregular approval of to push through that tower mega-project (worth about half of a Chinese submarine, depending on the price quoted by the Treasury Department), have quickly deteriorated to claims about monarchy, as we predicted.

Prachatai reports that the earlier claims about income and tourism have quickly been ditched. The Treasury Department “has clarified that the controversial 4.62 billion baht Bangkok Observation Tower project is a public-private partnership project to honour the late King Bhumibol.”

That should stop all criticism.

Even if Finance Minister Col Apisak Tantivorawong has said that the Treasury Department will only get 70 million baht from a 30-year lease from the Bangkok Observation Tower Foundation, “which is much lower than the market rate for land in the area,” that’s okay, because this project will “honour the late King Bhumibol.”

Even if the minister “clarifies” that there’s no open bidding because “[i]f it was open for bidding for private developers, no one might be interested because the value of the project is quite high. Also [we] don’t know whether it will be worth the investment,” that’s okay because “[t]he top [of the tower] is for an exhibition about the scientific work of the [late] King.”

(We will leave aside the claims of “science” associated with the dead king.)

Even if the Treasury Department “clarifies” that “the project is social not commercial,” that’s okay because the “land for a project to honour the late King Bhumibol.”

Then there’s the “Bangkok Observation Tower Foundation” which is now said to comprise 50 private companies and financial institutions who share a similar vision on how the land should be developed…”. No mention now of Charoen Pokphand or the royal-linked and owned Siam Piwat or of the royal-linked Magnolia Quality Development Corporation

But, as we know, they head the “Foundation.” They also develop the neighboring “Icon Siam, a mega-riverside shopping complex…”. An observation tower will obviously “enhance” traffic through their new mall.

Profits will roll in and part of them will be due to the taxpayer’s investment in a the “social project.” And the profits can be huge.

Military-dominated governments have long supported, with public funds, royal “projects” that are money-making. Think of the whole area around Princess Sirindhorn’s palace, the multiple malls there, with hotels and offices. It makes billions of baht a year. Icon Siam and its associated, taxpayer-funded tower will potentially make even more.

The taxpayer’s return on the tower will be about 2.3 million baht a year. What a deal! No wonder the military junta needs to protect this project.





The junta and that tower

29 06 2017

When we posted on the junta’s proposed erection of a giant tower on prime real estate, we could smell rotting fish. No bidding, no transparency, claims of “public good,” and then the declaration that it all had something to do with the deceased king suggested – no, shouted – that there was funny business.

The Nation reports that corruption alarm bells are ringing. And they should be.

Assistant junta spokesman Colonel Atisit Chaiyanuwat was the one who “disclosed that the Cabinet had exempted the project from bidding to speed up the project. ” Recall that yesterday the claim was lack of interest from construction firms.

The this same Atisit said “private investors would fund the tower project.” Really? Atisit also “backtracked from his earlier statement that the 459-metre-high tower would cost Bt7.6 billion, bringing that figure down to Bt4.6 billion.” Wow, a discount because no one wants to build it – they aren’t interested…. In other words, this is a mixture of buffalo manure and rotting fish.

Not deterred by contradiction and spin, Atisit also “said the project only needed Cabinet approval because it would be developed on a plot of land belonging to the Finance Ministry’s Treasury Department.” The idea being that the Treasury Department can do what it likes? And the poor taxpayer just gets stiffed again?

Located in Bangkok’s Klong San district, the plot is located on the Chao Phraya River, and is one of the most expensive parts of the city. Prices for land are well into the millions of baht per square meter.  The public purse, though, will reap a glorious 198 million baht in rent, over 30 years. That’s 6.6 million baht a year. Wow, what a deal! We wonder if the taxpayer is going to also get a few glass beads and other trinkets.

The Bangkok Post adds some important information about the deal that reveals quite a lot more.

For a start, it says income over 30 years for the Treasury will be only 70 million baht. And that’s from the director-general Patchara Anuntasilpa of the department.

Then there’s this tidbit:

Registered in 2014, the Bangkok Observation Tower Foundation was originally chaired by Visit Malaisirirat, CEO of Magnolia Quality Development Corporation Co, the property development arm of Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group. The position was later taken over by former Finance Minister Panas Simasathien.

The foundation’s directors include representatives from Siam Piwat Co, the operator of Siam Center and Siam Discovery.

Meanwhile, Magnolia, Siam Piwat and CP group are the joint developer of Iconsiam, a mixed-use project by the Chao Phraya River scheduled to launch by the end of this year. The project is next to the planned tower. In the promotional material of Iconsiam released in April, it wrote, “prepare for the 7th Wonder of ICONSIAM. An Iconic Landmark that will be a symbol of national pride,” without elaboration.

We all know who CP is. They are on top of Thailand’s non-royal rich list year after year, this year worth more than $21 billion. But what of Siam Piwat? For the answer, we will send readers to a 2013 post on royal wealth. Bingo!

Yes, it is yet another royal money maker. One source calculates that Princess Sirindhorn earns more than $50 million a year from Siam Piwat and the land in the area around her palace.

We guess that the next junta task will be to ban comment on its erection because that would be lese majeste and sedition, preventing slippery deals that make the royals wealthier still. And we still reckon that there must be some generals lurking behind the scenes gathering up the change that falls from the royal pockets.





Taking and “giving”

24 06 2017

A recent story at The Nation is useful for displaying how palace propaganda works.

Princess Sirindhorn has is reported as “graciously” granting (they mean she’s given) “30 tonnes of rice to the government for use during the Royal Cremation ceremonies of late King Rama IX.”

That means she’s handing over quite a pile of rice to be given away to spectators at the royal cremation. The family is supposed to do this. Its one of those  propagandized “traditions” that is meant to show the fabulously wealthy royals are “generous.”

The Dictator threw himself on the floor before her photo and dragged along a legion of his minions to a taxpayer-funded “ceremony at Government House to accept the rice from the Princess.”

How nice. But then the report explains that the “rice was previously collected by Community Rice Centres nationwide and was presented to the Princess when she presided over an annual Rice and Farmers Day event early this month.”

This is rice collected from others and given to her. The nonsense is that she’s not generous at all, she’s just passing on stuff she collected for being a princess who regularly collects gifts, checks and bags of cash.

Thirty tons is nothing and it cost her nothing. But that’s how palace propaganda works.

Meanwhile the taxpayer is forking out real money to pay for her father’s funeral. You’d think that as multi-billionaires the royal family might fork out a bit, but it seems not as they are deserving of propaganda and praise.





More Sirindhorn fraudsters

29 04 2017

Since about the time that the king was crown prince and began the nasty separtion from the then Princess Srirasmi in late 2014, there have been several spates of lese majeste cases against persons claimed to have been making profit from their real or alleged relationship to royals.

In August 2015, there were cases brought against four persons alleged to have made false claims about the monarchy, falsifying public documents, fraud, and impersonating officers from the Royal Household Bureau.

Prachatai reports that the military “have arrested a group of people in southern Thailand who are allegedly involved in a network making false claims about the monarchy for financial gain.”

The report states:

On 27 April 2017, soldiers arrested Nonglak B., a radio host from Thungsong District of Surat Thani Province after several individuals were arrested and taken to a local military base a day earlier for interrogation.

They were arrested for reportedly promising the 2017 ‘Thep Kinnari Award’, the award from Princess Sirindhorn given to people working towards preserving Thai arts and cultures, in exchange for money from those who wanted to receive the award.

At the same time, soldiers and police officers in Trang Province arrested Waraporn W., president of Women’s Cultural Club Under Royal Patronage, and Patthiya C. together with four other people under similar accusation.

Nonglak, Patthiya, and Waraporn were detained at a military base under Article 44. If these cases follow the earlier ones, these persons are likely to be accused of lese majeste.

Initial reports stated that six persons were held, with a later report commenting on one further arrest. The arrests were widely covered in the media, including during arrests.

We suspect there’s a lot more to this story than has been in the media. However, like the other alleged fraud-cum-lese majeste cases, little more is likely to be reported of them unless the media shows more tenacity in following the cases rather than just reporting the claims the regime feeds it.





Library, princess and the loot

10 04 2017

Many readers will have seen various stories in the media about the failures of the education system in Thailand. The royalist-run universities do poorly when compared with peer institutions everywhere else. Elementary and secondary education is way behind most other places, populated by sometimes dull and nasty teachers who enforce notions of hierarchical Thainess over education. And so on.

So it was that there was some jubilation that one of the first new libraries in the capital, หอสมุดเมืองกรุงเทพมหานคร Bangkok City Library. At 4,880 sqm, it is the largest of the capital’s 36 public libraries. It opened last Friday:

[the] three-story library opened its doors in Bangkok’s old town Friday with tens of thousands of books and a lending service expected to launch in three weeks.

At the Bangkok City Library on Ratchadamnoen Road, Thais and foreigners alike can peruse more than 41,000 volumes. When the lending service launches April 28, it will only be available to Thai nationals.

Junta-appointed governor, Pol. Gen Aswin Kwanmuang was effusive when he presided over the opening: “Come on and check it out…. Your brains will become filled with knowledge! The library is for everyone, not just students.”

But, wait. It turns out that it was, perhaps, maybe, a sort of “soft opening.”

Khaosod reports that “[l]ess than 24 hours after opening with much fanfare, Bangkok’s largest public library shut its door and will not open again for three weeks.” Huh?

The management of the new library issued a statement that the closure is because “it needs to prepare its facility to host a royal visit by Princess Sirindhorn, who will attend the library’s formal opening ceremony on April 28.”

Three weeks of preparations for the portly princess!

The one-day opening was, the library bosses now say, a “system test.”

Then this:

The facility was built at a cost of nearly 900 million baht, about 300 million of which was used for construction and maintenance, while the rest was paid to lease the land from the Crown Property Bureau. Its budget for book acquisition was set at 5 million baht, and officials said they’re still accepting book donations.

Books = 5/900 million baht (0.56%)

Crown Property Bureau = 595/900 million baht (66.11%)