The king’s political moves

14 05 2017

Should people be concerned that the king is accumulating power to his personal position? Obviously, unless one is a deaf, dumb and blind ultra-royalist, the answer is unquestionably affirmative.

Under the changes that were demanded by the king before he’d endorse the junta’s constitution, it might have been thought that the changes were mostly about the king’s powers over his domain in the palace, as well as sorting out any constitutional crisis.

Now, however, it is clear that the king is accumulating far broader powers than any king has had since 1932.

The Nation reports that a new royal decree, required by the changes to the constitution, was published in the Royal Gazette on 10 May.

It outlines the re-organization of the palace and the personnel associated with the administration of “agencies that work directly under … the [k]ing.”

According to the “Royal Decree on the Organisation and Personnel Administration of Agencies under the King, … there are three main agencies involved – the Privy Council, Royal Household Bureau, and Royal Security Command.”

The report continues:

Under this new law, privy councillors and civilian, military and police officers working in those agencies are considered officials under the King’s custody. They are not regarded as civil servants or state officials, although they retain the status of “competent officers” under the Penal Code.

According to the royal decree, the King may give military or police ranks to and remove those ranks from any of the officials under his custody at his pleasure.

Also, the legislation allows [the king]… to appoint, promote, transfer, demote and remove officials under the King’s custody at his pleasure. He may transfer officials working under him to other agencies and vice versa.

These are remarkable powers and allow for royal interference in every agency of government. Be very worried how they may be used by an unpredictable egoist.





King’s power increased, public funds (mis)used

2 05 2017

Thailand’s restoration of feudal institutions and relationships just moved another step into the dark ages.

In an earlier post, PPT posted on a secret meeting of the military junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly that gave a bunch of state agencies to the king.

Because it was a secret meeting, little was actually known about the changes made. Now, Khaosod has reported the changes. We think that the changes are important enough to reproduce the report in full, leaving out a last paragraph that was background:

Five state agencies that oversee the palace’s security and management were transferred to custody of … the King on Monday.

The transfer was announced last night in a bill passed in secret by the interim parliament two weeks ago. Following the bill’s enactment, the five agencies are no longer state bodies, but entities directly overseen by King Vajiralongkorn.

The transferred agencies are the Royal Household Bureau, Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary, Royal Thai Aide-De-Camp Department, Office of Royal Court Security Police and Royal Security Command. The first manages royal affairs while the rest provide security services to the monarch.

They were formerly under control of the Ministry of Defense, the Prime Minister’s Office and the police.

The law transfers ownership of all agencies but the four-year-old Royal Court Security Police from the public back to the crown for the first time since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. They will continue to receive public funds for their operation under Section 5 of the bill. The same section said any revenues generated by the four agencies will not be forwarded to the state treasury.

The bill’s footnote said the transfer was necessary for more efficient management of issues related to [the king] … and his family, whose needs cannot be served by the state bureaucracy.

The law was brought before the junta’s rubber stamp parliament on April 20, where it was discussed and approved in a single day by secret vote.

What a deal for the taxpayer. Pay for all these things but if they make any money, the royal freeloaders keep it. How feudal. How pathetic.





More Sirindhorn fraudsters

29 04 2017

Since about the time that the king was crown prince and began the nasty separtion from the then Princess Srirasmi in late 2014, there have been several spates of lese majeste cases against persons claimed to have been making profit from their real or alleged relationship to royals.

In August 2015, there were cases brought against four persons alleged to have made false claims about the monarchy, falsifying public documents, fraud, and impersonating officers from the Royal Household Bureau.

Prachatai reports that the military “have arrested a group of people in southern Thailand who are allegedly involved in a network making false claims about the monarchy for financial gain.”

The report states:

On 27 April 2017, soldiers arrested Nonglak B., a radio host from Thungsong District of Surat Thani Province after several individuals were arrested and taken to a local military base a day earlier for interrogation.

They were arrested for reportedly promising the 2017 ‘Thep Kinnari Award’, the award from Princess Sirindhorn given to people working towards preserving Thai arts and cultures, in exchange for money from those who wanted to receive the award.

At the same time, soldiers and police officers in Trang Province arrested Waraporn W., president of Women’s Cultural Club Under Royal Patronage, and Patthiya C. together with four other people under similar accusation.

Nonglak, Patthiya, and Waraporn were detained at a military base under Article 44. If these cases follow the earlier ones, these persons are likely to be accused of lese majeste.

Initial reports stated that six persons were held, with a later report commenting on one further arrest. The arrests were widely covered in the media, including during arrests.

We suspect there’s a lot more to this story than has been in the media. However, like the other alleged fraud-cum-lese majeste cases, little more is likely to be reported of them unless the media shows more tenacity in following the cases rather than just reporting the claims the regime feeds it.





Reporting official political vandalism

24 04 2017

The Nation has a particularly useful report the details surrounding the removal of the 1932 plaque, which most pundits now agree was at the behest of the palace, probably based on faulty astrological advice.

Reporters have now tracked down witnesses to the event and constructed a kind of timeline. The report states:

Some photos shared and scrolled down on social media pages, along with accounts of “regulars” and concerned authorities as checked by the Nation have shown that between late last month and April 6, at least two distinctive activities took place at the Royal Plaza before the public was alerted last Friday [14 April] that the plaque was missing.

A regular visitor to the area stated that “late last month the statue of the former [k]ing [the equestrian statue] was renovated, with some framework set up and covered with translucent green sheets.” That renovation was confirmed by the Fine Arts Department.

This witness then states that “from April 4 to 6, there were a few tents set up next to it – around the spot where the plaque was located.” He adds that these “tents were closed and draped with cloth, so the regulars could not see anything inside.” When the tents were gone, so was the plaque, replaced by royalist graffiti.

His account was generally confirmed by others and by photographic evidence. “Other regular visitors …[stated] that they saw a couple of tents near the statue of King Chulalongkorn a few days before Chakri Day on April 6.” These “tents were located some metres away, on the right side of the equestrian statue, where the plaque was.”

These witnesses add that on “April 5, the Plaza also closed early – at 9pm, due to arrangements needed for Chakri Day…”.

Photos from “March 28 [show] the framework was set up around the statue. Other photos, … taken at least on April 1, also show individuals working inside the sheeting. However, no tents were seen set up nearby…. The tents appeared in some photos taken on April 4 to 5. But on April 6, there were no tents seen on the spot.” The Fine Arts Department confirmed that the tents did not belong to them.

Confirming this timeline,

Sarttarin Tansoon, a political science lecturer at Kasetsart University, told The Sunday Nation that a group of his students saw the original plaque during a field trip to the Royal Plaza from April 1 and 3.

On April 8, another group of his students went to the Plaza to see the plaque, but found it had been replaced.

Several agencies have official tasks in the area. The “Dusit district administration takes care of overall tidiness, the police are in charge of security. The Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning is in charge of the road surface, while the King’s statue is overseen by the Fine Arts Department.” In addition, the “Bureau of the Royal Household (BRH), meanwhile, is authorised to permit activities or events to be held on the Plaza…”.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Authority’s Traffic and Transportation Department is responsible for the CCTV cameras in the area, which they ever so conveniently claim were all turned off before one of the main royal events of the year in that area.

Now the military junta has arranged for the protection of the new royalist graffiti:

Dozens of metropolitan police, plus plainclothes officers were deployed and on guard 24/7 around the compound, and especially the spot where a new plaque was embedded to replace the 81-year-old Constitution plaque metres away from the [k]ing’s statue.

Reporters are told not to take photos. Visitors are told to leave the site.

It is clear that the removal was an official act. Something this symbolic and this significant was ordered from on high.





More secret king’s business I

21 04 2017

In case you missed it, the junta had the puppet National Legislative Assembly (NLA) meet in secret on 20 April to enact a “new bill … to reorganise the six agencies serving the Crown…”.

The puppet lawmakers naturally “approved in-camera the royal administration bill which the Cabinet had added to the meeting agenda.”

We can only guess that the king has directed that these changes be made as he establishes his authority and his people in the palace.

The report states that “Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam told members of the … NLA… the cabinet asked that the bill be deliberated in-camera. The sessions were no broadcast and non-members were asked to leave.”

The Nation adds that the “act was not available for public perusal.” NLA puppet-in-chief “Pornpetch Vichitcholchai … declined to speak on the matter, saying the meeting was confidential.”

The Post report states that “the new structure will have three agencies serving the palace.” A reconstituted Bureau of the Royal Household will merge the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary and the Bureau of the Royal Household. The Royal Guard Command will merge the Royal Thai Aide-De-Camp Department and the Royal Guard Command. A new Office of the Privy Council is said to be created.

If this is the sum of the changes, then the secrecy beggars belief because the 2017 junta constitution allocates powers to the king in these areas:

Section 15: The appointment and removal of officials of the Royal Household shall be at the King’s pleasure.

The organization and personnel administration of the Royal Household shall be at the King’s pleasure as provided by Royal Decree.

This suggests the need for Wissanu to explain why the NLA needed to be involved. Otherwise, wild speculation is invited.

It is left to the imagination as to why a reorganization of the palace administration should be something that needs to be considered in secret. Was something nefarious going on? Is the reorganization likely to lead to conflict? Does the secrecy imply that something unconstitutional is being done? Is there a “deal” being done?

The secrecy means that any interpretation is possible.





Reporting palace re-ordering

20 03 2017

The palace-based machinations that have seen dozens of officials sacked, ousted, jailed and promoted has been watched internationally for sign of how the king can be considered going forward, as a problem, a threat or something else.

The Straits Times reports that “[m]ore than 30 notices related to Thailand’s palace staff were made public on the Royal Gazette website last week, providing a rare window into the preferences of newly installed King…”.

These notices seem to have been hastily produced to allow the king to escape overseas to Germany for some rest from the hectic tasks of … well, we don’t know. He certainly hasn’t been pushing his pen across the signature line on the much delayed military constitution. Nor do we know officially why he is in Germany although this should be public given that he remains king and has not appointed a regent.

The notices issued were for “various dates and signed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, also suggest that a shake-up has been taking place among palace staff.” The report continues:

One notice said that King Vajiralongkorn stripped an army major-colonel of his rank last month for “improper manner and behaviour” and “disputing royal observation”. In the same notice, the offending major-colonel [PPT doesn’t know this rank] was also described as “arrogant”, “negligent”, “insubordinate” and “lazy”.

Another commander was similarly stripped of her rank last month because she “did not improve herself, lacked enthusiasm, was idle and lacked correct judgment”.

At least four other officers were stripped of their ranks because they had been promoted twice in six months against the rules.

At the same time, royal decorations were handed out like candy at a children’s birthday party: “royal decorations were granted to 25 officers serving in King Vajiralongkorn’s royal guard unit, and privy councillor Kampanat Ruddit.”

The report notes that these “recent announcements come on the back of very public downfalls of some of the King’s senior aides” that saw a “grand chamberlain in charge of security and special affairs, Jumpol Manmai, … sacked for allegedly committing grave misconduct and having political interests deemed harmful to national security.” He’s now in an undisclosed jail that is likely the king’s personal jail.

Jumpol’s downfall was immediately preceded by that of “Chitpong Thongkum, an air vice-marshal who had served in the King’s bodyguard unit, was fired and stripped of all military ranks for reportedly stealing royal property and disclosing the King’s health records.” He’s in jail too.

The story goes on to report the secret dealings between the junta and the prince over the still languishing constitution. Perhaps both the king and the military junta have had second thoughts about the constitution and want it dead again. At least they now have a “plot” that can allow for further even delays.

As to how all this links to the goings-on in the palace, that’s anyone’s guess due to secrecy and threats of lese majeste.





Updated: Chitpong sentenced on lese majeste

4 03 2017

Embedded in a story on the now officially disgraced palace flunkey Jumpol Manmai, his wife and others, was a brief comment on the quick end to a lese majeste case also associated with the palace and the grumpy and vindictive King Vajiralongkorn.

Just a few days ago, we posted that Air Vice Marshal Chitpong Thongkum, who served with the King’s bodyguard, had been sacked for alleged misconduct claimed to be damaging to the royal household.

chitpongChitpong was stripped of his military ranks and eight royal decorations for “offenses” that were said to include stealing royal property, disclosing the king’s personal health records and failing to report to duty. It was not entirely clear what he had done to send the king into a rage.

At the time, we said we guessed that means a lese majeste charge would follow.

They did. And in record time, Chitpong has been in court and sentenced to “five years and six months for lese majeste and four other charges including theft at a state office and violations of the Cosmetics Act. He was also fined Bt25,000.”

We guess this was a secret trial. [Update: it was in a military court.]

As is usually the case in all lese majeste cases and not just those involving kingly bile, Chitpong’s sentence was “reduced by half as Chitpong admitted all the charges before the court.” We guess he had no choice or he might have faced death in custody. His lese majeste sentence of five years was halved.

There is little information available on the case. Palace involvement, secret trials, forced guilty pleas and fear mean that those close to the king who get the boot are considered dangerous to report on and it is accepted that the king’s decisions, no matter how nasty can’t be adequately reported.

Update: A couple of wire stories on the case are now available. They are:

AFP, 4 March 2017: “Thai king’s former aide jailed for royal defamation

Reuters, 3 March 2017: “Thailand jails former palace aide for royal defamation

Both make the point that this case is one in a growing list of persons in the prince-now-king’s household who have been purged since late 2014.