One more privy councilor

11 06 2017

We know that we are late in posting this event from about 4-5 days ago and that many will have seen it. Yet the appointment of a virtual unknown to the Privy Council deserves mention.

Section 12 of the junta’s 2017 constitution allows for 18 privy councilors.

Last Thursday Vajiralongkorn appointed “the 14th member of his personal advisory body…”.

Admiral Pongthep Nhuthep is not particularly well-known. As the report states, “Pongthep held a relatively low profile post prior to Thursday’s appointment.”

Before his appointment, Pongthep was “a permanent secretary to the defense ministry…”. His “past jobs were all in the navy, including directing the naval academy, serving as a special navy adviser and serving as navy chief of staff. Compared to other members, he hasn’t served at … levels such as commanding a branch of the armed forces or heading a ministry.”





The king’s political moves

14 05 2017

Should people be concerned that the king is accumulating power to his personal position? Obviously, unless one is a deaf, dumb and blind ultra-royalist, the answer is unquestionably affirmative.

Under the changes that were demanded by the king before he’d endorse the junta’s constitution, it might have been thought that the changes were mostly about the king’s powers over his domain in the palace, as well as sorting out any constitutional crisis.

Now, however, it is clear that the king is accumulating far broader powers than any king has had since 1932.

The Nation reports that a new royal decree, required by the changes to the constitution, was published in the Royal Gazette on 10 May.

It outlines the re-organization of the palace and the personnel associated with the administration of “agencies that work directly under … the [k]ing.”

According to the “Royal Decree on the Organisation and Personnel Administration of Agencies under the King, … there are three main agencies involved – the Privy Council, Royal Household Bureau, and Royal Security Command.”

The report continues:

Under this new law, privy councillors and civilian, military and police officers working in those agencies are considered officials under the King’s custody. They are not regarded as civil servants or state officials, although they retain the status of “competent officers” under the Penal Code.

According to the royal decree, the King may give military or police ranks to and remove those ranks from any of the officials under his custody at his pleasure.

Also, the legislation allows [the king]… to appoint, promote, transfer, demote and remove officials under the King’s custody at his pleasure. He may transfer officials working under him to other agencies and vice versa.

These are remarkable powers and allow for royal interference in every agency of government. Be very worried how they may be used by an unpredictable egoist.





More secret king’s business I

21 04 2017

In case you missed it, the junta had the puppet National Legislative Assembly (NLA) meet in secret on 20 April to enact a “new bill … to reorganise the six agencies serving the Crown…”.

The puppet lawmakers naturally “approved in-camera the royal administration bill which the Cabinet had added to the meeting agenda.”

We can only guess that the king has directed that these changes be made as he establishes his authority and his people in the palace.

The report states that “Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam told members of the … NLA… the cabinet asked that the bill be deliberated in-camera. The sessions were no broadcast and non-members were asked to leave.”

The Nation adds that the “act was not available for public perusal.” NLA puppet-in-chief “Pornpetch Vichitcholchai … declined to speak on the matter, saying the meeting was confidential.”

The Post report states that “the new structure will have three agencies serving the palace.” A reconstituted Bureau of the Royal Household will merge the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary and the Bureau of the Royal Household. The Royal Guard Command will merge the Royal Thai Aide-De-Camp Department and the Royal Guard Command. A new Office of the Privy Council is said to be created.

If this is the sum of the changes, then the secrecy beggars belief because the 2017 junta constitution allocates powers to the king in these areas:

Section 15: The appointment and removal of officials of the Royal Household shall be at the King’s pleasure.

The organization and personnel administration of the Royal Household shall be at the King’s pleasure as provided by Royal Decree.

This suggests the need for Wissanu to explain why the NLA needed to be involved. Otherwise, wild speculation is invited.

It is left to the imagination as to why a reorganization of the palace administration should be something that needs to be considered in secret. Was something nefarious going on? Is the reorganization likely to lead to conflict? Does the secrecy imply that something unconstitutional is being done? Is there a “deal” being done?

The secrecy means that any interpretation is possible.





Elections vs. the patronage system

11 04 2017

The Puea Thai Party may think it has a chance of doing well in an election, even if it is the junta’s “election.” We have serious doubts that they could win another election under the junta’s rules. Even if they did, the junta’s constitution will stymie them as a government.

In line with their faith in electoral democracy, the Puea Thai Party has demanded a “general election early next year, revocation of ‘unconstitutional’ orders of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the military junta] and freedom to express opinions about legislation.”

Somewhat oddly, at least in our view, the party sees the “promulgation of the 2017 constitution last Thursday started a process to restore democracy…”. We see it as the beginning of a period of military-backed government.

Meanwhile, the enemies of electoral democracy met with General Prem Tinsulanonda, the President of the Privy Council. The now frail Prem beamed as he accepted the obeisance of some members of the junta (who was missing?), cabinet members, military commanders-in-chief, the national police chief and other top officials.

General Prem “wished Prime Minister [General] Prayut Chan-o-cha success in his handling of the country’s administration and advised him not to be discouraged by problems he has encountered.” For the grand old political meddler, “success” involves “returning happiness” to “the Thai people.”

The Dictator was puffed up and proud, praising General Prem, “who he said was a role model for everyone in the country in terms of loyalty to the nation, religion and the monarchy.”

Readers will be amused to learn that The Dictator “presented a vase of flowers and a basket of gifts to Gen Prem, who in return distributed a CD on the tribute to the late King … and a book of prayer to everyone present.”

Just the thing for men who were responsible for the attacks on red shirt demonstrators seven years ago to the day that eventually left scores dead and thousands injured.

Meanwhile, it seems that Prayuth has decided that as The Dictator, he deserves Prem-like obeisance. He will “open Government House on April 12 for cabinet members, members of the National Council for Peace and Order, armed forces commanders and other officials to perform a rod nam dam hua [water-pouring] ceremony for him to mark the Songkran Festival.”

The juxtaposition of these political positions is defining of Thailand’s political present and indicative of its futures.





Updated: The constitution and the king’s coup

10 04 2017

The New York Times carries an op-ed by David Streckfuss. It is titled “In Thailand, a King’s Coup,” and we guess it will be blocked here in Thailand before too long.

We are not sure we agree with all of it, but will comment later.

Update: Streckfuss is like everyone else. He’s reading royal and military tea leaves and trying to work out what is going on. We can’t do anything different. His hypothesis seems to be that the the changes the king demanded of the junta’s constitution might represent a slap to the military. We are not so sure.

He’s not entirely right when he says that one changes “allows the king to name a regent to act on his behalf, including when he is traveling outside Thailand. This strips the Privy Council, a royal advisory group known to support the junta, of its traditional authority to act in the king’s place on such occasions.”

This isn’t correct. In previous constitutions, the king has had the right to appoint a regent. The change that impacts the Privy Council is that the new constitution removes the Privy Council President’s role of acting as regent when there’s a void. Grand old political fiddler General Prem Tinsulanonda may not like that, but he’s frail and on the way out.

There’s also the capacity for the king to nominate a person or a group to act as regent. We are not sure how this might work.

Another change is that the king doesn’t have to appoint a regent when he’s (often) away. That is giving him a power he didn’t have before but which is an acknowledgement that the new king intends to be away a lot.

Most of the other changes are a rolling back to earlier arrangements.

Then there’s the hypothesis that the king has a political “clean slate” and that this may result in some kind of association with a more democratic Thailand, as Streckfuss has it, the king might “foster a somewhat more open political atmosphere…”.

Don’t hold your breath. For a start, the prince-cum-king does not have a “clean slate.” Anything but. He has been manipulative in events since his father became unable to do much. Think of his efforts to have the now disgraced Jumpol Manmai made police chief.

To date, over 64 years, PPT hasn’t seen any evidence that Vajiralongkorn is going to be a democratic king. We would be very surprised if he turns out to be this, but we’d welcome that almost as much as a democratic republic.

There’s no doubt that Streckfuss is right when he sees the proclamation of the junta’s constitution on Chakri Day as significant. But what, exactly, is the significance? Is it that constitutionalism resides in the monarchy? Is it that “[t]ying the promulgation of the Constitution to Chakri Day is significant …[as it] seems to signal that constitutions are a gift to the people from the monarchy…”.

That’s also a misreading. In fact, royalists have made this point since 1932. That’s why Thailand has the daftly rendered King Prajadhipok Institute, as if the king targeted in 1932 was the real founder of democratic constitutionalism in Thailand. That certainly is an ideological misrepresentation.

We can think of another rendering: if the constitution was granted by the king and on Chakri Day, will it constitute lese majeste if anyone criticized it or wants to change it?

(We must add that Streckfuss is wrong that the previous king criticized the lese majeste law.)





Jumpol speedily sentenced and jailed

10 03 2017

A week ago, Khaosod reported that”[f]ormer Grand Chamberlain Jumpol Manmai confessed Thursday to building a luxury mansion on public land and declined to post his own bail…”.

It stated that Pol Gen. Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said “Jumpol will be held at Nakhon Ratchasima’s provincial prison while cases are prepared against him. Srivara said the provincial prison may later transfer him to another jail in the Thawi Watthana district of western Bangkok.”

The story includes a photo of Jumpol with senior police. His presumably handcuffed hands are covered and a doctor is present, assuring the media that Jumpol was “in good health.” This was important as Jumpol has disappeared from view for about two weeks, held in an unknown location.

A second Khaosod report reveals that the “trial” of Jumpol is over, taking just four hours, and he’s been given a 6-year prison sentence (halved for a guilty plea) and a fine of 890,000 baht.

These hasty “proceedings” have been seen in other cases that have involved those who have fallen out with the king.

Jumpol, stripped of his police rank sand royal decorations, was convicted of forest encroachment for a mansion he built in or near Thap Lan National Park in Nakorn Ratchasima province.

This time, Jumpol appeared in the shackles that are used for political prisoners.

Given that other higher-ups had committed similar offences and never been charged, including two privy councilors, it is clear that Jumpol offended King Vajiralongkorn, with who he had previously had a close relationship.

We are amazed that Jumpol has not been hit with lese majeste charges, which have been one of the prince-cum-king’s weapons of choice in dealing with those he’d found tiresome or had fallen out with.

The report states that Jumpol had “been held at a special prison in eastern Bangkok. We assume this is the same jail mentioned in the earlier report. It is known that this prison is “special” because it belongs to the king and was constructed inside one of his residences, in the Phutthamonthon area.

Jumpol was immediately taken off to prison. Which prison is not stated in the report, which is unusual. This may mean that he will be confined again in the king’s personal prison. We can only imagine that such a prospect may be daunting for the former police general.





Jeng jailed for “unspoken” lese majeste

7 03 2017

The Bangkok Post reports on one of the more bizarre lese majeste cases. That’s quite a claim when lese majeste charges have been brought against those speaking of kings dead for hundreds of years, fraudsters and a man said to have insulted a royal dog.

Yet in upholding two lower court judgements and sentenced United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) core member Yoswaris Chuklom or Jeng Dokchik, now 59, Thailand’s sham justice system has shown itself (again) as hopelessly spineless, stupid and warped.

The Supreme Court on 7 March 2017 upheld his sentence to two years in jail for lese majeste. He was immediately taken away to jail.

What did he do?

The three courts that have made judgement have engaged in a remarkable extension of lese majeste to include words left unspoken.

Jeng was sentenced for comments made in a speech to red shirt protesters that were considered by the courts to have implied that King Bhumibol influenced then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s decision not to dissolve the parliament. The court – probably committing lese majeste itself – stated: “His [Jeng’s] statement falsely accused the king of political interference…”.

In fact, Jeng told red shirts that Abhisit refused to dissolve parliament in 2010 on the orders of an unidentified person with more power than both him and Privy Council President Gen Prem Tinsulanonda.

The court were convinced this was the king.

Jeng also named the military and added that there was someone else behind Abhisit before placing his hands over his mouth and saying: “I am not brave enough to say it…. But I know what are you thinking right now. So I will keep my mouth shut.”

By not saying a name, Jeng will now go to jail for two years. That is savage and vindictive.