Updated: Shuffling the same military deck

26 11 2017

Readers may recall the columns of speculation about The Dictator’s cabinet reshuffle. There were all kinds of motives attributed to The Dictator. Pundits claimed he was trying to increase the dictatorship’s popularity, he was trying to boost the economic ministries, and/or he was civilianizing his military dictatorship in preparation for “elections.”

As far as we can tell, this was all wasted energy. What The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, did was maintain the dominance of the military. As we have said many times before, this is looking like a regime that is settling in for the long term.

The interesting thing in all of this for us was the position of the monarchy. In the past, cabinet reshuffles were announced by prime ministers and the composition of proposed cabinets was widely reported, with the king merely signing off. Of course, there may have been discussions with the king beforehand, but it was the executive’s political ground.

In our memory – correct us if we are wrong – it was only recently that the names involved in the reshuffle were withheld until after the king had signed off. As far as we can tell, there was plenty of discussion and even official announcements of the reshuffle list before the king signed off even under General Surayud Chulanont (see Bangkok Post, 3 October 2007). Again, and given Surayud’s previous Privy Council position, discussions may well have taken place with the palace and General Prem Tinsulanonda. Even so, the executive maintained its position.

Even under Abhisit Vejjajiva, put in place by the military in 2008, saw huge public debate over his cabinet but seemed to retain executive dominance (see Bangkok Post, 21 December 2008).

We have a feeling-cum-memory of the capitulation of the executive to the palace came under the military dictatorship. This means that it was all secret until approved by the king, giving even more political and constitutional power to the palace. Are we wrong?

Update: On the cabinet reshuffle, Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey has a view that it “can be seen as a very positive step for the gradual transition of Thailand towards a more democratic society…”. Seriously? He gives plenty of reasons for not believing him.





Updated: Rewarding Suthida

15 10 2017

A couple of days ago a Royal Gazette announcement was circulated quite widely. It was about the award of one of the highest-ranked royal decorations to the commander in King Vajiralongkorn’s guard.

The reason for the interest is that, as Khaosod reports it, that commander is none other than the king’s most senior girlfriend/consort/concubine (we are unsure of the appropriate term), General Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya.

The Knight Grand Cross of the Most Illustrious Order of Chula Chom Klao is reserved for the royal family members, Privy Councilors and members of the royal household). There are normally 30 male and 20 female members of this order.

The report notes that the announcement of this award “coincided with the first anniversary of King Bhumibol’s death, and the formal date of King Vajiralongkorn’s [retrospective] ascension to the throne.”

Suthida is often in the military uniform. The king promoted him to general when he took the throne. Her “qualification” is that she is the king’s favorite consort.

Today, General Suthida is the “de facto head of security for … the King. Although she formally holds the title of deputy commander of the royal guard corps, the top rank had been left vacant since December 2016.”

As the report states, “Suthida had been serving in the royal guards unit since 2013, when King Vajiralongkorn held the title of Crown Prince.”

Update: For those who can read Thai, BBC Thai has a very useful account of Suthida’s rise, beginning from 2012 and listing the many promotions and awards that have been showered on her by the prince-now-king. Each event is linked to the Royal Gazette.





Following some trails and not others

30 09 2017

The media seems flooded with Yingluck Shinawatra stories. Dozens of them. And most of them are about the “hunt for Yingluck.”

We understand that the anti-democrats, including the Democrat Party, are beside themselves with rage about Yingluck’s disappearance, but we can’t help feeling that the attention is over the top. We wonder if the news blitz isn’t part of a junta plan to reduce the attention to its role in her departure. After all, the DNA swabs and “scientific” policing seems pretty much like a performance rather than an investigation. And what will the “investigation” show? She’s gone. Maybe some scapegoats facing minor charges? It hardly matters except as a performance for the anti-democrats.

While following trails, the Krungthai Bank (KTB) and Krisda Mahanakorn (KMN) real-estate company loan scandal has produced some interesting social media.

The Bangkok Post reports that:

… photos circulated online purportedly showing a cheque worth 100,000 baht signed by Wichai Krisdathanont, a former executive of KMN, on Dec 26, 2003. Also featured was a purported deposit slip showing that the cheque had been deposited into the bank account of Adm Pachun Tamprateep, an aide to Privy Council President Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, five days later.

Another photo shows part of a 250,000 baht cheque written out for a general whose name started with the letter “P”. It was supposedly signed on Sept 20, 2003 also by Wichai. According to the online post on social media, the money was then ordered to be wired to the bank account of the General Prem Tinsulanonda Historical Park Foundation.

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) is hot on the trail. Well maybe not. It “has set up a panel to look into petitions urging the agency to probe individuals suspected of receiving embezzled money…”.

Its director-general Paisit Wongmuang said “the panel, formed by him, will look into all petitions and determine whether there were new issues that needed to be investigated.”

At present, the only targets seems to be Shinawatra-related cases, including Panthongtae Shinawatra.

We can’t wait to see how DSI fudges any notion that higher-ups might have pocketed millions more than Panthongtae is accused of receiving.

Interestingly, it seems that the photos have been leaked from DSI’s own investigators. It seems someone reckoned there was a cover-up going on.





2006 military coup remembered

19 09 2017

2006 seems a long time ago. So much has happened since the palace, led by General Prem Tinsulanonda, the military and a coterie of royalist anti-democrats (congealed as the People’s Alliance for Democracy) brought down Thaksin Shinawatra’s government on 19 September 2006.

Yet it is remembered as an important milestone in bringing down electoral democracy in Thailand and establishing the royalist-military authoritarianism that has deepened since the 2014 military coup that brought down Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government.

Khaosod reports:

Pro-democracy activists are marking the 11th anniversary of the 2006 coup on Tuesday evening on the skywalk in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

Representatives from the police and BTS Skytrain were ordering them to clear the area because it belongs to the rail operator.

The location, frequented by commuters and tourists in a highly visible location, has become a de facto location for protests since the 2014 coup.

“It’s unbelievable how far back we’ve gone for the past 11 years,” said Siriwit Seritiwat, the prominent activist known as Ja New. “The country doesn’t suck by itself, but it sucks because of the wicked cycle.”

The 2006 coup was no surprise given that Thaksin had faced determined opposition from PAD and from General Prem, who reflected palace and royal household dissatisfaction with Thaksin. The coup came after Thaksin had been re-elected in a landslide in February 2005 with about 60% of the vote.

Thaksin had many faults and made many mistakes often as a result of arrogance. The February 2005 election reflected Thaksin’s popularity and this posed a threat to the monstrous egos in the palace. Of course, they also worried about Thaksin’s combination of political and economic power and his efforts to control the military.

Thaksin’s reliance on votes and the fact that he accumulated them as never before was an existential threat to the powers that be. The elite feared for its control of political, economic and social power.

Behind the machinations to tame Thaksin lurked the real power holders in the military brass, the palace and the upper echelons of the bureaucracy who together comprised the royalist state. Some referred to this as the network monarchy and others identified a Deep State. They worried about their power and Thaksin’s efforts to transform Thailand. Others have said there were concerns about managing succession motivating coup masters.

We are sure that there were many motivations, fears and hallucinatory self-serving that led to the coup. Wikileaks has told part of the story of the machinations.

Coup soldiers wearing the king’s yellow, also PAD’s color

A way of observing the anniversary of the military-palace power grab on 19 September 2006 is to look again at Wikileaks cables that reflect most directly on that coup. Here they are:

There are more cables on the figures circling around the coup and the events immediately before and after the coup, giving a pretty good picture of how the royalist elite behaved and what they wanted the U.S. embassy to know.

The royalist elite came to believe that the 2006 coup failed as pro-Thaksin parties managed to continue to win elections. The result was the development of an anti-democracy ideology and movement that paved the way for the 2014 coup and the military dictatorship that is determined to uproot the “Thaksin regime” and to eventually make elections events that have no meaning for governing Thailand.





Prem’s support for dictatorship eternal

24 08 2017

At 97 years, General Prem Tinsulanonda’s penchant for political interference remains undiminished even if his physical and mental capacities are now reduced.

As is usual, when his birthday rolls around, his military posterior polishers show up at his taxpayer funded home to buff the old man while he lauds corrupt military leaders and constitution crushers.

Reports of the mutual back-patting is sometimes worth recounting for the morsels it reveals of the thinking about military dictatorship.

This year, The Dictator “spent five minutes verbally extending his best wishes to Gen Prem.” General Prayuth Chan-ocha praised his patron as a “good example of love for the nation,” with the emphasis on “good,” for it is Prem who has defined “good people” and “bad people-politicians” for Thailand’s traditionalists and royalists.

Prayuth also stated that “he would follow the path of Gen Prem and free the nation of internal conflict.” Prem is remembered by some as a commander in the latter period of the anti-communist civil war. It is telling that Prayuth feels he is fighting a similar war. Such a view goes some of the way to explaining the 2010 military massacre of red shirts.

Privy Council president Prem cheered that too.

Today Prem “expressed support for the [military] government … and stressed that it has helped improve the lives of Thai people.” We are not at all sure which “Thai people” Prem talks with. None that we know.

Gen Prem babbled on:

I think that Thai people understand what Tu [The Dictator’s nickname] does… I think that Thai people understand that the government is working to save people from poverty and have sufficiency. They will understand that you are not doing it for your own honour or reputation….

And on:

Gen Prem also referred to his lasting friendship with Gen Prayut and Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, saying that this friendship would ensure the smooth working of the government.

And on. Friends, nepotism, corruption, paternalism:

I would like Tu to pay attention to remaining determined to work for the nation. Do not get an unnecessary headache over people’s remarks….

It must be frustrating for those who feel Thailand would and has done better when the military is not on top.





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.