Talk of a republic

20 12 2020

We thought readers might be interested in a recent Financial Times story on rising republicanism in Spain.

The story – behind a paywall – begins:

A day after Juan Carlos I announced his abdication as King of Spain in June 2014, Alberto Garzón, now a minister in the country’s government, published a book whose title was its goal: The Third Republic. A follow-up was called Why I am a Communist.

Today, the consumer affairs minister for Spain says that attempts by the former monarch to settle affairs with the tax authorities are proof of corruption. He argues that a republic is essential for democracy and transparency, and warns that former military officers are plotting against the elected government.

“During Juan Carlos’s reign a series of acts of corruption took place, which today are proven and recognised as such,” Mr Garzón said. “We have to be very clear, this happened because the institutions did not work as a firewall, because the monarchy in our country is not held accountable.”

Mr Garzón is perhaps the most vocal republican to have occupied a post in Spain’s government since the civil war over 80 years ago. One of the first communist ministers since that era — the other is also in government — he calls King Felipe VI, Juan Carlos’s son, “Citizen Borbón”, a reference to the family name of Spain’s reigning House of Bourbon.

For Thais and Thailand watchers, there are five related things to notice here: (1) the call for a republic does not give rise to dozens of lese majeste charges; (2) a government minister is making the call; (3) that minister is a Communist – in other words, communism is not dead – with Garzón being a member of the Communist Party of Spain and United Left (Izquierda Unida, IU) since 2003; (4) in Spain, communists participate in electoral politics marking their communism out from, say Chinese communism, which is statist and repressive; and (5) Garzón  is in a minority, but his voice is still heard.

That said, aged, diehard, Falangists and other far rightists and conservatives did earlier call for “Garzón’s dismissal for his ‘disloyalty’ to the monarchy.”

But Juan Carlos’s flight to exile in Abu Dhabi and his efforts to settle a tax bill on alleged “kickbacks over a €7bn high-speed train project in Saudi Arabia awarded to a Spanish consortium in 2011” and an investigation of his 2012 “gift” of €65 million to a lover (consort?) from “funds that originated in a present of $100m from the late king Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2008” seem to have silenced all but the maddest of monarchists.

Imagine the scandals and the amounts of filched taxpayer funds that would be identified if Thailand’s monarchy and its hidden secrets and the state’s abetting of them were ever to be investigated.

It is reported that “Javier Sánchez-Junco, Juan Carlos’s lawyer, revealed last week that the ex-king had paid €678,393.72 to clear his tax debt. The public prosecutor’s office has yet to close the file, however, warning that it was evaluating the ‘spontaneity, veracity and completeness’ of the king’s tax declaration ‘in the context of a broader investigation’.”

Can Thais imagine the state investigating Vajiralongkorn’s tax affairs? Does he have tax affairs? We recall that for decades, the taxpayer funds poured into the monarchy that semi-secretly appeared in budget papers were never subject to scrutiny in parliament.

Garzón  explains why republicanism matters: “For me, republicanism means modernisation … a democratic, accountable country where all of us, all of Spain’s nationalities, fit in.”

The far right is not a spent force in Spain:

the monarchy has become a potent symbol to elements of the Spanish right, outraged at ministers such as Mr Garzón and at the minority coalition’s dependence on votes from separatist Basque and Catalan parties. Dozens of retired military officers have written to Felipe VI attacking the “social-communist government”. Some also joined a WhatsApp group that referred to coups and to “shooting 26m bastards”.

Thailand’s far right and mad monarchists make similar claims but from a stronger political and institutional position. The rightist military has long demonstrated that it is prepared to “shoot … bastards,” meaning those it sees as democratic, republican, anti-monarchist or different in other ways.

Garzón makes a point resonant of Thailand:  “We [should not] underestimate the danger represented by the penetration of these reactionary elements of institutions as important as the armed forces…”. In Thailand, a much longer list of institutions needs to be added. This is what makes reform so difficult in Thailand.





Republic vs. the regime

9 12 2020

Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has declared: “Thailand is not and won’t be a republic. That’s impossible…”.

The royalist general, responsible for managing the military-monarchy regime, crowed that his “government will do everything in its power to thwart any such system of government in Thailand.”

He was responding to the Free Youth group’s call for discussions about a republic.

As Free Youth has said that “a republic is a state in which the masses are the boss,” Boss Prayuth and Boss Vajiralongkorn are clearly targeted with a radical call for democracy.

Referring to Thomas Paine and calling for equality, Free Youth emphasised “the decentralisation of power, with rulers coming from free and fair elections — not determined by bloodlines” or rigged elections.

The group emphasized that such a radical democracy required “the people rising up to dismantle all the shackles…”.

The Restart Thailand campaign builds on these ideas:

This is a new movement where nothing will be the same. Awareness of the oppressed working class will be awakened, whether you are students, office workers, non-uniformed staff, farmers or civil servants. We are all oppressed workers.

…there will be no leaders, no guards, no compromises or negotiations….

Fearful of what for Thailand amounts to radicalism, Gen Prayuth ordered the regime’s “legal team” to decide if such a call is “against the law.” He’s thinking of sedition and the constitution:

Section 49: No person shall exercise the rights or liberties to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.

Any person who has knowledge of an act under paragraph one shall have the right to petition to the Attorney-General to request the Constitutional Court for ordering the cessation of such act.

Meanwhile, the charges against the regime’s opponents continue to pile up.





Memes, communism, and a republic

8 12 2020

Thailand’s social media and its mainstream media is awash with hysterical commentary about ideas, logos, and republicanism. We will present some examples.

At the usually sober Khaosod, Pravit Rojanaphruk is worried about what he thinks are “drastic ideas.” One such idea comes from the mad monarchist

Warong Dechgitvigrom, leader of royalist Thai Phakdee group, made a counter move. The former veteran politician proposed that absolute power be returned to the king, “temporarily.”

“Isn’t it time for royal power to be returned temporarily in order to design a new political system free from capitalist-politicians for the benefit of the people and for real democracy?” Warong posted on his Facebook page.

In fact, though, Pravit spends most of his op-ed concentrating on “Free Youth, a key group within the monarchy-reform protest movement, [that recently] sent out a message to its followers on social media urging them to discuss the idea of a republic.”

Pravit thinks that both sides are getting dangerous:

It’s clear that the majority of the Thai people, over 60 million, have not expressed their views on the on-going political stalemate.

It’s time for them to speak and act. Continued silence would be tantamount to forfeiting their role as citizens in determining the future course of Thai society. If the silent majority do not speak or act soon, there may be no other options but to allow demagogues of different political stripes to dominate and plunge Thailand deeper towards conflicts and confrontations.

In fact, conflict is normal in most societies, and in Thailand it is mostly conservatives who bay for “stability,” usually not long after slaughtering those calling for change and reform. And, neither Warong’s monarchical rule nor the call for a republic are new. They have been regularly heard in Thailand over several decades. But we do agree that one of the reasons these ideas have resurfaced now is because of the political stalemate, bred by the refusal of the regime to countenance reform. We might also point out that when the silent majority has expressed its preferences in recent years – say, in elections that were not rigged – their preferences have been ignored by those with tanks.

Republicanism has been a topic for a considerable time. Academic Patrick Jory states: “republicanism is deeply ingrained in Thailand’s political tradition. In fact, Thailand has one of the oldest republican traditions in Asia.” Republicanism was around under the now dead king as well. In the late 1980s Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh was disliked in the palace and was believed to be a republican for his statements about Thailand’s need of a “revolutionary council” (sapha patiwat) in 1987.

For PPT, republicanism has been regularly mentioned in our posts from almost the time we began in early 2009. Often this was in the context of royalists and military-backed regimes accusing Thaksin Shinawatra of republicanism. This was a theme during the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, with Suthep Thaugsuban often banging this drum. Back in February 2009, it was said that “Bangkok swirls with rumours of republican plots.” There was the Finland Plot and, later, the Dubai Plot.

One statement of plotting and republicanism came from royalist scholar and ideologue, the now deceased Chai-Anan Samudavanija. Presciently, he worried in 2009 that if the republicans expanded, the monarchists have little in their arsenal [army, tanks, guns, prisons, judiciary, lese majeste??] with which to counter-attack. He considered the monarchists’ arguments as only holding sway with the older generation, while the under 30s seem uninterested in nation and monarchy. He seemed to think the regime was a house of cards.

There was considerable debate about republicanism in Thailand in 2009. Nor should we forget that, in 2010, there was a spurt in republican feeling, a point obliquely made by Pravit back then. Republicans have cycled through PPT posts: Ji Ungpakorn and Rose Amornpat are examples. And no one can forget the idea of the Republic of Lanna.

Perhaps ideologues like Veera Prateepchaikul, a former Editor of the Bangkok Post, could recall some of this long and important debate and conflict. No doubt that his “it can never happen” was also a refrain heard around Prajadhipok’s palace (or maybe they were a little smarter) and in Tsarist Russia.

Meanwhile, at the Thai Enquirer (and across social media) there’s a collective pile-on to point out how silly/dangerous/childish/unsophisticated the the pro-democracy Free Youth were to come up with a new logo that uses a stylized R (sickle) and T (hammer) for Restart Thailand. Many of the armchair commentators, including local and foreign academics, suddenly become experts on protest strategy and many of them seem very agitated.

Fortunately, Prachatai has the equivalent of a calming medicine, showing how the young protesters have played with symbols, redefining, re-engineering and using irony and parody. We recall, too, that red shirts and other opponents of the military-monarchy regime are regularly accused of being communists – think of 1976 and that the current opposition, attacked as communists in 2019.

Put this together with threats and intimidation: lese majeste, intimidation, lese majeste, gross sexual assault and intimidation, lese majeste, and royalist intimidation and maybe, just maybe, you get a better picture of what’s going on.





Tearing them down

19 10 2020

The website Royal Central has noticed that anti-monarchism runs deep among pro-democracy activists and their supporters.

It notes that:

Protestors in Bangkok have torn down photos of King Maha Vajiralongkorn (also called Rama X) and Queen Suthida.

Videos have emerged of protestors tearing down photos of the King and Queen while chanting “Get out!”

And not just in Bangkok. The photos of the royals are everywhere – it is a central element of palace propaganda – so have become easy targets throughout the country, being torn down, defaced and covered in anti-monarchist graffiti.

It refers to videos that has gone viral on social media showing tattoos of the dead king removed and street art “calling for a republic, and many of the demonstrators have been seen carrying signs saying ‘Republic of Thailand’.”

Protests are “being seen as the biggest threat to the Thai monarchy in decades.”

Thailand banned gatherings of five people or more last week in an effort to curb the anti-monarchy protests, but instead of stopping the protests, it has added more fuel to the fire. Police have sprayed protestors with water laced with chemicals to end the protests, but demonstrators have continued to gather to fight for democracy in their country.

The report also notes the “controversy in Germany” where it has been officially stated that “the King is not allowed to reign from their soil. They are said to also be watching the demonstrations in Thailand very closely.”





Updated: Another night, more protests

17 10 2020

Another afternoon and night of protests. The regime thought that shutting down the train system would prevent protesters massing again, They particularly concentrated on the Victory Monument, and closed it off, with not a protester in sight.

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters gathered at various spots around Bangkok and in Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen and several other provincial towns. Our pictures are clipped from social media.

Some of the signage was interesting.

Update: The Bangkok Post has some details on those arrested, still detained, and some bailed. Among those refused bail are former lese majeste victims Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa and Somyos Prueksakasemsuk. While there is some information on arrests, the regime is opaque, and Thai Enquirer says “security forces may have arrested up to 100 demonstrators for violating the government’s emergency decree…”. It also says that some demonstrators are “missing.”

In the royal car case, Bunkueanun Paothong has been bailed, while Akechai Hongkangwarn, another lese majeste victim, is awaiting bail.

Among those recently arrested are student leaders Panupong Jadnok (Rayong Mike) and protest leader Tattep Ruangprapaikijseree.





Birthday games II

29 07 2020

While protesters rallied in Germany, calling for an end to the monarchy, King Vajiralongkorn’s apparent abhorrence for Thailand is making the mainstream media again.

Deutsche Welle has a long and critical article about the king who prefers to live and play in Germany.

The article claims that Vajiralongkorn’s “passivity during the COVID-19 pandemic has made him the target of unprecedented criticism at home and abroad.” While it is true that as Thailand’s economy grinds down and unemployment spikes the king is “gallivanting miles away in Germany” and that “the monarch and his entourage have sought refuge in a luxurious hotel in the Bavarian Alps,” we think a focus on the virus is too narrow.

Criticism of the king has been rising for a while and has to do with his perceived alliance with an illegitimate regime, his absence from the country, his massive wealth, and his alleged involvement with the disappearances and murders of activists.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

The recent enforced disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit in Cambodia has caused fear and loathing against the king and regime to expand.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

While “[c]overage of the king’s lavish life abroad circulating in foreign media outlets cannot be reported in Thailand due to its strict lese majeste law,” it is clear that young, social media-savvy Thais know what’s going on. This is why the recent rallies have seen “demonstrators brandishing placards and banners with messages critical of the king. The slogans, however, were disguised with slang and sarcasm” to avoid the excesses of regime repression.

The protests against the king in Germany are detailed:

Some 8,500 kilometers (5,300 miles) to the northwest, members of the German non-profit PixelHELPER Foundation and Thai nationals living abroad gathered to stage a protest on the king’s birthday.

Led by exiled activist Junya Yimprasert, protesters gathered in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and held signs which read: “Thai king to International Criminal Court (ICC).” They also erected a makeshift guillotine with a caricature of Rama X behind bars.

“Our goal is to abolish the monarchy,” said Yimprasert. The 54-year-old has been using an unconventional approach to catch the king’s attention. For weeks, she and fellow protesters have used a light projector to display anti-monarchy messages on the front walls of the Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where the king currently resides.

To garner more attention, the group has also projected comical illustrations featuring Rama X onto the walls of the German parliament and the home of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Vowing to step up protests in Germany, PixelHELPER founder Oliver Bienkowski stated: “We want to end the fun of his private life and convey to him that it’s not so nice that he stays in Germany…”. He added that the group plans to “expand their efforts to other European countries, including Switzerland, where Queen Suthida is believed to be staying.”





Apirat, Jatuporn and the students

24 07 2020

With demonstrations against the regime spreading across the country, students continue to shine a light on the regime’s lack of legitimacy.

But the backlash has been swift and ultra-royalist. Some have been arguing that the students are a part of the lom chao republican plotting to bring down the monarchy.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

In a stern ultra-royalist warning, Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong demanded that the protesters not “disrespect the royal institution” – he means the absentee king and the monarchy.

Gen Apirat babbled about “people’s rights and freedoms in a democratic system” – that can’t be Thailand – but worried that “protesters’ actions were making people feel uncomfortable.” He then speculated, like so many ultra-royalists, that “the current protest seemed like it may be part of a conspiracy but he refused to speculate who might be pulling the strings.”

Apparently Gen Apirat can’t get it through his thick skull that many of the younger generation aren’t interested in ageing generals and the absentee monarch, living off taxpayer monies.

Apirat being “democratic”

His meandering discussion raised the specter of 1976, when student demonstrators were massacred.

Meanwhile, an earlier Bangkok Post report brought a royalist warning from an unlikely source: Jatuporn Promphan, chairman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). He said that attacking the monarchy left the activists open to “a public backlash…”.

Jatuporn “said the students must not drag the monarchy into their activism.” He worried that republicanism “would end with huge losses like in the past…”.

Such advice is probably not needed by the students. They are well educated, quite politically savvy and of a different generation. They may appreciate his efforts in the past and his time in jail, but they probably disagree with Jatuporn’s political capitulation when he declared:

I’d like to ask these students to keep a clear head and bear in mind that Thailand will [always] be governed by a constitutional monarchy that will serve as [the kingdom’s] guard….

He is not someone this generation of very young activists listens to, distinguishing themselves from the battles of the 2000s and 2010s with new ideas and methods.





Updated: Army and regime

22 07 2020

A small group of activists “held a rally outside the Royal Thai Army headquarters on Monday…”. They were protesting against a comment by former deputy spokeswoman Col Nusra Vorapatratorn, who described the weekend’s anti-government protesters as naive and ignorant.

In the middle of this controversy it was reported that the struggling economy was to be further burdened by Army spending on the comfort of its top brass, with plans to buy a new Gulfstream business jet “worth 1.34 billion baht in the 2021 fiscal year…”. It will transport the VIPs. We doubt it can easily get to Munich.

Meanwhile, the military-backed regime says it is considering having the weekend’s protest leaders “charged under the Emergency Decree, communicable diseases laws, and traffic violations.” It is reported that the “Saturday protest was monitored by Special Branch Bureau police, Technology Crime Suppression Division police, and police officers…”.

Consideration is also being given to lese majeste-like charges. As Khaosod reports, “conservative and pro-government figures in recent days have accused the student-led protests as republican movement attempting to overthrow the monarchy – a backlash against the signs and placards seen at the protest that reference the [r]oyal [f]amily.”

Of course, the regime claims that extending the emergency decree has nothing to do with politics…. when it has everything to do with its politics and its domination.

Update: We were amused to read the reason given fro extending the emergency decree:

CCSA spokesman Taweesilp Visanuyothin said the extension was necessary because the novel coronavirus was still spreading worldwide and Thailand was allowing in foreign visitors and easing lockdowns on business and activities that pose high risks of disease transmission.

If this is correct, then Thailand will have an emergency decree in place for months to come. Or, read another way, the regime is engaging in high risk activity that could easily be left alone.





Remembering the dead and disappeared

17 05 2020

Prachatai memorializes the first anniversary of the day “Siam Theerawut went missing after being extradited from Vietnam along with other 2 self-exiled activists,” Chucheep Chiwasut (Uncle Sanam Luang) and Kritsana Tubthai.

There has been no news of the three since they were disappeared, reportedly after being handed over to Thailand. According to Prachatai, Siam’s family have contacted “the Thai Crime Suppression Division, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand and the Vietnamese Embassy” but have received no useful information. An official brickwall is suggestive of the involvement of high-level persons. In Thailand, this pattern inevitably means military, monarchy and regime.

Why? “Siam fled the country at the age of 29 at some point after the 2014 military coup when all Article 112-related cases [lese majeste] were revived. In 2018, the authorities alleged that he was involved with the Thai Federation group, an anti-monarchy group.”

Prachatai includes a timeline, which we reproduce in full:

  • 5 December 2018 The Thai Federation group invite their followers to wear black shirts with the group’s symbol in Bangkok and other provinces. Many were later prosecuted.
  • 7 December 2018 Deputy PM Gen Prawit Wongsuwan welcomes the Lao Minister of Defence, General Chansamone Chanyalath and discusses the issue of Thai political exiles in Lao. Chansamone admitted that there was a movement on the Lao side but it had few people. The Thai Federation group operated through radio programmes. The Ministry of National Defence would deal with it, but the movement was nothing to worry about since they could do nothing.
  • 12 December 2018 In Lao, Surachai Danwattananusorn (Sae Dan), another famous self-exiled political activist, goes missing along with other 2 activists; Kraidet Leulerd, or Kasalong, and Chatchan Bupphawan, or Phuchana. The Thai exiles acknowledged that they would have to lay low whenever the Thai and Lao authorities talk about cooperation. But Surachai did not.
  • 13 December 2018 Thai PM Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha visits the Lao President in Vientiane.
  • 26-29 December 2018 2 bodies are washed ashore alongside the Maekhong River. DNA tests identify them as Kraidet and Chatchan. The internal organs had been removed and replaced with cement and the faces were mutilated. Surachai’s whereabouts remain unknown until now.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

  • 8 May 2019 The Thai Alliance for Human Rights (TAHR) based in the United States reports that Siam, Chucheep and Kritsana were arrested some time earlier and deported from Vietnam .
  • 9 May 2019 Siam’s relatives file a missing person report. The Crime Suppression Division do not accept the report as there is no arrest report.
  • 10 May 2019 Siam’s relatives file a request with the Crime Suppression Division Commander to be informed about Siam’s arrest. Human Right Watch and Amnesty International issue statements calling on the Thai authorities to disclose the whereabouts of Siam, Chucheep and Kritsana.
  • 13 May 2019 Siam’s family and friends go to the Vietnamese Embassy in Thailand to call on the Vietnamese authorities to address the disappearance. They also file petitions with the National Human Rights Commission and the European Union.
  • 14 May 2019 Siam’s family and friends go to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Bangkok to give information regarding Siam. They also urge the OHCHR to help finding him.
  • 16 July 2019 Siam’s sister says that the Thai Embassy in Hanoi has asked the Vietnamese authorities about the entry of Siam and his colleagues into Vietnam. However, the authorities did not have any information.
  • 8 August 2019 Thai political activists in Europe gather at the Thai Embassy in Paris holding photos of 10 Thai activists who had either gone missing or been killed since 2016.
  • 12 September 2019 Siam’s mother says at the ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (APF) that the Rights and Liberties Protection Department (RLPD) told her not to take her son’s case to the UN as it could damage the country’s image.
  • 10 October 2019 Pranee Danwattananusorn, Surachai’s wife, files a petition with the Royal Thai Police Commander to investigate the disappearance of Surachai and other activists.
  • 12 March 2020 Siam’s portrait is exhibited in the “For Those Who Died Trying” exhibition at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, along with other cases of disappearance.

We have the impression that the regime and palace figured that enforced disappearances and murders would fill anti-monarchists with fear and resolve the “problem.” Apparently not.





Monarchy down

15 05 2020

For several years, Pavin Chachavalpongpun has been a relentless critic of the monarchy. He has another op-ed available, this time with The Washington Post.

There’s not a lot that is new in this op-ed. However, Pavin’s main point is challenging for royalists: he shows that anti-monarchism is rising and he believes that republicanism is growing.

Of course, it is difficult to judge these matters in Thailand where the media self-censors and is censored on the monarchy, the lese majeste and other repressive laws are in place and where the monarchy enjoys support from related institutions like the military, bureaucracy and judiciary. It is recent social media activism and protests against the king (in Germany) that gives Pavin hope.

On lese majeste (and, presumably, other repressive laws), Pavin states:

The problem for the king is that such a law can work only as long as his subjects continue to regard the monarchy with a measure of reverence. His father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, could still claim to serve as a symbol of national unity. But Vajiralongkorn (officially known as King Rama X) no longer appears to enjoy such respect. Lacking any sort of comparable legitimacy, he has chosen to rule by intimidation instead. Thailand has become a kingdom of fear.

We are not sure we agree with all of this. After all, lese majeste has been a major element of political repression and intimidation for most of this century. That law had nothing to do with reverence.”

An interesting angle in the article is the argument that Vajiralongkorn now has a powerful “network”:

critics worry that the king has established an unprecedented degree of control over the military, the police and the judiciary that raises serious questions about palace accountability and the rule of law.

Under Bhumibol there was the “network monarchy.” Now we have Vajiralongkorn’s network. Will it be enough to secure the absent king’s interests and those of the ruling class? We suspect it won’t be protesters that bring down the king, but fissures in the ruling class. These will develop when the filthy rich and/or the military brass realize that Vajiralongkorn is threatening their interests.