The 2006 military coup remembered

19 09 2015

It is nine years since the yellow-tagged military rolled its tanks into Bangkok’s streets to oust Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai Party government.

Thaksin had many faults and made many mistakes.

Important in his errors was becoming an electorally popular leader – in February 2005 his party had won the biggest ever landslide in Thailand’s electoral history – and the threat this posed for Thailand’s royalist elite.

Behind government administrations 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.

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.

Their final response, after destabilizing the elected government through the activities of the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy, was to get the military to throw Thaksin and TRT out.

In a reprise of those events, in 2014, Thaksin’s youngest sister Yingluck and her government were sent packing by another military coup that followed destabilization by anti-democrats.

PPT felt that as a way of observing the anniversary of the military-palace power grab on 19 September 2006, we would link to 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 feel 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 make elections events that have no meaning.

Updated: Money and roads

29 07 2015

We could say that truckloads of taxpayer funds are again being wasted on royalist trivia. The problem is that these truckloads of money would be lucky to move around Bangkok as the military regime closes many road for the Bike for Mum propaganda exercise.

As reported at Coconuts Bangkok, the regime reckons “40,000 cyclists [are] to practice their pedaling for the ‘Bike for Mom’ cycling event to celebrate Mother’s Day.” Of course, in royalist Thailand, Mother’s Day is the queen’s birthday.

Kilometer after kilometer of roads are to be closed for several hours by the practice session and they’ll all be closed again on the 16 August.

There have long been complaints about royal convoys closing roads all over Bangkok. For this event, however, the impact is going to be far more widespread and the advice to the populace is: stay at home.

The military dictatorship doesn’t brook criticism and is ever willing to splurge money polishing the royal derrière. After all, it is only its royalism that provides legitimacy for the military dictatorship.

Update: The Nation reports that the rehearsal has been rescheduled from 7.30am to noon instead of 3pm to 9pm as previously scheduled…”. PPT assumes that the military dictatorship has realized that its royalist propaganda promises discontent. A police spokesman said the “event was postponed in order to avoid heavy traffic as holidaymakers will be returning to the capital on that day…”. The Nation has several photos showing the military’s involvement, with the rehearsal being “attended by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha,” with the rehearsal mainly to check security for Prince Vajiralongkorn who is apparently participating for his mother’s birthday. It also explains that the government is providing a “souvenir” for each person who registers to participate.

Royal propaganda and lese majeste

20 06 2015

The propaganda associated with promoting the monarchy and royalist ideology is intimately related to the lese majeste law. This may seem obvious to many, for one of the points of lese majeste is to prevent any questioning of the propaganda. At the same time, those who wield this blunt instrument attempt to separate the monarchy from the law, as in the specious reference to the king’s speech on lese majeste that was, in fact, an attack on Thaksin Shinawatra.

Three recent reports at Khaosod illustrate this important intertwining of propaganda and lese majeste.

The first may seem relatively innocuous in the pattern of royalist propaganda and repression. It is a story about Prince Vajiralongkorn and a cycle ride to “honor” his aged and infirm mother, Queen Sirikit.

Titled “Bike for Mom 2015,” the event is said to have been “conceived” by the prince for his mother. If she gets there, she will be 83 on 12 August. It is announced that the prince “will lead [the] mass bicycling event.

This is surely propaganda, for the event was announced by the military dictatorship. More than this, the cycling event is from the so-called “Royal Plaza to the 11th Infantry Division headquarters in northern Bangkok on 16 August.” That military base has been politically significant in recent years as a center of the Army’s planned attacks on red shirts.

It is also a part of well-established palace propaganda that has designated Thailand’s Mother’s Day to be the queen’s birthday, as Father’s Day is the king’s birthday. These designations are attempts to establish a paternalistic hierarchy that is critical to royalist domination.

The military dictatorship builds on this, basing its propaganda and rule on hierarchy, paternalism and royalism. Its announcement brings all this together, claiming that this event will “reinforce unity” and states it is an “open opportunity for all groups of people across the country to join the event to express their loyalty to the monarchy, express their love for their mothers and the Mother of the Land…”. the statement says, using a common epithet to refer to Queen Sirikit.

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, announced the prince’s involvement, saying that the prince “has … ordered officials to take care of the participants’ safety. The important thing [for him] is that the people are happy.” We are not sure which laws give the prince the power to give orders to officials. Prayuth also reveals that the military dictatorship receives constant messages from the palace as a matter of course. In other places, such actions by a constitutional monarchy cause problems. But, then, Thailand’s constitutional monarchy has been transformed over many years into something that is highly politicized.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej

In a second report, Khaosod tells us that The Dictator considers “Thainess” and being “Thai” to be associated with uncritical support for the monarchy.

Prayuth was commenting on the constant efforts to extradite those accused of lese majeste who have fled the dictatorship and threatened incarceration in Thailand. Of course, if any returned, they would be convicted. Indeed, in recent days, as in the 30 or so lese majeste cases initiated through Prince Vajiralongkorn, all victims have been forced to plead guilty and their “trials” have been perfunctory.

Prayuth states that Ekaphop Luera, now living in New Zealand, is no longer ‘Thai.” He declared: “Since he fled this country to another, it shows that he is no longer a Thai person and he cannot stay in Thailand…”.

This links directly to the prince’s cycle event in the sense that Ekaphop is defined as being outside the norm of royalist Thailand that makes the monarchy central to any definition of “Thainess.” Hence, Prayuth considers it his “duty” to jail those who reject the royalist norms: “We are not neglecting this duty. We simply cannot neglect it. The Ministry of Justice is working on it, the Royal Thai Police are working on it [extradition]…”.

The third story at Khaosod links notions of duty and lese majeste to the enforcement of hierarchy and authoritarianism through lese majeste repression. Prayuth, is described as “a hardline royalist,” and the report reminds us that he has declared that “defending His Majesty’s authority” is a top priority for his military junta.

He has received a communication from a “group of ultra-royalists in northern Thailand” who have declared their gratitude to The Dictator for “defending” the monarchy through “his strict enforcement of the country’s lese majeste law.”

These royal fascists have a “local association called People Who Love the King, [and] submitted the group’s thank-you letter through Phrae province’s governor…”. They assert that they “are impressed by Gen. Prayuth’s ‘dedication’ to enforcing Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Codes, a law known as lese majeste that criminalizes insulting the king, queen, heir-apparent, and regent with up to 15 years in prison.”

The fascists believe that, “In the past, officials responsible for law enforcement have neglected their duties, and there were many serious insults and accusations against the monarchy, both in open and secretive ways…”. They believe that this led to more attacks on the monarchy because “there was no fear of committing the crime…”.

Such a claim makes a nonsense of the history of lese majeste, but the point is that these ultra-conservatives appreciate Prayuth’s efforts to roll back electoral politics and reinforce royalist hierarchies. They prefer the old order and many laud a military dictatorship as a faux absolute monarchy. Royal and palace propaganda and the extreme implementation of the feudal lese majeste law are essential for the maintenance of the social, economic and political rule of the royalist elite.

A Kingdom in Crisis reviewed IV

26 10 2014

For earlier PPT posts about reviews of Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century, go here, here and here.

The latest review of this book is at Asia Sentinel and by John Berthelsen. The review begins largely where the book begins:

… according to Kingdom in Crisis, an authoritative new book on the eight-year-old Thai political crisis by former Reuters journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall,” ít became clear that everything had changed for Thailand’s monarchy.”  To that point the king had arguably been the most venerated monarch in Thai history. But now [19 September 2010] “hundreds of people were shouting a crude insult and inflammatory accusations at an unthinkable target.  The ‘bastard’ was King Bhumibol Adulyadej.”Kingdom in crisis

How Thailand got to that point is a sad and dispiriting tale and one that is unlikely to end soon despite the May 22 coup perpetrated by Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, which has put tight screws on society – so tight that the government is pursuing dissidents far overseas, running a communications lockdown of the country itself, and seeking to institute Orwellian rules of order today.

PPT isn’t at all sure that the king was venerated as much as propagandized and we are not convinced that the “tale” is entirely dispiriting. Indeed, the review suggests why a crisis is not always dispiriting:

What has occurred in Bangkok is a war for the country’s very soul between the centuries-old web of interests centered in the capital city, made up of the courtiers in the palace and the business community and others who support them. They are arrayed against millions of formerly poverty-stricken rural dwellers in the northeast of the country who were awakened starting in 2001 by telecommunications billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, who instituted a series of strong populist measures in the northeast to better their welfare and into the process becoming by far the most popular monarch Thailand had ever seen.

That Thailand’s “most popular monarch” was faced off by some who supported Thailand’s most popular elected politician is at least some cause for optimism that the purported “centuries-old web of interests” that makes up the ruling class was and remains challenged by rising popular forces. As an aside, PPT would point out that the “centuries-old web of interests” is not that at all. The web of interests that revolve around the current monarch are a creation of the past 50 or so years. What troubled this class, according to the review’s account, and as:

Marshall relates in painful detail, Vajiralongkorn horrified the vast palace machinery and the aristocrats who were connected to it. The thought of seeing him become the monarch upon the failing king’s death, especially as a tool of the wily Thaksin, was more than they could deal with. The palace itself split, with Queen Sirikit backing her son’s succession and others attempting to replace him with the vastly more popular Princess, Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. When Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party won its second election in 2005 and raising further Vajiralongkorn’s prospects, that was pretty much enough. A combination of the elites, the military and the royalty combined to foment the 2006 coup that drove Thaksin from power.

… The elites, over the eight years of turmoil that appear to have ended Thaksin’s government aspirations for a considerable amount of time, but also managed to destroy the credibility of virtually all of Thailand’s government institutions including the courts, the police, the government and the political parties that stood in Thaksin’s way. And, according to Marshall, they have largely managed to destroy the credibility of the one institution they were trying to save, the monarchy itself.

For the reviewer, Marshall account is of a king who “was never either particularly wise or particularly benevolent, or democratic.” Berthelsen describes the book as an “invaluable adjunct, a continuation to Paul Handley’s pathbreaking history of Thailand, The King Never Smiles, published in 2006.” Handley’s book has undoubtedly been truly seminal for Thailand, and Marshall’s book may have an impact, but it will always be Handley who shattered the myths (for an Asia Sentinel review of Handley’s book, click here).

PPT notes that Berthelsen seems to think that “Marshall is overly critical of Bhumibol,” and laments that “the 86-year-old king sought to do what he believed was right for his subjects, clearly unlike his son, who continues to split the elites, running the danger of destroying the institution.” We doubt Marshall would agree with the assessment of the king. After all, to do so would mean accepting the violent and murderous attacks on political opponents, often in his name, often with his approval, a massive looting of the country by the royalist elites, many military putsches and the trashing of numerous constitutions.

Handley concluded his book with a claim that the king “has sealed his own reputation, and it is unlikely to be undone.” Marshall’s book is more likely to be seen as correcting that claim, showing the failures of the king and undoing that reputation.

Karma doesn’t get a mention, but maybe it should have. Berthelsen concludes:

It tells a depressing story of the end to the world’s longest royal reign. The king and queen themselves have apparently had debilitating strokes that have reduced them to the status of department store dummies, but continue to be trotted out at ceremonial occasions to stare blindly into space by palace factions determined to use them for their own ends.

The 23 February 1991 coup

29 08 2014

PPT was doing some hard disk cleaning and came across a file that was sent to us some time ago by a reader who thought  we’d be interested.

It is a report by Australia’s Parliamentary Research Service and is listed as a “Background Paper,” and we have also located it online as “The Coup inThailand” [Clicking downloads a PDF]. Because there are so many of them, we should note that this refers to the coup of 1991, and that the report is dated 19 March 1991. Its author is listed as Frank Frost.

We thought these bits interesting, indicating how the monarchy has been used by the military/has used the military for political purposes:

The deterioration in relations between Prime Minister Chatichai and his government and the senior military leadership came to a decisive point in February 1991. The ultimate cause of the confrontation was probably the military’s concern at evident efforts by Chatichai to bring their autonomy into question and the general lack of trust between the parties. The immediate focus for tension was an investigation into an alleged assassination plot against senior public figures in 1982 and an attempted Cabinet change by Chatichai.

Prologue: The assassination plot’ issue

The publicity given to the alleged assassination plot highlighted the continuation of tensions between elements of the Thai military from the 1980s. The Thai military is now firmly in the control of a group of military leaders identified by their status as graduates of the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy’s Class Five (i.e.the fifth post-world war two graduating class); General Suchinda Kraprayoon, now commander of the Army, was class president. The 1981 and 1985 coup attempts were largely planned by a group of officers identified with the Military Academy’s Class Seven. In January 1991 , publicity was given to the continued investigation of an alleged plot in 1982 by some military officers, several  academics and several members of the Communist Party of Thailand, to assassinate several figures, including Prime Minister Pram, Supreme Commander Arthit Kamlang-ek, and Queen Sirikit. One alleged suspect was a leading Class Seven officer, Manoon Roopkachorn, who led both the 1981 and 1985 coup attempts. He left Thailand after each attempt, but in 1990 was able to return, was pardoned, reinstated into the military, promoted from Colonel to Major General, and appointed by Prime Minister Chatichai to the Defence Ministry as his adviser. In January, anonymous leaflets were reportedly circulated, accusing Manoon and Chatichai’s son, Kraisak {who had been one of the Prime Minister’s key advisers) of having been involved in the alleged plot. Both men complained to the police about the leaflets.

The controversy was intensified in late January, when the national police chief General Sawaeng Thirasawat and General Boonchu Wangkanond, who had been in charge of the assassination plot case, were both transferred; Boochu was a Chulachomklao Class Five officer. Rodney Tasker (Far Eastern Economic Review) wrote that: “Inevitably, there was strong suspicion that Chatichai had ordered the police reshuffle to prise the assassination case away from Boonchu and place it out of harm’s way in other officers hands … Chatichai strongly denied that this was a motive and ordered the police through the Interior Ministry, to expedite the case”. Tensions rose over the issue. Army commander General Suchinda called for a speedy conclusion to the case and Supreme Commander General Sunthorn in his capacity as director of internal security, warned: “If the directorate of internal security finds any distortion of the facts, it will take drastic action against the ill-intentioned people in accordance with its legal powers”. Sunthorn took action to ensure that General Boonchu would remain involved in the case as a military representative. In this complex context, Chatichai’s association with Manoon, the alleged conspirator, was clearly a matter of controversy. In an atmosphere of rising tension, Prime Minister Chatichai moved to appoint a senior former military supreme commander, now in parliament, General Arthit Kamlang-ek as deputy minister of Defence on 20 February. The military leadership, who are known not to be on good terms with Arthit, evidently viewed this with disfavour. Chatichai may also have planned to make personnel changes among the top military leadership. In the event, on 23 February, when Chatichai boarded an aircraft to fly to Chiang Mai for an audience with the King, a coup was instituted by the military leadership.

The coup leaders received formal endorsement for their actions from the King. A Royal Command, dated 24 February, stated that “it has occurred that the government which has Gen Chatichai Choonhaven as prime minister, has not administered the country to the confidence of the people, and cannot keep peace and order in the nation”. The Command formally appointed General Sunthorn as head of the NPC and directed civil servants to heed the orders of General Sunthorn. While formally endorsing the position of the NPC, the King, in a comment relayed by General Sunthorn the day after the coup, cautioned the NPC “not to let the people down”. The King’s endorsement was a crucial issue; the monarch played a major role in the defeat of the coup attempts in 1981 and 1985. A draft interim constitution was submitted to the King and, in an unusual step, he reportedly asked for it to be amended before approving it.

The new interim constitution, approved by the King on 1 March, granted extensive powers to the military. A legislative assembly of up to 300 members would be appointed to prepare for elections and draw up a permanent constitution. The assembly will have six months to do this, and elections would be held by April 1992. But the NPC reserves the right to dismiss the interim prime minister or dissolve the assembly in the interests of national security. Article 27 gives seemingly wide-ranging authority to the military to take any action necessary against people threatening national security or going against Buddhist morals.

PPT previously posted documents about this: Young Turks Assassination Plot 1982-91.

Links from readers

7 12 2013

As many readers know, we haven’t been answering email for a few days – just too busy. However, readers continued to send us some interesting material. Here it is in no particular order:

1. Abhisit Vejjajiva of the so-called Democrat Party in a parallel universe:

This ranks as one of the most ridiculously revealing interview we have seen with this person. He counts protesters as support for Suthep Thaugsuban and counting for something. The next question should have been: Hey, Mark, you dopey dick, what about all the millions who have repeatedly voted for pro-Thaksin parties year after year? Do they count for nothing? We guess the answer is: No, they are ignorant, dark-skinned savages who sell votes, and they dress very badly, so they count for nothing.

And when he criticizes Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for not responding to the nice, non-violent middle class people exercising democratic rights under the constitution, he should have been asked: What? You mean they should have been blasted by the Army and its snipers? Presumably the response is: Oh! Goodness gracious me, no! These are good people, not the great unwashed (we borrow that term from Abhisit’s chum Korn Chatikavanij, used to describe red shirts).

2. Paul Handley at Foreign Policy:

Bhumibol is still alive, but there is no doubt that his long reign is dying. He was frail and barely audible as he read a statement calling for unity Thursday morning. He and Queen Sirikit, 81, both suffer a number of debilitating ailments, and now stay out of the public eye. They live not in the capital, but in a seaside palace to the south, infrequently seen or heard from.

Their longtime team is fading, as well. The king’s main political agent, privy councilor, former Army chief and Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda, is 93, in ill health, and no longer able to manage the military. And Bhumibol’s other lifetime stalwart, the supreme patriarch of the Thai Buddhist clergy, just died at 100.

We agree, the monarchy is at a turning point, having poisoned itself through its grasping for economic wealth and political power.

3. The U.S. Embassy must be pissed:

The dopey anti-government demonstrators were led by Abhisit’s best chum to scorn the U.S. Embassy for issuing a statement that said something like occupying government buildings, some by force, wasn’t really promoting democracy. The Embassy seems to have been miffed by this silly shouting and seems to have responded:

The US Ambassador to Thailand has praised the Thai government′s restrained measures toward anti-government protesters during her discussion with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The US Ambassador and US Pacific Commander, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, have previously attended the celebration of His Majesty the King′s 86th Birthday at Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin yesterday.

They later met with Ms. Yingluck and Chief of Defence Forces, General Thanasak Patimaprakorn.

… Ms. Kenny also raised her concern over the anti-government protests which have claimed four lives and injured more than 200, stating that the US has been closely monitoring the situation in Thailand.

…[Kenny] told Prime Minister Yingluck she is impressed by the restraint shown by the Thai government and the police in handling the protesters.

Admiral Locklear likewise said he appreciates the Thai government′s patient and tolerant manner during its tackling of the conflict.

The anti-government leaders will now be convinced that the U.S. and Thaksin are involved in a conspiracy. Yet, Korn already re-tweets the idiotic rants of extremist “anti-imperialist” bloggers associated with right-wing talk show programs in the U.S. that rant about just such a conspiracy.

4. Thammasat “academic” administrators gone royalist viral:

Two stories at Khaosod. The first links to an earlier update we had to a post about a deputy rector want to crush students who disagreed with him. Not content with that he has defended his threats with a tirade of nationalist nonsense demonstrating his lack of good sense, not to say intelligence. Lunatics, keys and asylums come to mind.

The second is about the rector, Somkit Lertpaithoon:

The Rector of Thammasat University has been accused of secretly collaborating with anti-government protest leaders after leaked screenshot of his chat application correctly predicts the protesters′ next move.

 He says he was guessing and repeating what Suthep colleagues told him. Yeah, right. These guys are so arrogant that they do the most inane things.

5. The Nation writes Suthep’s political obituary:

It’s easier to say why Suthep shouldn’t be leading the anti-government campaign than why he should be. As a leader he ends up lacking. He was at the centre of a major political scandal almost two decades ago, and to this day approximately half the country holds him responsible for the violent crackdown on the red-shirt uprising in 2010.

Perhaps PAD can save him , with Sondhi Limthongkul calling on his supporters to get out for Suthep tomorrow.

Anti-monarchy graffiti and royal wealth I

18 10 2013

Regular readers will know that PPT sometimes has writers who have been off trawling academic papers. Yesterday, our post included a link to a paper on populism. It was while looking for this paper that PPT came across an article that we are sure will be of considerable interest. “Working Towards the Monarchy and its Discontents: Anti-royal Graffiti in Downtown Bangkok,” is authored by Serhat Ünaldi of the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. It is available (for a fee, free to subscribers or through universities that subscribe) at the Journal of Contemporary Asia.

PPT has posted on another article by the same author, on a related topic, here.

The latest article is surely about anti-royal graffiti but it is also about much more. Below we include excerpts so that readers can get a feel for the article, where the abstract states:

This article examines the desacralisation of royal charisma in contemporary Thailand. Over the past few years an underground discourse has emerged among critics of royal ideology and supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that directly confronts the power of the monarchy. The images, metaphors and linguistic devices used in the process are difficult to study because they rarely appear in public. This article focuses on an unprecedented demonstration of rage against the monarchy on September 19, 2010, when red-shirted demonstrators painted anti-royal graffiti on a construction hoarding at Ratchaprasong intersection in downtown Bangkok. In analysing the Thai political crisis as a battle of different charismatic groups, the article will present the September 19 event as the first open strike against the sacred charisma of the Thai monarchy. This charisma has hitherto been protected by royalists from all walks of life who were “working towards the monarchy.” With their attacks on the monarchy the red-shirts were challenging a legitimacy-conferring system which had benefited wide sections of the Bangkok populace in the past. At the same time, a competing charismatic movement has emerged around Thaksin, who himself has to take into account the charisma he conferred upon his followers.

We felt the charisma and Max Weber stuff was overdone in the article but we understand that academics are looking for the theoretical angle. Yet we found the empirics far more interesting. The first couple of sentences set the scene:

The spread of anti-royal graffiti in downtown Bangkok on September 19, 2010 was a watershed moment in recent Thai history that has remained almost unnoticed in analyses of the country’s political crisis. On that day, thousands of protesters donning red shirts gathered at Ratchaprasong intersection in central Bangkok. The rally took place in commemoration of the fourth anniversary of the 2006 coup against then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (p. 1).

PPT’s post from that day in 2010 may still be of some interest. What is certainly of interest is the focus in this new article on the anti-monarchy graffiti of that day and the analysis the author does of the ownership of the Rajaprasong area. On the latter, this is interesting:

The space examined here is a major part of downtown Bangkok…. Based on land ownership the area can be divided into two. The western part is privately owned by Princess Sirindhorn who, as the landlord, earns the income generated from property rents directly. The eastern section is owned by the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) which manages the assets of the monarchy as an institution but whose generated income is “paid at the King’s pleasure” (p. 8).

As few researchers have ever dared publish on the private assets of the royals, this account is interesting. We will save this detail for another post and here concentrate on the graffiti. Of this, Ünaldi states (p. 15):

For the purpose of this study a sample of 63 graffiti items were assembled, 51 of which appeared on September 19, 2010 on the construction fence at Ratchaprasong intersection, four at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument during a protest on October 10, 2010, and three, and five, respectively, during gatherings on November 19 and December 19, 2010.

Some of the messages from the graffiti are worth repeating, reflecting a “ta sawang/awakening” moment (p. 17):

The use of the word fa was not limited to this one graffiti but occurred frequently: fa ta diaw (one-eyed sky); fa bo kan (the sky is no barrier, …); mueng mai chai fa mang khue ma thi nasomphet (you are not the sky, [but] more likely a pathetic dog); hia sang kha fa mai mi ta phro fa ta bot (the “monitor lizard” ordered the killings – the sky has no eyes because the sky is blind). Like hia, ma (dog) is one of the strongest insults in the Thai language.

More attacks on the monarchy related to ownership, stewardship and sufficiency (p. 18):

“the country does not progress because there are no good people. Bad people were taken to rule the land because heaven has no eyes, because the eyes are blind. [They] see damn animals [ai sat] as good people. I ask for real, you damn blind man [ai bot],when will you die?” Some red shirts were aware that their protest site was owned by the monarchy and suspected this to be the reason for their violent expulsion from the area in May: thi khong khot pho-mae mueng rue thueng ma kho khuen phuen-thi (Does the area belong to your ancestors so that you demand it back?). By painting some graffiti on the asphalt of the street the red shirts marked Ratchaprasong as their territory: ku khoey non yu thi ni [I once slept here]. Other street artists took issue with the king’s sufficiency economy: kha daeng yang pho-phiang (killed enough/sufficient red [shirts]); pho-phiang tae ku yang mai pho kin (sufficiency but I didn’t have enough to eat). To this commentator, the idea of sufficiency seemed to sound cynical given his or her own struggle for survival. Next to the official sign for the sufficiency economy on the fence at Ratchaprasong one red shirt commented ironically: pho-phiang ko mai tong tham bai (sufficiency, so don’t produce a poster). These comments were probably the strongest signal of the breakdown of royal charisma: The king was no longer seen as benefiting the people and his “sufficiency economy” model was debunked.

Queen Sirikit was a target for graffiti (p. 19):

Red-shirts poked fun at her weight, her makeup and rumours about her involvement in the disappearance of the “Blue Diamond,” a gem which was stolen in 1989 from the Saudi Arabian royal family. Several items depicted the queen as a blue whale, hiding a gemstone in her mouth. Next to one such painting someone had written: Sa-u ha phet mai joe khrai ru bang (the Saudis are looking in vain for a diamond. Who knows anything?). Another graffiti mimicked the prohibition signs on the fence and depicted a crossed out whale, adding khet plot pla-wan (whale-free area). Someone else had written: Ai bot kap i pla-wan jombongkan tua jing (The damn blind man and the damn whale woman are the real dictators).

This is certainly a paper worth reading. In our next post we will look at what this paper says about property and royal wealth.

Military, monarchy and civilians

4 10 2013

John Cole and Steve Sciacchitano write together for the Asia Times Online regarding the military. Their collective bio claims they:

spent several years in Thailand while on active duty with the US Army. Both were trained as Foreign Area Officers specializing in Southeast Asia and graduated from the Royal Thai Army’s Command and General Staff College. They are now retired and the views expressed here are their own.

Sounds like they were military spooks while on active duty. That should mean that they know something about what happens amongst the brass.

Their latest report has some bits we found interesting. It is a long report that essentially says that while Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra and their elected, civilian regime have tried to get control of the military leadership going forward, they haven’t been particularly successful.

Some readers might like to view the article for its classification of military leaders as royalist, pro-Thaksin or unknown. For us the interest in the mentions they make of the monarchy.

We jump to a mention of the monarchy’s role in the military. Most modern military leaderships are professional and subordinated to civilian governments. As this quote suggests, the military in Thailand remains politicized, unprofessional and feudal:

The [annual officer promotion and assignment] process has long been a battleground between elected politicians and military top brass loyal to the monarchy where considerations of patronage and capability often clash.

The story of royalist determination to control the top spot is revealing:King and prince

The promotion of General Udomdet Setabutr to the position of army deputy commander, traditionally a springboard position to army commander-in-chief, was the other crucial promotion that favored royalist interests. Udomdet, a recipient of the Ramathibodee Medal, the highest award for valor in combat, has spent his career closely associated with the Thai royal family. He is widely perceived within the officer corps as the palace’s top choice to succeed current army commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha upon his mandatory retirement in September 2014.

Udomdet’s story is important for it leads to the palace:

A few months after the release of the 2012 list, however, rumors started to circulate among the army’s upper ranks that Udomdet’s future elevation to the top was not certain…. The rumors notably coincided with royal household announcements of Queen Sirikit’s stroke and related health ailments.

Why the queen? The authors say:

… Sirikit had until then played a key role in guiding the palace’s relations with the military while King Bhumibol was convalescing in hospital from a prolonged illness beginning in 2009.

Now that both have been ill, the palace was worried:

With neither King Bhumibol nor Queen Sirikit now believed to be involved with day-to-day communications with the military, several senior Thai officers believe that Prayuth was cast adrift without the same level of palace guidance he previously enjoyed.

The palace, wanting to retain its control as the king and queen are aged and ill and the civilian “threat” posed by elected governments, and rumors of Thaksin doing a deal with Prayuth,

… senior military sources say that a member of the royal advisory Privy Council was appointed to liaise on behalf of the palace with the military. The royal adviser, said to be a senior retired military officer [probably Surayud Chulanont], has acted discreetly from behind the scenes and apparently provided guidance on the reshuffle list that somewhat diluted Prayuth’s power over the process….

Apparently this move has seen royal intervention that saw “the strength of the pro-Thaksin faction within the military diminished at the reshuffle.”

The palace’s continuing intervention means that a coup always remains an important instrument in its political toolbox.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Speculation on politics and succession

27 03 2013

Shawn Crispin at the Asia Times Online engages in some speculation regarding the future of the Yingluck Shinawatra government and succession. It is a long and rambling essay that packs almost every political event into its musings, with very few facts and plenty of guesses; yet it still worth a read.

He begins by noting that:

While both sides have appeared committed to avoid new rounds of confrontation in the autumn of King Bhumibol’s palace-proclaimed unifying reign and in light of Yingluck’s conciliatory tack, the criminally convicted Thaksin’s persistent push for a political amnesty is still viewed by many royalists as non-negotiable, including within the top ranks of the military led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

He adds that “Peua Thai efforts to table assorted amnesty bills in parliament and a parallel investigation by the quasi-independent National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) into alleged irregularities in Yingluck’s personal asset declaration made upon taking office that threatens to topple her from power.” Crispin notes that the NCCC’s investigation is seen by some “as a royalist counter to Peua Thai’s amnesty and constitutional amendment initiatives…”.

Crispin puts succession front and center, just as some claimed it was when the military ran its coup for the palace in 2006. He argues that politics is all about Thaksin and the monarchy, with royalists falsely declaring that any attempt to amend the constitution is “aimed to undermine the monarchy’s position and power ahead of a delicate and increasingly uncertain royal succession.”

While “Yingluck has worked to temper royalist fears that her Thaksin-influenced government represents an existential threat to the monarchy and associated institutions,” her government seems unable to use its massive electoral mandate against the unelected elite forces.

Crispin includes considerable speculation regarding rifts in the government and between the government and red shirts, but the real story revolves around the subterranean battle between royalists-palace and Thaksin-red shirts, with the latter lacking influence over the courts:

Significantly, the MoJ lacks power over top level courts, including appointments to the Administrative, Appeals, Constitutional, and Supreme Courts. All four courts are widely viewed as royalist power centers, due in part to a series of rulings that have gone against Thaksin since the 2006 military coup that toppled his elected government. Since, Bhumibol has at royal audiences repeatedly called on freshly appointed top judges to rule with independence and righteousness.

Of course, for the palace, “independence and righteousness” means ruling in their interests.

Crispin ruminates on the “changed power dynamics in the palace in the wake of Queen Sirikit’s recent illness” and the king’s extended hospitalization. He refers to some who see “Thaksin as resigned to bide his time outside of the country and appeal for a royal pardon after rather than before the royal succession.” He repeats the usual speculation that “Thaksin may receive more sympathetic royal treatment under heir apparent Crown Prince Vaijralongkorn, due in part to their known past personal ties.”

However, he then speculates on succession shenanigans: “While many analysts and diplomats believe that the royal succession plan from Bhumibol to Vajiralongkorn is immutable, others have interpreted differently recent royal household signals and events.”

Sirikit, who “suffered from an ischemic stroke last July,” is out of sight and may be impaired physically and mentally. The king has been chirpier in recent times, but regularly falls back into illness and incoherence. All of this – PPT’s speculation – leads:

Some diplomats and political analysts now wonder if the long-held succession plan could be altered if the highly influential 80-year-old Sirikit, known to be her son’s top backer for the throne, were to pass ahead of Bhumibol. In line with the royal tradition known as wang na, Vajiralongkorn is renovating his Bangkok-based Amporn palace, as well as for less clear reasons facilities maintained at Don Muang airport, in advance of the anticipated transition.

Crispin then cites:

… “[p]alace insiders who spoke to Asia Times Online suggest that Vajiralongkorn’s first daughter, Princess Bajraktiyabha, could instead play a bridging role in a potential compromise scenario between royal camps vying alternately between Vajiralongkorn and Princess Sirindhorn to assume the throne. That face-saving scenario would see Bajraktiyabha take on a regency role while Vajiralongkorn’s youngest son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, is groomed for the throne.

Frankly, these rumors have been around for several years and suggest royalist hope rather than anything more. Yet there is always the chance that succession can spin out of control, especially if the old duffers at the Privy Council get involved or the military decides to fiddle things. But as one of PPT’s unnamed sources speculated, it is expected that the king can go on for another 10 years, and the longer he does, the less royalist and middle-class opposition there may be to a shorter Vajiralongkorn reign.

Religion, monarchy and Christians

24 02 2013

Some time ago PPT noted a story in something called The Trumpet that raised interesting questions regarding the monarchy and a rather odd Christian sect in the U.S. associated with Herbert W. Armstrong. We remain quite baffled by the long relationship between members of royal family and various Christian sects and the meaning these have for the royal family. For example, the queen and Princess Chulabhorn were attracted by Mormons. As many evangelical Americans do, Chulabhorn has claimed a special bond with Israel, just as Armstrong did. As odd as all of this is, the links to Thai royalty and – in the article noted below – to the Buddhist hierarchy, seems important for what is now a squabbling bunch of sects.

The Trumpet is a free “news magazine” published by the Philadelphia Church of God. As the website puts it: “The Trumpet seeks to show how current events are fulfilling the biblically prophesied description of the prevailing state of affairs just before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.” The Trumpet claims that it has a critical position:

The Trumpet has a long history of accurate forecasting of major global events based on this predictive model, tracing back to the beginnings of the Plain Truth magazine in 1934 under the direction of Herbert W. Armstrong. To explore these forecasts, read our booklet, called “He Was Right!—Remembering five decades of accurate forecasting by Herbert W. Armstrong.”

Armstrong was a former advertising executive who built his church as a big business. Why should such an American business-cum-religion have any interest in Thailand and its monarchy? The answer lies in the claimed personal relationship between the king and queen of Thailand and the above-mentioned Armstrong. The earlier post was about that. Yet a new story at The Trumpet makes all this curiouser still as it uses a former supreme patriarch to sell the message of the remnants of Armstrong’s church.

The article goes back to the 18th supreme patriarch of the Buddhist religion in Thailand (1973–1988) who is claimed to have visited the so-called Ambassador College in Pasadena, California in 1982. The then supreme patriarch met with would be evangelists and proselytizers about to head off to Thailand. Of course, he met Armstrong:

It’s easy to take for granted the frequency of meetings Mr. Armstrong had with world leaders and forget the regularity of language translation during these diplomatic encounters. This meeting was no exception, with Sawasdi Yingyuad, college faculty from 1972 to 1974, translating the unique interchange with subject matter dominated by the activities and welfare of King Bhumibol and international relations. Both men were well acquainted with both the king and queen….

The patriarch presented his host with three of his own books along with a special bronze medal in honor of the participation of the college and foundation in the Thai government’s refugee enterprise.

He further noted that “Mr. Armstrong, as ambassador for peace without portfolio, has an unusually important role to play in letting the nations know that they must change if we are to have world peace.” The story remarks that:

In the presence of Thai leaders in Southern California, he opined that “the teachings that Mr. Armstrong spreads do good, and not harm, and are therefore in keeping with the principles which the supreme patriarch himself stands.”

“In what the Thai leadership regarded as a surprising statement, the supreme patriarch told them not only to listen to what Mr. Armstrong says, but to copy what we do as an example…”.

After Mr. Armstrong’s death in 1986, there was a battle over his business, and one who claims the Armstrong legacy is Gerald Flurry, with The Trumpet being his mouthpiece. Hence the article states:

… the king and queen of Thailand would be encouraged at the desire and actions of Trumpet founder Gerald Flurry to follow the recommendation of their emissary who sagely advised us to not only listen to what Mr. Armstrong said, but to follow his example.

But back to the patriarch:

One wonders at the moment the Thai supreme patriarch opened his signed copy of the gift from Mr. Armstrong and read, “It’s positively astounding! It has remained undiscovered by science! No religion has revealed it! Higher education has never taught it! Is it possible the whole world has been deceived—regarding the awesome purpose of human life—about the way to world peace and how it will come?

“And could it be true that the real gospel message Christ brought from heaven revealed this missing dimension—but was suppressed? This is the eye-opening story of the real gospel message of Jesus Christ—of how this missing dimension was withheld, and the whole world deceived.”

Weird indeed, and PPT wonders how it is that Thailand’s monarchy and religious leaders got drawn to this stuff and showed so little capacity for good judgement. Or perhaps, at least for the former, it has something to do with growing up in Switzerland and a fear of judgement.