Still getting the monarchy wrong

17 02 2017

Ralph Jennings, a Contributor at Forbes says he “cover[s] under-reported stories from Taiwan and Asia” but seems to specialize on China and Taiwan. Thus, venturing into things royal and Thailand is thus a stretch and a test of knowledge.

He’s right to observe that the monarchy in Thailand has “massive influence.”

But the picture he paints of the last king is pure palace propaganda when he states:

He had stopped coups, spearheaded rural infrastructure projects and met commoners in rough or squalid conditions. His actions helped strengthen people’s confidence in their country with an otherwise wobbly government.

Let’s correct a bit. He also initiated coups, as in 1957, and he supported coups, as in 2006, when it suited him. And that’s just two examples. He also supported right-wing extremists and acted as a prompt to massive blood-letting, as in 1976. The palace hand was always meddling in politics. The “infrastructure projects” are presumably the royal projects, many of them grand failures and, since the General Prem Tinsulanonda era, at great taxpayer expense.

And, “wobbly government” hardly seems to fit much of the reign, when the monarchy collaborated with ruthless military regimes, just as it does now.

The author is correct to observe that King Vajiralongkorn “is not expected to advocate changes in Thailand that reflect mass concerns or even go around meeting people.”

Recall that the dead king also essentially gave up “going to the people” for most of the last two decades of his reign. For one thing, he was too ill. For another, the “going to meet the people” was a political strategy for winning hearts and minds in his campaign to remake the monarchy. By the 1990s, this was largely achieved.

That King Vajiralongkorn is claimed to have “signaled little interest so far in shifting Thailand from quasi-military rule toward more democracy after a junta took power in 2014” seems an odd observation. And, in this quite natural political position for a monarchy such as Thailand’s, the new king follows the dead one.

That the new king wants more power for the throne is clear to all. That’s why the military’s “constitution” has been changed. But to say that the new version – we still don’t know the exact nature of the changes – allows the king “more freedom to travel overseas, where he has spent much of his life, and can appoint a regent to rule when he’s not around” is a misunderstanding of what The Dictator has let be known. The point of the changes was to allow him to not have a regent during his jaunts.

And, Mr Jennings must be the only one who thinks “[e]lections are due this year.”

He is right, however, to add that “[o]bservers believe that with King Vajiralongkorn, Thailand will continue to retain its strict lese-majeste laws, which ban any criticism of the monarchy.” That is a requirement of continued domination by a royalist elite.





News and views on the students

7 07 2015

Below PPT links to some useful reports and op-eds on the Dao Din students and the challenge they pose for the junta.

At the Globe and Mail, Nathan Vanderklippe writes of the Dao Din students and the protest that got them arrested as “hardly the stuff of revolutions.” Yet their call for a return to democracy means the students “represent what could develop into a potent challenge to the military regime, which faces growing opposition to the tight chokehold it has maintained on civil liberties for more than a year” under the military dictatorship. The dictatorship “has shown itself to be a jittery warden of a nation it has promised to return to democratic rule.” They are jittery but they also fear opposition:

The students’ supporters say their arrest marked an important moment. People cowed by the junta came to the streets in the hundreds to demand their release. More than 300 academics also signed letters asking the government to release the young people, a risky move. Authorities questioned 30 of the signatories.

David Streckfuss observes that the students hope “to be a spark, and they’re starting to get some sympathetic ears, at least amongst other students…. They know that if no one takes a risk in standing up to the regime then the regime will stay on and on.” At the same time, there is some pessimism “particularly as opposition parties, universities and much of the country’s middle class remained silent over the students’ detention.”

In another commentary, at The Diplomat, there is discussion of the military dictatorship as “an antiquated authoritarianism.” This note argues:

While the junta is consolidating its power through constitutional revisions and clamping down on political opposition, thousands of lives are being lost. The systematic lack of respect for human rights and human life is something Thailand’s western partners cannot ignore. Yet, neither the United States nor the European Union has put any pressure on Prayuth to address the root cause of the problem.

PPT is sure that external pressure is important. However, real change must be generated within the country.

Sulak Sivaraksa, an ardent supporter of the students, is interviewed in another report. He says that “the fact that people are daring to challenge such powerful authority figures shows bodes well for the country’s future.” He’s thinking of the challenge they provide for an outdated and hierarchical education system. Sulak spoke of the Dao Din students and the challenge they pose for the dictators, referring to “divisions among junta members on the students’ case…. Some say they should be let free, so that it stops the beginning of something bad, but some others are willing to punish them…”. Splits in a dictatorship are sometimes corrosive of juntas.

Sulak also has some criticism of the lese majeste law and its negative impacts for politics and society:

“This article not only helps to stop people speaking the truth, it also helps people close to the palace to get away with economic and political exploitation as the public is unable to hold them to scrutiny for fear of the lese-majeste charge…”.

He calls the article “dangerous for the monarchy and dangerous for the country,” and claims that many royal affiliated businesses, such as the Royal Projects, are not accountable….

The article adds that the projects “are for the most part financed on the government budget and contribute to the popularity of some members of the royal family.”





Nuts, grapes and pineapple

19 03 2015

There’s not much light relief in the news these days, with the military dictatorship arresting, threatening and planning for the longevity of conservative royalism. However, there is a bitter sweet story at the Coconuts Media site for Bangkok. Coconuts says it “is a local city website network that harnesses social media and video to amplify coverage of urban areas in Asia.”

Readers may remember the infamous nuts rage incident on Korean Air, late last year, when Heather Cho (Cho Hyun-ah), vice-president of the airline and daughter of Korean Air chairman and CEO Cho Yang-ho, ordered the aircraft back to the departure gate at JFK after she was dissatisfied with the way a flight attendant served her nuts. She was widely condemned for all manner of faults but for essentially thinking she was so high and mighty that she could do anything she pleased, even over a “nut problem.”

As we well know, The Dictator can do pretty much as he pleases in Thailand. So is it any surprise that he is reported to have created a fuss over poor quality pineapple on Thai Airways. We assume that General Prayuth Chan-ocha was sitting in the big, comfortable seats, getting the best food. After his gastronomic adventure on the flight, The Dictator “smeared Thai’s fruit last month during a speech at the Stock Exchange of Thailand.” He reportedly stated: “If you want to find tasteless grapes, go on board Thai planes…. Pineapples too! Their color is pale and they are tasteless!”Grapes-pineapples

What The Dictator wants, The Dictator gets. The Bangkok Post reports that one of Thai Airway’s executive vice presidents has announced that it has “signed an agreement with Doi Kham, a supplier of food and fruit sourced from several royal factories, to cater foodstuffs and produce for the airline.”

Doi Kham is a royal project, so presumably its product could never be criticized. It is a company, but the nature of its registration and so on is, like many royal ventures, not entirely clear.

Following The Dictator’s complaint, the airline “had set up a committee to evaluate the menu on the planes regularly.” The VP added: “The committee was formed to fulfil the policy of the prime minister, who wants to add more flavour to food for passengers…”. The power of The Dictator is seen in the attention to pineapples: “There will be no more tasteless pineapples…. From now on passengers will get fresh, yellow ones.”

In Thailand, under the military dictatorship, Prayuth cannot be criticized and there will be no popular anger as in Korea. Just meek compliance. After all The Dictator demands nothing less, be it in his fruit or in politics.

 





Thai-style repression

11 09 2014

Authoritarian regimes are pretty easy to identify. Usually they spend a lot of time trying to repress political opponents. They usually do this for several stated reasons: protecting the nation, national security, racial purity, ideological conformity, and so on.

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has decided that “Thai-style democracy” demands a peculiarly Thai-style of political repression.

Prayuth has long believed that there is a republican plot to overthrow the monarchy and, hence, the system that maintains the social, political and economic power of the royalist elite. In this context he is determined that his dictatorship must give its top priority to “dealing with” the “suspected anti-monarchy network.”

Prayuth’s speech to “his puppet parliament, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) on Friday” and will outline “a strategy to ‘defend’ the monarchy…”.

Not unexpectedly, The Dictator will describe” the monarchy as an important element of Thai-style democracy and an institution that the Royal Thai Government is obliged to uphold ‘with loyalty and defence of His Majestic Authority’.”

To be sure, this is ridiculously slimy posterior polishing, but it is representative of a broader desire for the reinforcement of the existing social order. The fear that drives the increasingly fascistic Prayuth and his ilk is seen in his speech:

We will use legal measures, social-psychological measures, and telecommunications and information technology to deal with those who are not mindful of their words, are arrogant at heart, or harbour ill intentions to undermine the important Institution of the nation….

In addition to this extreme repression, Prayuth’s speech says his regime will:

also strengthen Thais loyalty towards the monarchy by publicising “correct understanding about the monarchy and His Royal Works for the people” and by supporting “projects that have been derived from His Royal Ideas, encourag[ing] officials, educational institutions, and other state agencies to study and understand His Royal Working Principles so that they can apply the aforementioned Principles in bureaucratic function and development.”

Oddly, Prayuth seems to acknowledge previous failures of the heavily subsidized royal projects that are often rat holes for huge amounts of taxpayer funding, suggesting that wads of baht will continue down the same rat holes:

Furthermore, we will urgently expand the projects to which His Majesty has laid foundation in order to demonstrate [their effectiveness] to the public, and develop benefits in a wider circle, which will eventually help create prosperity and happiness for the people….

Whatever way one looks at it, the world’s richest monarchy, which already consumes massive amounts of taxpayer funds, is going to consume even more. Protecting the military-monarchy social order is so significant for The Dictator that he is willing to wind back the political clock several decades while opening the state pipeline even further in a flood of funding for fanatical ultra-royalism.

 





Prem’s blast from a royalist past

19 10 2012

At The Nation Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda seems to have decided that people in the Malay-Muslim south are a bunch of gullible dolts. He demonstrates this when he states that “everybody in the country loved people in the predominantly Muslim South and were trying hard to bring love to the violence-hit region.”

Supported by a gaggle of privy councilors in uniform-like powder blue jackets as he tried to dupe “241 youths from the restive South” from one of the many royal projects that treat everyone like children.

Prem declared: “Love is important, it will bring peace, happiness and success… I beg all of you here to love them and make them good citizens,” Prem said to the audience, which also included former prime minister Surayut Chulanond, Army commander Prayuth Chan-ocha, Navy commander Surasak Rounregnrom, Air Force commander Prachin Jantong and National Police chief Adul Saengsingkaew.

We don’t think Prem is an old hippie so exactly why he has a bee in his bonnet on love is not immediately clear, but it seems he is beating the elite’s old drum on a Thailand that no longer exists as a united nation under the monarchy, if that ever existed. So he prattles on about duty and love.

Of course,his love theme is constantly betrayed by a state that imprisons, murders and tortures. Not much loving there.

His claim that “[c]hildren of any religion can grow up to do good things for the country…” is on the one hand trite and, on the other, reflects fear.  The fear is that he military is “failing” in the south and that the south may be “lost.”

His call: “What we have to do in our country is have love and unity,” is nothing new. It does seem there is a recognition that the hard-line military strategy is failing: “All of us here, the commanders and heads of all units, love our children [from the South] and that is our clear message to you…”.

Yet the military will keep doing what it always does.

Prem’s call is for greater loyalty:

“Shall we tell the children to love each other, love their parents, love their communities, love their professions and love our country?” he said. “This is not others’ country, it’s our nation. We are all Thai, we have to love our country to make it peaceful, strong, secured and developed…”.

And royalist. It might be 1985. Prem’s world no longer exists.





Updated: Stupid foreigners, the monarchy’s wealth and messed up brains

25 02 2011

A report in the Vancouver Sun which placed Thailand’s king on top of its list of the 10 richest world leaders.

The story states: “Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak resigned power as Egypt’s president today, and leaves with a reported fortune of anywhere between $40-70 billion. Here are some other world leaders who have a healthy nest egg socked away for their retirement.” Here’s the list, with Mubarak’s alleged personal wealth listed:

PAD_King1. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand ($30 billion)

2. Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei ($20 billion)

3. Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of UAE ($18 billion)

4. King Abdullah bin Abul Aziz of Saudi Arabia ($21 billion)

5. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai ($12 billion)

6. Hosni Mubarak ($10 billion)

7. Silvio Berlusconi ($9 billion)

8. Hans-Adam II, Prince of Liechtenstein ($3.5 billion)

9. Emir of Qatar ($2 billion)

10. Asif Ali Zardari, President of Pakistan ($1.9 billion)

Perhaps the newspaper should have made it clear that the wealth of Thailand’s king is not entirely personal and is held for the monarchy. It does state: “The Thai government has disputed his position as the wealthiest head of state, saying that much of this is not part of his personal wealth.”

Sumet

It should also be added that the $30 billion figure only refers to the Crown Property Bureau, and that each member of the royal family is thought to be personally very wealthy as well. Of course, the figure takes no account of the billions handed over to the royals for “charity” or spent on keeping up appearances through large injections of taxpayer funds to the royals.

Long-time royal aide Sumet Tantivejkul, who is secretary-general of the Chaipattana Foundation and has overseen the vast portfolio of royal projects, has commented on this report (also see our 2009 post on Sumet extolling monarchy). His comments are posted at Prachatai. The report says that Sumet questioned the motives of “those who spread the news,” and implied a warning that those spreading stories could be in trouble.

Asked “about the increasingly open talk and criticism of the monarchy at social networking websites, Sumet said, “that lot don’t have identities, do they? They like cursing anybody they choose.  So [they] can say anything in the online world.  If we take them seriously, it messes up our brain.

PPT cites this point first as the Sun story is all over these sites and we liked the idea of messed up brains. Presumably this means that thinking is impaired. We wonder, though, if thinking is impaired by having to dissemble for one’s sponsors and heroes? As an example, see how Sumet describes and explains royal wealth:

What is the Crown Property Bureau?  If you want to know whether HM is really rich or not, you have to look at his private property. That really belongs to him.  […]  But this has all been mixed up,’ he said.

‘Crown property means that it belongs to the state.  But when farangs see the emblem [of the CPB], oh! this must belong to the King.  In fact, the Ministry of Finance is in charge. The chair of the CPB is the Minister of Finance.  It’s not part of HM’s property.  It belongs to the institution.  It has a board,’ he said.

This is messed up thinking. Here’s what the CPB says at its website:

The Crown Property Bureau was established under the Royal Assets Structuring Act of 1936 and became a juristic person in 1948. According to the Act, a Crown Property Board was set up, to be chaired ex officio by the Finance Minister, and served by at least four royally-appointed directors. His Majesty the King would also name one of the board members the director-general of the Crown Property Bureau. The Board of Crown Property is responsible for the overall supervision of the activities of the Crown Property Bureau. Duties and responsibilities of the director-general are prescribed by the Board of Crown Property.

In effect, the king controls the CPB through his appointed board. More from that website:

… On 21 April 1935, the 1934 act to exempt royal assets from taxation took effect. The act categorized the royal assets into two types:

* Assets eligible for tax exemption

* Assets eligible for tax payment

On 19 July 1937, the Royal Assets Structuring Act of 1936 became effective. It separated the royal assets into “His Majesty’s personal assets”, “crown property” and “public property”. “His Majesty’s personal assets” would be managed by the Finance Ministry. The Crown Property Bureau was set up with the status equivalent to a division under the Treasury Department of the Finance Ministry.

We guess that when Sumet talks of “private property” that he means anything outside the above. The above shows control is with the king. Each of those appointed is a royalist, close to the palace (note that a slightly different list appears in the Thai version).

What the above doesn’t tell us is how the assets are used. The CPB has almost no transparency – look at the very limited list of  investments. It is opaque because the CPB is “special.” That list implies that the assets of the crown are not state assets.

That the Finance Minister is chair of the board does not mean that the assets are owned by the state and managed for the state. That position is one that was created under the law set by anti-royalist politicians and the intent of that law has long passed, most especially in deals done with the palace under a 1948 Act and then under General Sarit Thanarat. Of the 1948 Act, Porphant Ouyyanont in”The Crown Property Bureau in Thailand and the Crisis of 1997,” Journal of Contemporary Asia, 38,1, 2008, says:

The Crown Property Act of 1948 [not mentioned above] reconstituted the CPB as a juristic person with considerable independence within the overall framework of the government. It also gave control back to the palace.

The minister of finance continued to serve as chairman of the CPB Board, but other board members, including the director, were chosen by the king. The role of the director, who had great independence in managing the CPB’s assets, became of paramount importance. While prior to 1948 there had been frequent changes of management, over the next six decades there were only three directors, giving great continuity. The two distinguishing characteristics of these directors were that they were well educated and palace insiders.

Later the author adds this:

The 1948 Act had some other important characteristics. It specified that the use of the PPB’s resources and income ‘‘depends totally on the royal inclination.’’ It laid down that the CPB’s landed assets could not be seized or transferred. It absolved the CPB from tax on its income (a provision that had been introduced in 1936). It constituted the CPB as an absolutely unique entity which was difficult to define in terms of Thai law. In the course of subsequent legal processes, the Council of State had to give rulings on the nature of the CPB on four occasions. Not one of the rulings was unanimous, and the four rulings conflict. The Council agreed that the CPB was not a private company, government department, or state enterprise, and ultimately in 2001 ruled it was a ‘‘unit of the state,’’ whatever that meant (Somsak, 2006: 67-93).

So when Sumet says: “Don’t think that farangs are always smart.  Many farangs are stupid,” he means in their interpreatation of the king’s/palace’s wealth. Leaving aside the racist slight, which is not uncommon from the amart, it seems that Thais too are perplexed by these “arrangements.” This includes those who have studied the CPB most closely. In fact, they are not stupid, and it is Sumet who is dissembling for political purposes, for Chirayu Isarangkun, the head of the CPB has stated the position clearly, as cited in the above academic article:

The fact that CPB is the investment arm for the monarchy, with a long-term and continuous reputation for reliability, induces Thai and foreign investors to seek joint ventures.

So Sumet can babble on for as long as he wants, claiming the king isn’t wealthy:

‘Is this an exaggeration?  The news spread.  Many people get excited, talking and writing all kinds of stuff….  Go and look at HM’s residence.  Don’t talk about foreign billionaires; even billionaires in Thailand are far richer than him.  So how can they say he is the world’s richest?  Insane,’ he said. ‘Look how he lives.  HM lives in a small palace, and is frugal.  He has been the example of sufficiency,’ he said.

Apart from the fact that the king seems to currently reside in a public hospital, his “small palace,” presumably at Hua Hin is just one of several palaces around the country, many of them barely used. And, the fact remains that the CPB and personal wealth of the monarchy in Thailand is stupendous. And, most of it has been developed during this long reign.





Finance Ministry to give more

27 02 2010
In the Bangkok Post business section for 17 February 2010, a short note appeared with a picture of a couple of celebrities and Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij, showing off pink plastic wristbands. The note states that the wristbands have been “produced in honour of the 82nd birthday of His Majesty the King. The Finance Ministry will produce 999,999 wristbands to be sold for 99 baht each through branches of Krung Thai Bank, the Government Savings Bank, the Government Housing Bank and the Bank for Agnculture and Agricultural Co-operatives. All proceeds will be donated to His Majesty.

To save readers the effort, this amounts to 98,999,901 baht. This is just one of many ways that the government supports the royals and their “projects.” These kinds of activities are seldom questioned and the use of the donated funds is not subject to any scrutiny.