Updated: Royalism undermines popular sovereignty

14 08 2017

Everyone knows that the prince, now king, began his purges of the palace from late 2014, when he “divorced” Srirasmi. Dozens of her family and associates were jailed. Then there were the clearances that saw “unreliables” ditched, deaths in custody, lese majeste jailings and the use of a personal jail. Some fearful palace associates, now out of favor, fled the country.

This was followed by an aggregation of control to the palace. The constitution was secretly changed to accord with the king’s desires and then secret meetings of the puppet assembly gave him control over formerly state bureaucratic departments and the vast wealth of the Crown Property Bureau to the king.

Has he finished? Probably not. Fear and favor mean that an erratic king will lose interest in some people and some things and will need to be rid of them. Then he’ll desire control over other people and things.

But one of the other things that is noticeable is the “normalization” of the reign, as if nothing has changed or that the changes made are in line with the normal activities of the king and palace. Yet even this “normalization” has been a process of promoting a heightened royalism.

The media has been used recently to promote royalism. The excuse has been the queen’s 85th birthday, with a series of “stories” about “people nationwide” celebrating her birthday. Many of the photos showed military men and bureaucrats doing the celebrating.

The Dictator was especially prominent, leading the junta in an alms-giving exercise for 851 monks at the Royal Plaza, claiming it was also a tribute to the dead monarch.

More specific propaganda pieces have dwelt on “merit” and filial piety. For example, the Bangkok Post has run pictures of the king, his mother and Princess Sirindhorn making merit together.

Other royal stories include a donation to of 100 million baht to Siriraj Hospital, with the king thanking the hospital for taking care of his father. The money is said to have “come from revenue from selling his diaries featuring his drawings…”.

While we might doubt that so much money can be made from the sale of a collection of childish drawings, the junta’s support for the king has been strong and maybe it bought many diaries and distributed them.

But back to deepening royalism. The Nation reports on a “revival” of Kukrit Pramoj’s restorationist story “Four Reigns.” Kukrit was an incessant promoter of royalism, ideologue for the dictatorial General Sarit Thanarat, booster for King Bhumibol and diplomat for royalism translated for foreigners.

The Four Reigns is now Six Reigns. According to The Nation, the “restaging of Thailand’s most commercially successful musical play is more pro-absolute monarchy than ever.”

The play opens with the scene in which the spirit of Mae Phloi starts to recount her life story and confirm her unwavering love for “kings”, and the background is the familiar image of people gathering outside the wall of the Grand Palace paying respect to the late King Bhumibol.

And with the last scene showing Thai people paying respect to King Vajiralongkorn, the play now covers six, not four, reigns.

Clearly, the play … tries, more clearly than the original novel, to prove … that Thailand was much better before 1932 than after. This outdated attitude doesn’t sit too well in 2017 Thailand, as we try to build our political system from “military junta under a constitutional monarchy” to “unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy”, a kind of democracy that is already difficult to explain to our friends from many countries.

This royalism can only deepen as the cremation of the dead king approaches and as Vajiralongkorn and the junta further embed his reign and undermine notions of popular sovereignty.

Update: The new king is the old king propaganda continues, with two stories at The Nation of the king’s donations to 300 flood victims and 39 students in the south. We should add that there is no evidence provided of where the funds come from. Like royal projects, it may be that “donations” are all taxpayer funded.





Pathetic royalist “university”

12 08 2017

Chulalongkorn University got some terrible publicity just over a week ago when a royalist initiation ceremony for first-year students descended into chaos after a group of students staged a walk out and one of them was put in a headlock by a royalist botany assistant professor Ruengwit Bunjongrat.

The assistant professor went off to a hospital and the university administration defended him, which only seemed to make the whole sad story worse. Initially it decided to “blame” the head of the Student Council, Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, who the “leadership” wants to be rid of because he has taken positions contrary to the royalism promoted by the administration.

Rather too late, the university’s “leadership” mumbled something about “investigating.” But taking its lead from the military junta, “investigating” involves blaming victims and those it sees as “enemies.”

According to Khaosod, the university’s “leadership” is now “investigating the student activist it earlier blamed for an altercation during freshman induction in which a professor put a student in a headlock.”

A week later, the administration is back to blaming and “investigating” Netiwit, accusing him of “violating two university regulations.”

Make no mistake, like the lese majeste case against Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, this is an attempt to frame Netiwit.

He’s accused of having “intentionally performed an inappropriate act …when Netiwit and his friends walked out of the ceremony…”. Netiwit is also accused of “hosting a meeting on government property without permission…”.

The university’s vice president of student affairs reckons that Netiwit is guilty of insubordination and failing to recognize the hierarchy that requires students to grovel under the authority of the university’s staff.

No doubt the military junta is pleased with its subordinates who “administer” Thailand’s most royalist of indoctrination centers.





Taxpayer-funded royalism

30 06 2017

The effort to “regularize” the junta’s irregular approval of to push through that tower mega-project (worth about half of a Chinese submarine, depending on the price quoted by the Treasury Department), have quickly deteriorated to claims about monarchy, as we predicted.

Prachatai reports that the earlier claims about income and tourism have quickly been ditched. The Treasury Department “has clarified that the controversial 4.62 billion baht Bangkok Observation Tower project is a public-private partnership project to honour the late King Bhumibol.”

That should stop all criticism.

Even if Finance Minister Col Apisak Tantivorawong has said that the Treasury Department will only get 70 million baht from a 30-year lease from the Bangkok Observation Tower Foundation, “which is much lower than the market rate for land in the area,” that’s okay, because this project will “honour the late King Bhumibol.”

Even if the minister “clarifies” that there’s no open bidding because “[i]f it was open for bidding for private developers, no one might be interested because the value of the project is quite high. Also [we] don’t know whether it will be worth the investment,” that’s okay because “[t]he top [of the tower] is for an exhibition about the scientific work of the [late] King.”

(We will leave aside the claims of “science” associated with the dead king.)

Even if the Treasury Department “clarifies” that “the project is social not commercial,” that’s okay because the “land for a project to honour the late King Bhumibol.”

Then there’s the “Bangkok Observation Tower Foundation” which is now said to comprise 50 private companies and financial institutions who share a similar vision on how the land should be developed…”. No mention now of Charoen Pokphand or the royal-linked and owned Siam Piwat or of the royal-linked Magnolia Quality Development Corporation

But, as we know, they head the “Foundation.” They also develop the neighboring “Icon Siam, a mega-riverside shopping complex…”. An observation tower will obviously “enhance” traffic through their new mall.

Profits will roll in and part of them will be due to the taxpayer’s investment in a the “social project.” And the profits can be huge.

Military-dominated governments have long supported, with public funds, royal “projects” that are money-making. Think of the whole area around Princess Sirindhorn’s palace, the multiple malls there, with hotels and offices. It makes billions of baht a year. Icon Siam and its associated, taxpayer-funded tower will potentially make even more.

The taxpayer’s return on the tower will be about 2.3 million baht a year. What a deal! No wonder the military junta needs to protect this project.





A feudal future beckons

21 04 2017

Yellow shirt commentators do not worry much about military dictatorship. They see military dictatorship as “normal” for Thailand.

While most yellow shirts still believe that the military is the only thing standing between them, an election and the hated Thaksin Shinawatra, it is also clear that not all yellow shirts expected an enforced royal dictatorship that fosters Thailand’s refeudalization.

Nonetheless, yellow shirt anti-electionism and royalism naturally promotes refeudalization.

The symbolic removal of the 1932 plaque is not just a royalist act of political and historical vandalism. It is also one more step by the military junta that marks the path of Thailand’s refeudalization.

The attraction of a feudal political arrangement for the military dictatorship is that it has no truck for notions that the people are sovereign.

In this sense, while symbols can have multiple meanings, expunging those that can be used by those who demand popular sovereignty is a part of the military’s palace alliance and its 20-year plan for a “reformed” Thailand.

This is part of the reason why The Dictator is both mum on the removal of 1932 commemoration plaque and protective of the royalist plaque that replaced it. It is pretty clear that this vandalism initially caused fear among some in the junta. Now, however, they have fallen into line, knowing that by their own design, they are politically bound to the reign.

That the opposition and agitation over the removal of the plaque has largely come from those the junta considers the “usual suspects” has also meant that protection of feudalism and its symbols is an easy and “natural” decision.

The most recent act of protection has been to accuse opposition figure Watana Muangsook of “a computer crime for posting on Facebook that the missing 1932 Revolution Plaque is a national asset.”

As Prachatai explains it:

On 19 April 2017, Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, the Deputy Chief of the Royal Thai Police (RTP), revealed that the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) filed a complaint against Watana Muangsook, a politician from the Pheu Thai Party, for breaching the Computer Crime Act.

The police apparently think that the use of the term “national asset” is threatening and false.

Watana was due to report to the police. He is the second to face charges or detention over the plaque. Like Srisuwan Janya, Watana has called for the “return of the missing plaque and for prosecution of those responsible for its removal.”

No one associated with the removal of the plaque has been named, arrested or charged. The chances of this happening are pretty much zero.

As one correspondent stated, everyone knows who is behind this act, but no one can say for fear of lese majeste and jail.

Expunging the symbols of 1932 expunges notions of popular sovereignty. That serves the interests of the military-monarchy alliance where King Vajiralongkorn looks like a throwback absolutist.





Fear and unintended consequences I

18 04 2017

Yet another strange media event highlights the politics of the new reign.

Yesterday it was reported that the dead king’s funeral would take place on 26 October. Later in the day, Khaosod has published this, with the black nothingness being in the original:

Note to Readers: Removal of An Article About a Palace Announcement
Khaosod English
April 18, 2017 6:41 pm

From the Editors of Khaosod English.

Khaosod English has deleted an April 18 article about a certain statement made by the royal palace.

The story was removed because the announcement was not yet released formally by the palace, and Khaosod’s editorial management feared that the content in the article might lead to legal action.

As a news agency based in Thailand, Khaosod English is obliged to comply with Thai law. However, we strive to serve the public interest by presenting objective, accurate news reports.

That the newspaper is unable to present “objective, accurate news reports” due to the monarchy is nothing new. However, the fear that is seen in bizarre news reporting like this, under the new reign, is now part of a commentary.

We have briefly mentioned a New Mandala op-ed by Pavin Chachavalpongpun on fear in the new reign. Earlier we mentioned an op-ed by Claudio Sopranzetti also writing of fear.

While we agree that fear now seems central to the new reign under the erratic and violent King Vajiralongkorn, we do not agree with their contrasting references to the previous reign as one that was one of love and reverence. Idealizing the previous reign is a political mistake based on an incomplete reading of history.

In fact, the previous reign was also one that was defined by patronage and a feeling of impending danger, leading to bizarre politics. Yet for the earlier period of the reign there was also a political struggle as the palace sought to revive monarchy and royalism, along with its wealth and power.

It is in this sense, that the last 10 years marked the political success of that strategy, even if the king was not particularly involved, being hospitalized for the last decade or so of his reign.

Yet his proxies demonstrated a bizarre pattern of rightist and royalist politics that were a direct result of the monarchy’s manufactured position, power and influence. They fought the ghosts of the past and what they perceived as the threat to their position and power that had come from monarchism. That threat was seen in popular sovereignty.

It is in this sense that the current reign is the true and real outcome of that struggle and its politics.

Royalists have always known that Vajiralongkorn is a thug and unstable yet they now seem  somewhat confused that they have aided and abetted a new reign that sees monarchism moving towards an absolutism that they may not have contemplated.

Confusion will lead to bizarre politics and bizarre acts as those who consider themselves part of the royalist ruling class maneuver for influence.

Yet this is also a dangerous time for both the ruling class and for the monarchy as missteps in this small circle of the rich and powerful can have unintended consequences that threaten both.





Courts, rights and junta

26 01 2017

As we have been saying, the so-called justice system is now but a festering and rotting sore on the junta’s repressive political body. But are we too pessimistic? Several stories at Prachatai suggest that while the sore is weeping, some think that it may be cured.

In one story, we are told that the diminutive Thanet Anantawong has appeared in a military court and has been sentenced to eight months in jail. Readers may recall that Thanet was arrested while hospitalized. He was charged with “defying the junta’s ban on political gatherings of five or more persons.”

The military court halved his sentence to four months after Thanet “pleaded guilty.” Pleading guilty is the only way to even get into a military court, for they seem reluctant to deal with any legal issues and prefer simple sentencing.

As Thanet “has already been detained in Bangkok Remand Prison for a period that exceeds his jail term,” he was released.

Along with nine others, Thanet was arrested for “participating in an excursion to Rajabhakti Park [Corruption Park] in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province on 7 December 2015 to investigate corruption allegations related to the park’s development.”

The military junta was not willing to countenance any activist bringing attention to their expensive park and so blocked them and arrested them. It has since whitewashed the park, cleaning it so that it remains their odious refrain to royalism.

That story makes us feel that the “justice” system, especially in the hands of the military is rotten. However, is there hope for this festering sore?

Another Prachatai story gives a little more confidence. It states that public prosecutors have dropped defamation charges against Naritsarawan  Keawnopparat. She has campaigned for justice over the torture of her uncle. That’s moderately good news because the polluted police able to reject the prosecutor.

There are others who think the courts may still be able to recognize justice. Prachatai carries news of anti-junta activists filing “a civil lawsuit against the Thai army, police, and the Prime Minister’s Office for abusing the rights of peaceful demonstrators.”

A few days ago, Neo-Democracy Movement activists “attended a preliminary hearing at the Southern Bangkok Civil Court.” The action refers to “malfeasance and abuse of human rights in arresting and abusing NDM activists and other demonstrators who on 22 May 2015 participated in a peaceful gathering to commemorate the 2014 coup d’état.” The activists “demands about 16.5 million baht in compensation from the three public agencies.”

Interestingly, activist Rangsiman Rome said “that the reconciliation process which the junta the military government is trying to foster will not succeed if people still suffer injustice.”

Yet another story reports that Thai Lawyers for Human Rights “have filed a charge against Thailand’s Corrections Department after prison officers barred a lawyer from meeting his lèse majesté client.”

The Corrections Department and the Director of Chiang Rai Central Prison, as well as prison staff members have been “accused of violating a prisoner’s rights after a lawyer from TLHR was denied a meeting with his client on 12 September 2016.” TLHR “will now attempt to sue the Corrections Department for 200,000 baht as compensation.”

(Prachatai reports the prisoner as “Somsak.” PPT has no record of Somsak and assumes it is Samak Pante, but would appreciate advice from readers.)

The outcome of these cases may tell us more about the spread of the injustice infection.





Political opponents are “dogs”

16 09 2016

Coup leader, self-appointed prime minister and prime ministerial “hopeful” General Prayuth Chan-ocha, together with some of his junta cabinet ministers spent “about five hours boasting of their achievements and performances for the past two years” a couple of days ago.

Five hours is a long time to sing one’s own praises, but the arrogance of The Dictator knows few bounds and no one in his gang of posterior polishers is able or prepared to tell him to shut up.

They apparently believe the polls that claim The Dictator is hugely popular. The “referendum” result has confirmed this for them and for The Dictator.

As far as we have seen no one has fact-checked The Dictator’s claims, but these days facts count for little. If The Dictator says it is so, then it is. The media is remarkably tame, although we admit that several newspapers have belatedly criticized the “report,” including the Bangkok Post and The Nation.

The item in The Dictator’s rant “report” that caught our attention was in a Thai PBS report, where the gloating self-appointee berated political opponents, calling them “dogs.”

He stated that “there are, today, dogs that keep harassing ‘phuyai of our country’ despite the fact that they have been working tirelessly for the good of the country.”

Prayuth perhaps sees himself as a “phuyai,” although we doubt the grandees of Thai society consider him other than a useful servant. His support of the existing ruling class is hardly news as it is this ability to serve the elite that has seen Prayuth rise to the top of the military and run a coup for the elite.

Prayuth declared that for “the country to move forward, to prosper and to be in peace, he said everyone in the country must abide by the law [his law], be responsible, not causing conflicts and not violating human rights [ignoring the junta’s own repeated and continual abuse of these rights].”

He also babbled a bit about royal ideology and sufficiency economy.

Prayuth seems certain he will be prime minister after any “election” the junta arranges.