The king and his antics II

11 09 2020

Thailand’s king and his antics in Europe have attracted plenty of unfavorable comment, The most recent is from The Statesman. While we think that most of PPT’s readers will know all of the facts and antics recounted, we consider the article by Francis Pike, with our added illustrations, worth reproducing in full:

The depraved rule of Thailand’s Caligula king
Protestors are risking it all to take on the monarchy

Fu Fu

The Roman emperor Caligula was renowned for his extravagance, capricious cruelty, sexual deviancy and temper bordering on insanity. Most famously, before he was assassinated, he planned to appoint his favourite horse as a consul. This is probably a legend. But King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who ascended the Thai throne in 2016, adopted Caligula’s playbook for real. In 2009 the then crown prince promoted his pet miniature poodle Foo Foo to the post of air chief marshal, in which capacity he served until his death in 2015, aged 17. Foo Foo’s cremation was preceded by four days of formal Buddhist mourning.

The poodle first came to the attention of the general public when a video was released showing him eating cake from the hand of Vajiralongkorn’s third wife, Princess Srirasmi, while she cavorted in a G-string at the dog’s lavish birthday party. At a 2009 gala dinner in honour of Vajiralongkorn, Foo Foo was kitted out head to paw in black-tie dress and, according to a WikiLeaks-revealed account by US ambassador, Ralph Boyce, ‘jumped onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses, including my own’.

When on parade the new king wears crisp, snowy-white, gold-braided, Ruritanian military uniforms or elaborate Thai regalia that make him look like a Buddhist temple in human form. In downtime his dress code can at best be described as kinky: trainers and low-hung jeans paired with the skimpiest of crop tops. His back and arms are festooned with possibly fake tattoos.

Vajiralongkorn is famously lecherous. Indeed, in his youth, Thai aristocrats would pack off their daughters to Europe to get them out of his clutches. Happily for Bangkok’s elite, the crown prince’s tastes, after his divorce from his first wife, an aristocratic relative of his mother, were consistently low-rent. His second wife was an aspiring actress, albeit of the soft-porn variety.

Prince, and kids in earlier times

The marriage did not last. After Vajiralongkorn put posters all over the palace accusing her of adultery, she fled to London and later to the US with her children — apart from a daughter who was kidnapped and brought back to Bangkok. The daughter was elevated to the rank of princess, but her mother and brothers had their diplomatic passports and royal titles revoked by the crown prince. The Thai public was left horrified by his treatment of his family.

Another marriage followed in 2001, to the aforementioned Srirasmi, though it was not publicly announced until 2005 when the crown prince, by then in his early fifties, declared it was time to settle down. How-ever, in 2014 he stripped his wife of her royal titles because of her relatives’ corruption. Srirasmi’s parents were jailed for two and a half years each for lèse-majesté.


Five years later, on 1 May last year, and just three days before his official coronation, Vajiralongkorn married for the fourth time, to Suthida Tidjai, a former Thai Airways hostess, giving her the title of Queen Consort. The Thai people were dumbfounded when just two months later, the new king named his mistress, Major General Sineenat Wongvajira-pakdi, as his Royal Noble Consort; it was the first time this form of address had been used for more than 100 years. The new relationship lasted three months. On 21 October, Sineenat was stripped of all her titles and disappeared from public view, supposedly for being disrespectful to the queen.

The king’s extravagance is no less remarkable than his private life. A monarchy that was impoverished in the postwar period had, by some estimates, increased its wealth to between $40 billion and $60 billion by last year. Most of the wealth resides in land; ownership of some four square miles of central Bangkok makes the Thai monarchy the world’s wealthiest by a large margin. Overseas holdings include a major stake in the Kempinski hotel group.* Indeed, for years Vajiralongkorn has spent months on end at the Munich Kempinski with his harem and servants. In addition, he owns a mansion on Lake Starnberg to the southwest of Munich. In spite of his huge allowances as crown prince, affording him ownership of two Boeing 737s, it is thought that he had to resort to begging funds from the then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to cover his gambling debts.

Why do King Vajiralongkorn’s private shenanigans matter? Royal families throughout Europe have long weathered sexual and financial scandals. Juan Carlos may have had to step down as king and go into exile, but the Spanish monarchy has survived. So too has the Belgian monarchy after the former King Albert II admitted to a love child. There is no suggestion that Prince Andrew, cherubic by comparison with King Vajiralongkorn, will bring down the British royals because of the Epstein imbroglio. But the key difference is that, unlike Thailand, all those are constitutional monarchies.

Bhumibol and Ananda

In Thailand the monarchy is integral to the country’s real power structures. This was a 70-year legacy of Vajiralongkorn’s father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Bhumibol’s reign started under a cloud following the killing of his 20-year-old predecessor, King Ananda Mahidol, by a single shot to the head with a Colt .45 pistol. After a questionable trial two servants were executed for the murder, though it is widely suspected that the king was accidently shot by Bhumibol, his brother. For the first decade of his rule King Bhumibol was entirely powerless and lived under the rule of the quasi-dictator Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram, who, during the second world war, had allied Thailand with the Axis powers.

Bhumibol, Sirikit, Prem

But gradually, as Thailand inched towards a democracy, Bhumibol won the adoration of the Thai people thanks to his moderating influence and good works, such as paying for medical facilities for the poor. His political power increased. In 1952 he bravely refused to preside over ceremonies for Phibunsongkhram’s new militaristic constitution.** However, Bhumibol’s finest moment came in 1981 when he faced down the ‘April Fools’ Day’ coup d’état by fleeing Bangkok and raising the Thai royal standard at the military base at Khorat, where General Prem emerged as the new military strongman. There followed what is now known as the ‘Network Monarchy’ era, a coalition of military interests and those of the financial and industrial elite based in Bangkok. As a former American deputy-president at Thailand’s Bank of Asia noted: ‘Thai politics has been about dividing up the pie among the elite.’ At the centre of the web stood the Thai monarchy. Elected democratic institutions remained largely an adornment to this oligarchic structure.

In 2001 a business chancer and mobile phone billionaire, Thaksin Shinawatra, later the owner of Manchester City FC, swept to power with his Thai Rak Thai party promising a populist agenda including reform of health and education. Much to the chagrin of the ‘Network Monarchy’, Thaksin won a sweeping electoral victory again in 2005. Bhumibol, who loathed Thaksin, gave tacit support to the coup that first removed him and then sent him into exile two years later. Until his death in 2016, Bhumibol thwarted, either by military or judicial coup, the democratic will of the Thai people, who since 2001 have consistently voted into power Thaksin-backed parties and their proxy leaders. Bhumibol’s historic reputation, albeit tarnished by his thwarting of the democratic will, became an important pillar of resistance to Thaksin’s outsiders. After Bhumibol’s death in 2016, the critical power of the monarchy was left in the hands of his dissolute playboy son.

Will King Vajiralongkorn redeem his dire youthful reputation and do a ‘Prince Hal’, moving to the path of royal righteousness? The signs so far are not good. Just over a week ago, the Royal Noble Consort Sineenat suddenly re-emerged with no information other than an inventive Royal Gazette announcement that ‘It will be regarded that she was never stripped of the royal consort title, military ranks and royal decorations’.

More important than this saga of extra-judicial fiat, the king intervened in the drafting of a new constitution by the military junta in 2017 to grant himself new powers over the appointment of regents. In addition, the new constitution asserted the king’s rights to ‘manage’ during any constitutional crisis. Given that Thailand has had 17 military coups since 1932, this is not trivial. Two crack regiments have also been put under his direct control. As the political exile and professor at Kyoto University Pavin Chachavalpongpun has noted, the king ‘is basically running the country now, though he’s not doing that like his father did through moral authority. He’s using fear to solidify his position and to take command.’

It is therefore interesting that in the past month, demonstrations of up to 10,000 people have called for the powers of the king to be curtailed. Protestors have defied Thailand’s draconian lèse-majesté laws — which can incur up to 15 years’ imprisonment — to chant ‘Down with feudalism’. It remains to be seen whether the protests are a straw in the wind of future political instability. The new king’s attempt to transition from a monarch with influence within the ‘Network Monarchy’ to a monarch who rules is fraught with danger. But at least Vajiralongkorn is unlikely to come to Caligula’s sticky end; the king has a ready-made home for an exile in his beloved Bavaria.

*For discussions that reflect changes in ownership, see here and here.

**The refusal to attend was a fit of pique and self-interest.

When the military is on top XXVII

2 09 2018

Khaosod’s Pravit Rojanaphruk has an op-ed and a story that deserve attention.

In the stroy, Pravit points out that the “head of a private anti-corruption organization has been silent on its decision to award full marks to junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha in its annual assessment.” He refers to a press conference where Chairman Pramon Sutivong celebrated the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand’s 7th anniversary by declaring that his “organisation has helped save 25.1 billion baht of state funds that could have been lost to corruption over the past seven years.”

As it turns out, they don’t mean over seven years but since 2015, when ACT partnered with the military junta.

Pramon claimed lots of “outcomes” that can’t be verified, but correctly touted ACT’s “involvement in the development of their 2017 constitution which the organisation implemented as an ‘anti-corruption constitution’.”

At the media circus, Pramon stated: “I give Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the prime minister, full marks. But I admit that there are still a number of people around him that have been questioned by the public…”. He means Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, where ACT has made a comments, but didn’t get into nepotism and military procurement.

When Pramon was asked to “explain how its score was calculated to award the highest possible ranking to a regime that has been marred by corruption scandals, …[he] did not respond to multiple inquiries.”

One activist pointed out that Pramon and ACT gave The Dictator “full marks” when international rankings had Thailand wobbling and had a lower ranking now than in 2015.

A reporter’s questions were said to have included one on whether Pramon considered “staging a coup and monopolizing state funding through the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly as a form of corruption or not.” No response.

Pravit points out that a source at ACT “defended the announcement by saying Pramon, who was appointed by the junta leader to his National Reform Council following the coup, only gave full marks to Prayuth for his ‘sincerity’ to tackle corruption.” That ACT employee flattened out, saying: “He [Pramon] must have heard something that made him feels that His Excellency [The Dictator] Prayuth was sincere…. He may have had some experience from meeting [Prayuth].”

Of course, nothing much can be expected of ACT. It was a royalist response to the election of Yingluck Shinawatra and was populated by royalist “advisers” including Anand Punyarachun and Vasit Dejkunjorn, both activists in opposing elected governments. (By the way, ACT’s website still has Vasit listed as Chairman despite his death in June.)

Pravit’s op-ed is on China in Thailand. Chinese and Chinese money are everywhere, he says. Tourists, property buyers, investors are seen in everything from high durian prices to military authoritarianism.

It is the latter that Pravit concentrates on, citing academics who “publicly warn how the rise of China bodes ill for human rights and democracy in Thailand and Southeast Asia.” PPT commented on this seminar previously. One thing we said was that the emphasis on China, blaming it for the resilience of the military junta seemed a little overdone for us.

But Pravit is not so sure. He notes that China is unlikely to promote democracy, but that hardly needs saying. He does note that Japan and South Korea have “failed to put any pressure on the [2014] Thai coup-makers as well. To them, it’s business as usual.” As it is for China.

Pravit seems to be pointing to the West that was, for a time, critical of the 2014 coup. But, then, some in that  same West were pretty celebratory of the 2006 coup – think of US Ambassador Ralph Boyce and his commentary in Wikileaks.

But Pravit says that “the difference is that China has become much more influential in Thailand compared to Japan or South Korea.” Really? We have previously pointed out that it doesn’t take much work to look up some data to find out which country is the biggest investor in Thailand. But here’s a problem. Pravit cites a deeply flawed book, riddled with errors, that makes more than a few unfounded claims.

We might agree that “[d]emocracy, human rights, press freedom and free speech are at risk if we ape the Chinese model of politics and administration…”. But think, just for a few seconds about this statement. Thailand’s democracy, human rights, press freedom and free speech are not at risk from Chinese supporters but from Thailand’s military. Under the junta, they have been mangled.

Thailand’s generals don’t need Chinese tutors on how to undermine democracy, human rights, press freedom and free speech. They have done it for decades. It comes naturally, whether “relying” on the support of the US as many military leaders did or with China’s support.

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.

Dog styling

24 12 2015

PPT was looking through a few social media sites and was staggered to find a bunch of photos about another royal dog.

Not Fu Fu and not Thong Daeng, but Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana‘s mini-mutt.

Siri and the doggiesWe went to her Facebook page, where the vainglorious princess has lots of photos of herself posted, many of them of her shopping at really expensive places and others with dogs and horses. Yet we couldn’t find many of the photos that we re-post below. The first photo is from Facebook and introduces the little princesses.

There are several surprising things about the photos that follow. One is that the young and allegedly polymath princess seems to have few qualms about displaying wealth. In the first photo below, she positions her dog next to bags of shopping from expensive designer labels.Hermes dog

In a second photo, the dog seems to be enjoying a 500 Euro note as a plaything or “gift.” That’s about 19,700 baht. One of the lucky workers in Thailand who gets the 300 baht a day minimum wage, if they worked every day of a 30-day month, would get 9,000 baht. In other words, the royal pup’s money is more than double a month’s work for an average worker.

Rich dog

Not enough flaunting? How about if the pooch gets to yap and jump about in the First Class Cabin of a Thai Airways intercontinental flight? Here you go:

1st class

A lack of consideration of others is a royal trait – think of all the road closures as they swan around Bangkok and the provinces – and one element of this that caught attention was the pampering of the late Air Chief Marshal Fu Fu, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn’s pooch. Then Ambassador Ralph Boyce describes dinner with the pet in November 2007, when the ambassador “paid a farewell call” on prince:

Foo Foo was present at the event, dressed in formal evening attire complete with paw mitts, and at one point during the band’s second number, he jumped up on to the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses, including my own…. The Air Chief Marshal’s antics drew the full attention of the 600-plus audience members….

It seems normal for royal dogs to be at the table, napkin and silverware at the ready:

dog's dinner

And when it comes to Fu Fu, who can ever forget the video of the birthday party and the recently removed Princess Srirasmi’s nakedness. All this royal puppy ridiculousness and extravagance seems to have had no impact on the princess who has had lavish parties for the pooch, with officials doing the crawling this time:

Another doggie birthday

As would be expected, the dog has to have friends along for the celebration, each of the live ones handled by an official:

Birthday 2

And after a birthday celebration, of course the dog can have a marriage ceremony:

Doggie marriage

In the end, you see that the behavior of the prince, seen by outsiders as offensive and weird, is actually a model for his daughter. There seems an incapacity for learning and a detachment from (political) reality. This is Thailand’s monarchy.

Cheering the dictatorship

28 09 2015

Shawn Crispin has long been based in Bangkok as a journalist. Most of his writing in recent years has been for the Asia Times Online. Much of it has been conspiratorial revelations based on anonymous sources.

In a recent article at The Diplomat, he turns his hand to Thai-U.S. relations. His basic point is the relationship needs some fixing as they have been strained by recent coups and the persistence of the military dictatorship. He says the new ambassador Glyn Davies, who has just arrived in Bangkok has a chance to be the fixer. The ambassador’s position has been vacant for almost a year.

From that basic point, Crispin proceeds to reproduce a milder version of the vitriol that infects rightist and royalist social media when spitting at the U.S. for not sticking by the warped royalist vision of Thailand, something the U.S. has done since the 1950s.

Crispin sates that “[o]utgoing U.S. ambassador Kristie Kenney staked out a hard line against the coup, a position the State Department has maintained on democratic principle to the detriment of the wider strategic relationship.”

That might seem reasonable when Thailand is the world’s only country currently ruled by a military junta. But this is not Crispin’s view. He alleges that “Kenney’s stance has so far outweighed the views of Thailand specialists in Washington who have called for a more nuanced approach to guard the United States’ considerable economic and strategic interests in the country.”

Frankly, we do not know which “Thailand specialists” Crispin speaks with. As usual, he does not name any. In fact, some of the old guard in Washington are confused by State’s position. These conservatives have long had palace connections and hobnobbed with the elite. Others have maintained close relations with the military from the days when the U.S. rented the Thai military. Many academic specialists and the younger, more broadly connected State officials know more about contemporary Thailand than the old duffers and are thus more critical of military and royalist fascism.

Crispin refers to the U.S. having had “a series of less distinguished and sometimes disinterested envoys” in Thailand. He adds that “[m]any officials and analysts in Bangkok argue that former U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Ralph ‘Skip’ Boyce, a fluent Thai speaker with top connections across the political spectrum, was the last top American diplomat to see clearly through the country’s complex, personality-driven politics.”

He’s factually wrong and ideologically-driven in these claims. Again, no one is named. Kenney is a career diplomat who has been Ambassador in Ecuador, the Philippines and Thailand. She is currently a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. PPT didn’t always like what she did, but she was anything but disinterested and could not be considered “less distinguished” than Boyce, who only ever held one ambassadorship.

Boyce was replaced as Ambassador to Thailand by Eric John, whose CV looks very similar to that of Boyce.

What marked John and Kenney as different from Boyce was that they did not lodge themselves exclusively on the rabid yellow side of politics. Wikileaks cables clearly show Boyce’s remarkable royalist bias and John’s questioning of the old elite, refusing to accept the usual positions. Like John, Kenney had far wider contacts than Boyce. It was this difference that marked them for attack by the rabid yellow right.

What is useful in Crispin’s report is the revelation of the efforts by the royalist elite to re-capture the U.S. Ambassador, a la Boyce:

Prior to his arrival in Bangkok, Davies received personal calls from Privy Councilors, royal advisors to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, welcoming his appointment, according to a source familiar with the communications. (In one of his first moves as ambassador, Davies on Friday visited the Grand Palace to pay respects and wish good health to the king.)

Obviously, the palace meddlers are keen to re-establish the U.S. relationship as theirs. Crispin goes on:

That royal treatment contrasts with Kenney’s initial reception in 2010, where she was scolded by Privy Council President and long-time U.S. ally Prem Tinsulonanda for the leak of confidential U.S. cables, including one that detailed a meeting he and other royal advisors held with Boyce to discuss sensitivities around the royal succession. It’s unclear if that meeting, which Kenney later described to confidantes as among the toughest of her career, colored her diplomacy in favor of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her family clan’s affiliated ‘Red Shirt’ pressure group.

Notice Crispin’s accusation of bias against Kenney but his silence on the captured Boyce. The notion that Kenney was biased in favor of red shirts is little more than a repetition of yellow-shirt social media vitriol. The bias of Boyce is in the record and in his own words.

Crispin then makes the case for military rule: “While the United States has publicly pushed for a rapid restoration of democracy, it has no doubt by now dawned on American policymakers that [The Dictator] Prayut intends to stay in power until the [royal] succession is secure.”

BreadThe point seems to be that the U.S. should accept this succession repression and royalist hegemony until the king dies. This sounds like Crispin as spokesman for the military and royalist elite. His bread seems buttered.

The problem with such advocacy is that the junta may decide to stay on for years after that, to manage the succession and long period of mourning. Still, that’s what some of these advocates seem to prefer.

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: Dopey diplomat

14 08 2014

Update: Below we add a relevant post from Ji Ungpakorn.

A “senior Western diplomat” is quoted in the Bangkok Post, doing “his” best impression of the yellow-shirted, coup-promoting, pro-military U.S. Ambassador Ralph “Skip” Boyce, who enthusiastically supported the military coup in 2006.

This Boyce-like “pragmatist” believes that “[a]lthough the composition of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) ‘does not look as good as we had hoped’ because of its heavy military membership, the medium and long term outlook is more important.”

Really? This diplomat, based in Bangkok, watching events of recent times, actually thought that the military wasn’t going to dominate the puppet assembly? Could this senior diplomat be so uninformed and so politically silly? Living in a bubble might take on a new meaning.

This “senior Western diplomat” said “we should look at ways to engage with the new Thai government in every way we can…”. Why would that be? Western diplomats just want to coy up with military dictatorships and military fascism? Well, yes, some of them do seem to like that.

The “senior Western diplomat” went on to observe that “[o]nce the composition of the NRC is revealed it would provide some indication as to whether Thailand can achieve its roadmap towards democracy.”

Really? This diplomat, based in Bangkok, watching events of recent times, actually thinks the military is about establishing something other than the anti-democratic “Thai-style democracy”? Too many nights out with the royalist elite?

It seems so, for this “senior Western diplomat” states:

Thailand is in the process of finding its way towards a broad democracy but also one that works. Both these bodies will try to shape a new system. The months of political turmoil and protests leading up to the coup are the latest attempt by Thailand to find a democratic system that works [for Thailand]. It may take Thailand another 10 to 20 years before it achieves its objectives….

There must be a reason why a “senior Western diplomat” would come up with such military and anti-democrat nonsense. Just an uniformed royalist? Perhaps it has to do with a hope for a nice post-retirement sinecure? Or maybe “he” is just about being a class-conscious royalist twit. Or perhaps “he” just believed the military dictatorship’s propaganda.


“Reform” turned on its head, 1984 style

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Just as the dictatorship in George Orwell’s book “1984” claimed that “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength”, the Thai junta is claiming that a military dictatorship which destroyed democracy is “kicking off a process of political reform”.

Let us be clear about this. General Prayut Chan-ocha, the head of the junta, ordered the cold-blooded murder of 90 unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok in 2010. He and his military mates have taken part in two coup d’états against elected governments and they have threatened, imprisoned and tortured political prisoners. The military’s allies in the Democrat Party have staged violent street protests against the electoral process with total impunity, while the army sat back and watched with satisfaction. This reactionary shower have repeatedly stated that Thai citizens are “too uneducated” to have the right to vote. They hate all public spending which benefits the poor. These are people who support the use of the lèse-majesté law to jail activists for decades for merely criticising the status quo. Those who protest against the dictatorship are summonsed to “have their attitudes changed” in military camps.

The anti-democrats hated Taksin and his political machine because he won the hearts and mind of millions of ordinary people through real pro-poor policies. These reactionaries could never win mass support in society, so they resort to the use of force.

Taksin’s parties were not leading the struggle for democratisation, but that is not the point. The point is that most citizens used their brains to vote for these parties for very good reasons. This is what the anti-democrats hate about democracy.

If Prayut and his loathsome cronies are trying to reform the Thai political system to make it more democratic, the Earth must be flat, there must be fairies at the bottom of our gardens and aliens must be able to control our thoughts through the TV!!

Yet there is no shortage of lick-spittle, fawning, devious, reactionaries lining up to take part in the military’s anti-reforms. Among them are right-wing university academics, judges, the Electoral Commission, business people and civilian and military officials. They tell bare-faced lies that this will “reform” Thailand and put us on the road to freedom and peace.

There is also no shortage of gutter journalists at the Bangkok Post and the Nation newspapers who report this circus as though it was a real reform process.

Finally there are the pathetic NGO activists and the worst sections of the labour movement who are falling over themselves to get on the anti-reform train with suggestions for the junta. They are either cheap opportunists or political idiots. Maybe they are both.

But the creation of a “Burmese-style Guided Democracy”, where the military and their allies control power whatever the election results, will be unstable in Thailand. People have a long tradition of fighting for democracy and they will not tolerate for long the turning of the clock back to the old dictatorship days.

When the fight for democracy resumes in strength, we shall have to sweep the military and all their fawning toadies from power and deny them any role in building a future democratic system.

Updated: Wikileaks and a TRT accusation of lese majeste

3 03 2013

While it has been the Democrat Party that has most used the heinous lese majeste charge for political purposes in recent years, it should not be forgotten that in the struggle between Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party and the opposition, lese majeste was occasionally used. PPT was reminded of this when looking at some more Wikileaks cables and we came across one from U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce commenting on claims of lese majeste lodged against the Democrat Party’s Kalaya Sophonpanich.

The ambassador’s comments on this case are interesting and at times revealing. He begins with the statement that:Wikileaks

respected opposition Member of Parliament (MP), Khunying Kallaya Sophonpanich, has been summoned for questioning by Thai police on charges of lese majeste. Four others were questioned, including Democrat Party parliamentary candidate Thanom Onkhetpol, who lost in the February 6 general election, and three party workers. The charges are based on a complaint filed by the government Thai Rak Thai (TRT) Party candidate who opposed Thanom and who reported to police in mid-January that Democrat Party (DP) campaign stickers reportedly used by Thanom illegally quoted Thailand’s revered King and Queen.

Detailing the alleged offenses, Boyce states they are:

based on campaign stickers (reportedly similar in size to a US style bumper sticker) printed and paid for by the local office of the DP in Bangkok’s Klong Toey constituency. Three quotes are used in the stickers, according to newspaper accounts. The first is an excerpt from a speech given by Queen Sirikit, “Poverty is no disgrace, while evil and fraud are disgusting and disgraceful.” The other two excerpts are from speeches given by King Bhumibol. “The richer people are, the more they cheat,” and “Anyone who cheats (or is corrupt), even just a little bit, may that person be cursed.” The complaint by MP Sita apparently alleges that the DP did not receive permission to print the quotes and that the DP is using the revered words of the monarchy for political gain. Khunying Kalaya is accused of ordering the printing and distribution of the stickers in the role of senior politician assisting the campaign of Thanom.

It is quite revealing that Boyce then states: “It’s unclear to most legal experts how this can be construed as defaming the monarch as the quotes are taken from public speeches and there is no prohibition on quoting the King or Queen in public.” Clearly, such a statement could not be made today following the remarkable political use of lese majeste and the manner in which the courts have interpreted cases with statements about the monarchy being above politics.

No charges had been laid when this cable was authored, and PPT is unaware of any case going forward, although readers may know more than us.

Boyce then notes that Kalaya “had the title of ‘Khunying’ bestowed on her over 10 years ago in part in recognition of her philanthropic works through Royally-sponsored projects for children’s’ books and encyclopedias…” and comments:

Use of this arcane but very important tenet of Thai criminal law by a government parliamentary candidate for political retribution is disturbing. This tactic, which likely had to be approved at the highest levels of TRT leadership to proceed this far, seems unnecessary and vindictive…. We are watching closely as someone clearly dedicated to Thailand’s revered monarch and to public service is drawn into a legal spectacle. Privately, many Thais have expressed to us their hope that Khunying Kalaya’s palace connections will find a way to have the charges dropped.

As far as we are aware, the case was dropped. But all of the (false) claims that the palace is never involved in these charges are but a puff of smoke when “palace connections” are invoked, and it is interesting too that Boyce takes this charge seriously and is “watching closely.” It is also telling that he uses the term “arcane” to describe a law that has come to be the most widely known in Thailand.

Update: A reader points out that the statement: “The richer people are, the more they cheat,” attributed to the king, should be linked to this post.

Updated: Wikileaks, Pansak and Surin

30 12 2012

WikileaksAs mentioned in an earlier post, PPT has finally found the time to get back to Wikileaks cables and is looking through the 6,000 or so cables to see what we missed in our past viewings. We are doing this in a systematic way, trying to ensure that we don’t double-up and re-post something we’d commented on previously.  We are now working our way through the 2006 cables.

Two cables get our attention in this post. The first is from a meeting with Thaksin Shinawatra’s close adviser Pansak Vinyaratn and the second from a talk with the Democrat Party’s Surin Pitsuwan. Both cables revolve around politics and monarchy.Boyce

PPT has previously posted on comments made by Pansak. In an earlier cable, this one dated 9 March 2006, Pansak meets with Ambassador Ralph Boyce and then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia Eric John (who later became ambassador to Thailand). PPT thought we had covered this one previously, so if we are doubling up, we apologize.

At a time when People’s Alliance for Democracy rallies were expanding, Pansak is said to have “brimmed with fatigued confidence.” He even felt a “military coup improbable.” According to Pansak, denouncing “the ‘arrogance’ of the political opposition”,

the current political crisis is the “last hurrah of the old wealthy class,” according to Pansak. This cabal of political and economic elite who have dominated modern Thai society are “absolutely, deeply resentful” of Thaksin, who Pansak suggests is a new type of businessman and politician. Pansak said he told Thaksin, “all of these people who have lost their role in society, who have lost their shirts because of arrogance, want to come back (and defeat Thaksin.)” This “unholy alliance” of big business, the Democrat Party and “some people close to the palace” remain feckless. They have no specific programs or platforms and lack even the leadership to defeat Thaksin….


Thaksin, Pansak claimed, “has strengthened democracy…”. By this he seems to mean that “Thaksin’s power base ‘is the people’,” with Thai Rak Thai Party “took only five years to capture the hearts and minds of the people.”Again, Pansak pans the “immature” established “elite who have dominated the country for so long have focused too much on a form of representative democracy that meets their needs and minimizes the voices of the masses.”

Boyce decides that Pansak claims are a “humorous efforts to paint Thaksin as a man of the people…”. In all of the cables we have seen, apart from being an ardent admirer of everyone in the palace, Boyce shows a congruence with the elite in usually being unable to understand Thaksin’s popular appeal.

At the same time Pansak reveals the Achilles heel of the aggressive Thaksin and an arrogant TRT: “In the past, journalists were thrown in jail…. Now, we sue them, because we believe in the custom of democracy.”

Of course, the monarchy wasn’t missing from the discussion. Pansak refers to “the King’s personal private secretary Arsa Sarasin had called Democrat Party Chief Abhisit Vejjahiva [sic.] to ask him if he would like to meet Thaksin at the palace to discuss the current crisis. Abhisit refused, saying that if the palace would like him to meet with the PM, they would have to submit a list of subjects for discussion first.” This invitation is confirmed by the ambassador and by Abhisit to the media.

Pansak made “a cryptic sentence or two that seemed to suggest a preference for a respected but politically uninvolved monarch.” He is quoted as saying:

“To revere the King in the correct manner is to allow him to be in the palace with happiness and his eunuchs only come out of the palace to go to the supermarket. So always fund beautiful roads for eunuchs to go back to the palace…the situation now is, build beautiful roads for eunuchs to go back to the palace.”

The second cable is also dated 9 March and begins with a comment on the monarchy, with the Democrat Party Deputy Leader and former Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan is headlined as having “voiced his hope that the Palace would convince Prime Minister Thaksin to step down.” As the Kingcable has it:

When DAS John asked where he thought the situation was going, Surin said that he hoped that someone such as Privy Council Chairman General Prem Tinsulanonda would be able to weigh in with the Palace’s authority to persuade Thaksin to go for the sake of the country’s stability. He opined that otherwise Thaksin will not likely go without being pushed. If Article 7 comes into play, Surin said, the King could appoint a new Prime Minister and “fair and transparent” elections be scheduled…. The Ambassador asked if the DP had lines through to the Palace towards this eventuality. Surin said he thought not, but that the DP was “hopeful” that the Palace would decide “enough is enough” and tell Thaksin to go.

Surin’s next claim was that Thaksin and TRT were engaged in vote-buying for the 2006 election, which his party was boycotting.

Nothing much ever seems to change in the (un)Democrat(ic) Party. In a kind of bizarre failure to recognize that Thaksin and TRT had been weakened by the Shin Corp sale, Surin seems blinded to the changes that had taken place quite rapidly following this deal. He lists Thaksin’s “consistent evasion of the law and misuse of authority” and drones about how Thaksin had

… manipulated all of the country’s supervisory mechanisms — the Security and Exchange Commission, the Constitutional Court, the Election Commission, the Tax Department, etc…. Even the nominally independent courts are suborned by Thaksin through bribery. In addition, Thaksin controlled the electronic media and much of the print media, Surin complained.

He seems unable or unwilling to see anything other than a dominant Thaksin:Surin

DAS John asked how he would address critics who say that the DP is a “spoilsport” that, cognizant that the Prime Minister would win in a new election, will try to bring him down by other means. Surin responded that the political and governmental system itself has gone bad under Thaksin — constitutional controls have been undermined by the Prime Minister and electoral watchdog bodies compromised.

A politically despondent Surin seems to think that Thaksin is too popular for event the king to intervene: the king “would be reluctant to oust a populist leader elected by a large majority of the populace and still apparently enjoying great popularity outside of Bangkok and the DP’s traditional stronghold in Thailand’s south.” The Democrat Party seemed out of ideas and hoped for royal political rescue.

Update: Interestingly, our post appeared just as The Nation published a story on the end of Surin’s 5-year term as ASEAN Secretary-General. While supplicant academics praise him, PPT wonders why, after 45 years, ASEAN attracts so much attention but achieves so little.

Wikileaks: Thaksin’s Chamlong and palace problems

23 12 2012

PPT finally has time to get back to Wikileaks cables and is trying to look through the 6,000 or so cables and see what we missed in our past searches of them. We are doing this in a systematic way, trying to ensure that we don’t double-up and re-post something we’d commented on previously.  At present, we have worked through 2005 and are now slowly getting through

In a cable dated 21 February 2006, Ambassador Ralph Boyce discusses Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s political problems, including mounting opposition from the palace. He concludes that “[t]hings are getting worse for the Prime Minister.” Boyce states that Thaksin’s options are few as “the opposition,” while “not enormous, just won’t quit.”

Boyce sees the “anti-Thaksin coalition” as boosted by “Chamlong Srimuang, a retired general and former governor of Bangkok, was a prominentpolitical figure in the 1980’s and 1990’s” and a “prominent leader of the 1992 democracy movement” joining. He says Chamlong has “star power” and adds that his “criticism of Thaksin is especially noteworthy as he was the PM’s first political mentor…”.  Chamlong’s “Dharma Army” was set to participate in an upcoming anti-Thaksin rally. Boyce says the opposition “smells blood.”

Part of the reason for this change and polls showing a decline in Thaksin’s popularity is attributed, Boyce says, to “the modest but notable shift in the media…. Papers that formerly ignored political stories or toed the government line are cautiously increasing their coverage of criticism, particularly of the Shin Corp deal.”

Boyce then refers to “a surprisingly candid comment from a Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defense…. Admiral Banawit … noted that the [anti-Thaksin] demonstration on Sunday would be big and that ‘the government would fall’ because ‘Chamlong is very effective.’ He seemed pretty cheerful about it.” PPT assumes this is Admiral Bannawit Kengrian for Boyce comments: “Banawit is an acolyte of Privy Council Chairman Prem Tinsulanonda, which makes his enthusiasm for Thaksin’s downfall doubly interesting.” This move to palace and Prem opposition is what Boyce sees as “interesting.”

Boyce also mentions a meeting with Thaksin adviser Pansak Vinyaratn where the ambassador asks “what would happen if the situation got worse and something provoked an intervention by the Palace.” Pansak is reported to have said “TRT would not allow this to happen, tacitly acknowledging that such an intervention would be inimical to Thaksin’s interests.”

While Boyce says he can’t see any “sign as yet that the King or his closest advisors want to get drawn into this kind of political role,” the simple fact that he asks Pansak and the link to Bannawit and Prem says that the palace is deeply involved in political scheming and suggests a link to the anti-Thaksin opposition.

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