The junta’s lock

20 07 2018

The military dictatorship has now had more than four years to lock-in its rule and its rules. In establishing control over the military, it has had longer.

Around the time of the 2006 military coup, royalist elements in the military, aligned with the palace directly or through privy councilors Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and Gen Surayud Chulanont, marked certain military officers as untrustworthy due to their perceived alliance with Thaksin Shinawatra. These officers were sidelined, stymied and seen out of the military, mostly through the efforts of four generals: Sonthi Boonyaratglin, Anupong Paojinda, Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan. Sonthi was soon discarded as too weak but the others remain, ran the 2014 coup and now plot and plan for the continuation of military guided “democracy” into the future.

That planning for the future involves something that Gen Prem did for years on behalf of the palace: managing succession in the armed forces so that loyalists are on top. In this context. loyalty means to the palace and to the junta and its regime.

It has been known for quite some time that the chosen successor for Gen Chalermchai Sitthisart as Army chief is Gen Apirat Kongsompong. Apirat is a ruthless rightist who has vowed support to The Dictator and taken a leading role in suppressing red shirts and other political opponents.

Last year, when the new King Vajiralongkorn approved the military promotion list, it was widely assumed that Gen Apirat had the king’s approval as Vajiralongkorn takes a strong interest in what happens within the armed forces. However, in May this year, there was an unconfirmed report that Apirat may have fallen foul of the erratic king. Within a couple of months, however, an announcement in the Royal Gazette saw Gen Apirat granted special special status as a member of the king’s personal security unit. If Apirat had fallen foul of the king, he must have completed his penance and/or service with flying colors, at least in the king’s eyes.

This has been followed by Gen Apirat getting plenty of media attention as the Defense Council is scheduled to meet on 25 July to discuss promotions and appointments, with the meeting chaired by Gen Prawit. Interestingly, most of the media stories are almost exactly the same, suggesting that this is a strategic leak by the junta, paving the way for Apirat and acknowledging that the king’s approval has been given.

Apirat, a graduate from Class 20 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, and in the military’s feudal system, “belongs to the Wongthewan clique and not the powerful Burapa Phayak circles of elite commanders — of which Gen Prayut and his deputy Gen Prawit are members — [yet] he is one of the regime’s most trusted lieutenants.” He has pledged allegiance to The Dictator. His loyalty has been earlier tested in 2010 and his bosses appreciate Apirat’s willingness to shoot down civilian opponents.

If the junta does decide to hold its rigged election next year, Gen Apirat will be expected to use his 200,000 + soldiers, the Internal Security Operations Command and various other resources of the state to deliver the votes needed for the “election” to appear to have been won by the junta’s parties.





Another privy councilor gone

21 06 2018

The king seems to be having trouble maintaining his Privy Council. Since he took the throne there’s been a revolving door as three privy councilors appointed in 2016 have already been shown the exit. As ThaiPBS reports, the third is Gen Theerachai Nakawanich:

Former army commander-in-chief General Thirachai Narkvanich has been relieved as a member of the Privy Council by a Royal Command of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

According to the Royal Command dated June 19 which was published in the Royal Gazette on June 21, General Thirachai offered to resign from the privy councilor’s post.

The retired general was appointed a member of the Privy Council on December 6, 2016, after his retirement from the military service at the end of September of the same year.





Recycling an imagined past

27 05 2018

The nationalist trilogy, put together by a king and used and misused ever since, most usually by fascist military dictatorships, and ground into people from school to shopping center, is in the news.

New king and a crackdown on unsound Buddhist bosses and the propaganda of the military dictatorship come together in a curious mix of police commando raids against monks, claimed to be corrupt  lawbreakers, and then apologies from The Dictator for the treatment of one fascist monk, assessments of state propaganda and the ill-timed royal launch of something called “Buddhism Promotion Week.”

The last report features mainly pictures of a jolly Princess Sirindhorn attending ceremonies with senior monks – presumably not the arrested lot – for Buddhism Promotion Week, coinciding with coincides with Visakha Bucha Day. It also shows Privy Councillor General Surayud Chulanont who was dispatched by King Vajiralongkorn to make merit on the absent king’s behalf for the deceased king and the now never seen queen from the last reign. The ceremony took place at the increasingly reclaimed area of the so-called Royal Plaza.

Bad timing when a bunch of senior monks are arrested, accused of all manner of crimes, but perhaps a part of the new reign’s “cleansing” of Buddhism. That “cleansing” has the possibility of assisting The Dictator’s electoral campaigning so long as the bad monks are not linked to him.

The Nation’s special report (linked above) on the military dictatorship’s throwback nationalist propaganda is worth reading. It covers Thai Niyom (Thai-ism) – an effort to promote the rightist concept of “Thainess,” the junta’s “patriotic” histories, the archaic costume party royalism, also promoted by the king, and crappy soaps that, as one academic says, are escapism:

“It shows the mental illness of our society…. Today we’re living in conflict, especially on the political front. Watching comical shows and fantasy soaps can temporarily heal people’s hearts. In reality we remain divided, and the fantasy is that we are united.”

The junta just craves devotion and adulation they imagine for earlier ages, located somewhere in the 1910s or late 1950s. As poorly educated, unthinking automaton royalists, the best they can do in this sphere is recycling.





Updated: Songkhran campaigning

11 04 2018

Brief conjecture back in January was that nonagenarian Privy Council chairman and political mover-and-shaker of years gone by, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda had snubbed The Dictator and his men.

Whatever the problems was back then, the interferer is back on the job now, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha took his junta and other hangers-on over to Prem’s taxpayer funded digs for an anointing by the king-like figure who just can’t leave things alone:

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha led his cabinet ministers and military top brass to wish Privy Council president Gen Prem Tin­su­lanonda and receive his blessing at his Si Sao Theves residence on Wednesday morning.

Over-using the word “traditional,” the old man apparently agreed to boost The Dictator’s “election” campaign by commending Prayuth “for his leadership that he was confident could bring the country to peace and happiness…. He wished the prime minister to succeed in work.”

Yes, he’s said such platitudes previously, but it is a signal to Prem supporters that The Dictator is the man for the premier’s job going forward.

Update: The Bangkok Post has more details on Gen Prem’s words of support for The Dictator and his military junta. Prem reportedly said he had been “contemplating how long Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha would need to lead the nation to success” and added that he “would support him [Prayuth] all the way.”





Updated: How’s the new king looking?

7 04 2018

Each year, the academic journal Asian Survey has articles which provide brief country summaries of the previous year’s significant events. For 2017, well-known analyst and commentator Duncan McCargo has completed the article on Thailand (opens a PDF).

The article is necessarily short but has some comments on King Vajiralongkorn that merit posting here, not least because they mesh with some of PPT’s comments a few days ago.

In the abstract, McCargo states that “…King Vajiralongkorn is untested and lacks popular legitimacy.” True enough, although it has to be said that almost all those who succeed to thrones are largely “untested” and that popularity is no qualification for monarchy, where it is bloodlines that matter. Like a few other commentators, including some who are anti-monarchists, there’s a tendency to unfavorably compare Vajiralongkorn with his deceased father. Unfortunately, some of these comparisons required considerable retro-acceptance of palace propaganda about the dead king.

When he deals with the new reign, McCargo observes:

New King Vajiralongkorn’s detractors have long dismissed him as a playboy who takes little interest in serious matters, but since ascending the throne on December 1, 2016, he has proved to be an activist and interventionist monarch.

This is an important point. The areas where he has intervened, however, have been mostly about the monarchy and its privileges and the control of the palace. Clearly, Vajiralongkorn has been planning his succession maneuvers for some years. McCargo continues:

King Vajiralongkorn apparently pays very close attention to government policies and matters of legislation, especially where they may affect the legitimacy or privileges of the monarchy, or touch on matters of religion. He carefully monitors promotions and transfers inside the bureaucracy, especially the upper echelons of the military and the police force.

His interest in religious matters goes back to the 1990s and we know about his intervention in police promotions. Readers may recall that the last police intervention was in favor of Pol Gen Jumpol Manmai. Later Jumpol was made a Grand Chamberlain in Vajiralongkorn’s palace. That didn’t go well and, as far as we can recall, nothing has been seen or heard from Jumpol since…. Which reminds us, if legal infractions cause the king to disgrace a senior aide, can we expect that Gen Prem Tinsulanonda will soon be sacked from the Privy Council by the king?

Presumably the upcoming military reshuffle will result from a junta-palace consensus. One report reckons the reshuffle buttresses The Dictator’s position.

But back to McCargo’s commentary. He says:

… the new king remains neither popular nor widely respected; crucially, while his father never left Thailand after 1967, King Vajiralongkorn spends much of his time in Germany. His private life is the topic of constant gossip and speculation. The prospect of his coronation—and a raft of associated symbolic changes, such as new banknotes, coins, and stamps—fills many Thais with apprehension.

In fact, Bhumibol visited Laos in April 1994 (an error also made officially), but this slip doesn’t diminish the point about Vajiralongkorn’s extensive periods away from Thailand. On the bit about gossip, that’s been true for several decades and the king seems to have accepted that he is a “black sheep.” That there is “apprehension” over symbolic changes may be true, but if a report in the Bangkok Post is to be believed, that apprehension seems to be dissipating. It says:

Large crowds formed long queues at provincial offices of the Treasury Department to exchange cash for the first lot of circulated coins bearing the image of King Rama X on Friday, the Chakri Memorial Day.

Palace propaganda continues apace, the military junta has crushed republicans, and monarchists are remaining adhered to the institution if not the person.

Update: Another measure of apprehension dissipating might be seen in the report of “traditional” clothing sales. While the report refers to the influence of a hit soap opera, the influence of the king’s efforts at a revival of all things pre-1932 are having an impact too.





Donation corruption and double standards

6 04 2018

We missed this story a couple of days ago and it deserves wide circulation.

The Bangkok Post reports that the “Department of Special Investigation (DSI) says it did not bring charges against Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda, who received a cheque worth 250,000 baht from the owner of a real-estate company implicated in a loan scandal…”. It is also “claimed that another cheque with an undisclosed value was deposited in a bank account belonging to ACM Prajun Tamprateep, a close associate of Gen Prem.”

This story goes back 14 years and is big news because another alleged recipient is Panthongtae Shinawatra. His case has gone to court. Prem’s case hasn’t. Neither has Phajun’s. Why is that?

According to DSI boss Paisit Wongmuang his agency “did not bring charges against all the cheque recipients…”. No further explanation as to why some are prosecuted and not others.

The Post cites a “DSI source” who said the “250,000-baht cheque was merely put into the General Prem Tinsulanonda Statesman Foundation and the money was not used for Gen Prem’s own purposes.” The source added: “The intention is clear that this was a charity donation…”.

The payment to “ACM Prajun’s bank account” was “explained” that “the sum was used to organise a banquet for those attending a course at the Thailand National Defence College…”.

In terms of law and corruption, it makes no difference what the money was used for. If some get off, all should. If some are charged, all should be.

This is one more example of double standards under the military dictatorship.





Weekend reads

1 04 2018

We are still kind of catching up from our downtime a weeks or so ago, and want to recommend some interesting material for our readers. Hopefully our military censors/blockers will also learn something from these stories.

At the Bangkok Post: The Cambridge Analytica/SCL Group story is belatedly addressed for Thailand – we commented about 10 days ago – but adds little to the story, although there seems an attempt to diminish the possible role of the Democrat Party even though the only Thai cited is Chuan Leekpai. If there were links between the Democrat Party and/or its government and SCL, look to the party’s Anglophiles for the connecting points.

On the extrajudicial killings at Prachatai: Yiamyut Sutthichaya writes that  “March 17th marked the first anniversary of the death of the young Lahu activist, Chaiyaphum ‘Cha-ou’ Pasae. He was shot dead by a soldier…”. As far as we can tell, nothing sensible has happened on this case since day 1. It has been a cover-up. Read the account, weep for Chaiyapoom and weep for Thailand under the junta’s boot. This is a case of official corruption far more egregious than the Deputy Dictator’s watch saga. The latter interests the middle class who seem to care little for rural kids murdered by military thugs.

“No conspiracy”: The Dictator says he’s stuck to the “roadmap” and there’s no conspiracy to further delay the junta’s promised election. Everyone knows this is a mountain of buffalo manure, but The Dictator keeps saying it. No one believes him – no one – and Alan Dawson at the Bangkok Post calls him out. While at the Post, go and read the stir caused for the junta when Thaksin suggests that Puea Thai will do well when an election comes along. That’s also what the polls say, including the junta’s own polling. That’s also why the junta is splashing taxpayer funds about, seeking to buy supporters.

Insidious Internal Security Act: In talking with political scientist Puangthong Pawakapan, Kritsada Subpawanthanakun reminds us that the the Internal Security Act has now been around for 10 years. A tool wielded mainly through ISOC, it is used to undermine political opponents of Thailand’s establishment. This is highlighted by the fact that the current law was implemented by Gen Surayud Chulanont’s government, put in place by a military junta and borrowing Surayud from the Privy Council. The links between ISOC and the palace are long, deep and nasty.

For more on ISOC: Nutcha Tantivitayapitak writes of “ISOC’s cultural mission” in “the ideological promotion process of ‘nation-religion-monarchy’ by the security agencies…, especially after the enforcement of the 2008 Internal Security Act. Security agencies such as ISOC, which has power over civilian agencies, moved forward in ideological indoctrination through cultural tools.”