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.

Updated: A royalist’s royalist

26 08 2016

If you are a royalist, after the near-dead king, your favorite figure must be General Prem Tinsulanonda. The aged general and president of the Privy Council has turned 96 and, according to a remarkably syrupy article in the Bangkok Post, remains remarkably important for the current military junta.

Some commentators argue that the grand old man has been pushed aside by the regime, yet it is clear that the regime continues to provide the prim and interfering “boss” with the attention and supplication that Prem craves.

For over 30 years, Prem has been at the center of Thailand’s politics, and this has reflected his long alliance with the palace. Prem returned palace support by doing more for the political and economic domination of the monarchy than any premier since General Sarit Thanarat.

Since his appointment by the king as a privy councilor, Prem has also been at the center of palace politics. Palace politics under him became intimately aligned and interconnected with national politics.

The Post states that “[n]early three decades after he left office, the country’s 16th prime minister remains as powerful and commands a great deal of clout among the ruling generals and other military top brass.”

The brass, as almost all of them have done for decades, showed up to provide birthday wishes to Prem “at his leafy Si Sao Thewes residence.” (As we have said several times in the past, “his residence” actually belongs to the state and Prem “resides” at the taxpayers expense, despite the fact that he has become quite wealthy.)

Prem held the premiership for almost 8.5 years. These were not years of political stability. He retained power through frequent cabinet reshuffles, with the support of military-appointed senates, neglecting parliament and politicians and, most significantly, the palace’s backing.

The Post suggests that Prem “stepped down as prime minister” but this neglects the bitter struggle that took place, with Prem refusing to budge and with opponents threatening to reveal his “private life.” Eventually, the campaign for an elected premier won out. Prem has been bitter about this ever since; he detests elected politicians.

His bitterness was somewhat reduced by the fact that “[d]ays after his political retirement, he was appointed by … the King as a member of the Privy Council.”

According to the Post, Prem is “recognised as working closely with the monarchy and following an important mission to protect the revered [sic.] institution.”

Prem is known for his capacity for “eliminating disloyal subordinates and disrespectful foes.” Respect is something that makes Prem feel special. He feels he deserves to be considered special and important.

The Post suggests that those who put him offside include General Suchinda Kraprayoon and his group of Class 5 graduates from the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy. They apparently sidelined Prem. Class 5 lost.

The other big loser is Thaksin Shinawatra. Prem came to hate Thaksin who he felt paid him insufficient respect and “crossed” him and the palace. Thaksin lost.

The military regime troops to Prem’s taxpayer-funded home three times a year and “offer[s] … good wishes and receive Gen Prem’s blessings.” As the Post also adds, the “Burapha Payak (Tigers of the East) and Queen’s Guard military units, which are known to play an influential role in the armed forces, also have to beat a path to the Si Sao Thewes residence, which has become a symbol of power.”

As expected, Prem has consistently provided the public support the regime requires from the palace. As the Post observes, “[t]his is a crucial time when the Burapha Payak and the Si Sao Thewes residence must stand united to weather possible political turbulence.” The alliance seems set to have a general become unlelected premier when an election is held, and Prem appears to support this.

Prem made it clear that he fully backs Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s leadership. He stated:

I trust the prime minister and that all of you can work for the country, with royalty [the monarchy] and make sacrifices….

No matter how big or small the difficulties are, I ask the prime minister to feel at ease that the armed forces and people will give encouragement to the prime minister.

He said he has always told others about how important it was that Gen Prayut and his comrades had to step in during this turbulent time.

I told “Tu” [Gen Prayut’s nickname] that old soldiers like us will do all we can to help Tu achieve the great mission for the country….

Sounds like Prem’s “vote” is in.

Royalists will listen.

Update: As a mark of the royal house’s appreciation of Prem’s loyalty and political works for it, he was given a special merit-making ceremony, “sponsored” by the king and queen. As these two are very ill and barely able to express anything, the show of respect for loyalty comes from the other members of the royal family and Privy Council. The report states that the “ceremony was held at Wat Rajabopit with Royal representatives, and some high ranking public and private officials also attending.” It was “Privy Councillor General Surayud Chulanont, who represented Their Majesties, and Air Chief Marshal Kasem Yoosuk, chief of HRH the Crown Prince’s Private Secretary’s Office, represented HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, also appeared at the ceremony to give Gen Prem bouquets and best wishes.”

The Dictator’s world of authoritarianism

8 01 2016

No one can confuse General Prayuth Chan-ocha for a democrat. He’s been involved in two military coups overthrowing elected governments. He was the leader of the 2014 coup. He has established a repressive regime, and for all of the talk of a “roadmap,” that leads to a regime that political scientists might have euphemistically thought of – in the 1980s and 1990s – as a “semi-democracy.” He’s also more comfortable with royalism than constitutionalism, rule by law rather than rule of law and he abhors personal freedoms and liberties. That’s why we call him The Dictator.

Dictators come in various shapes and forms, although it must be admitted that, worldwide, there are fewer of them these days. Some might consider Thailand’s supreme leader as a throwback to the Cold War era of military dictators, and he certainly does look like that at times. As many have pointed out, though, his regime, with its enhanced royalism and the associated personality cult that is still promoted for an almost dead king, does look a bit like North Korea with advertising and a capitalist class. We are pretty sure that The Dictator admires aspects of the North Korean regime.

HairThe other likely model is China. There have been plenty of reports on how the military regime under Prayuth has moved closer to China. There are also indications of admiration based on style and program. Like a good many vain senior Thais, Prayuth would fit neatly into the Chinese Politburo, with rich, dyed black hair.

Like Chinese leaders, Prayuth manages to come up with slogans and aphorisms (as well as songs) that express his views and which are apparently meant to “motivate” others. His most recent is scrolling across the top of a leading state propaganda site: “The Prime Minister has given the motto for the National Children’s Day 2016 …: ‘Good child, diligent, learning, towards a bright future’.”

Appearance and self-obsession aside, there is more sinister learning and emulation at work that is mixed with the Thai military’s great capacity for repression, terror and murder. Controlling, restricting and banning all events it sees as “political” and “oppositional” is something else the Chinese regime does with brutish efficiency. Like the Chinese regime, Prayuth’s seeks to threaten and cajole political opponents. When that fails, it locks them up, often with sedition and lese majeste charges.

At the state propaganda site and also reported by Khaosod is something that is still short of the Chinese approach, but getting there: “The government announced yesterday that it has asked Facebook and Youtube to ban the accounts of users that distribute any offensive remarks about the monarchy on the internet.”

Both companies have previously managed to bow to state pressure on the monarchy, so the response this time will be a test of company backbone. We expect it to crumble, as Microsoft appears to have colluded with The Dictator’s regime. For the moment, both companies have “declined to comment.”

Officials say there are “almost 100 accounts on Youtube and 20-30 accounts on Facebook” that they want banned. There may be more as the dictatorship further encourages “[m]embers of the public … to report any website considered to violate the royal defamation law…”.

Minor prince and military flunkey Panadda Diskul, who chaired the meeting on Wednesday, declared that the “urgent discussion” was a response to concerns expressed by Prayuth. Follow the leader is a well-known Chinese game.

Prayuth’s world is authoritarian. He learns from China, North Korea and plenty of past Thai autocrats.

Good vs. evil I

1 01 2016

One of the dominant discourses of recent years has been the royalist notion that the political world is populated by good and evil people. Promoted by aging princes and then by the current king, this discourse drew on a particular reading of Buddhism. It became a part of an ideological justification of a return of royalism that was to undo the ideals of the 1932 revolution.

When political contestation has been at its highest, as in recent years, “good people” are those who are loyal to king and monarchy. This also means that they are “moral people.”

It is in this sense that what might be considered evil in a normal world is magically made “good” and “moral.” Hence, mass murder conducted in the name of the king or of protecting the monarchy is made “good” because it is done for the “best” of reasons – loyalty to the crown.

Among the most notorious statements of this view was by Kittivudho Bhikkhu in an interview in late June 1976, who argued that while all killing involved some demerit for Buddhists, killing communists in protecting nation, religion and monarchy was killing bestial types rather than humans and he stated that “Buddhists must do it [kill communists].”

This notion also means that loyal royalists who murder students or political opponents deemed threats to nation, religion and monarchy can be excused or even lionized. This is why the loyal royalist but immensely corrupt General Sarit Thanarat, also responsible for the deaths of numerous opponents, can be a royalist hero.

In recent years, the royalist definition of those who are evil and immoral has included elected politicians who support Thaksin Shinawatra, red shirts and electoralism, for all are seen as threats to the monarchy. Military commanders and pliable royalist politicians who engage in corruption and the murder of politicians, however, are “good” and “moral” because they oppose these threats and kill and jail persons considered threats.

This is a long-winded way of getting to a Khaosod report that observes:

In a way, former army chief Udomdej Sitabutr, was cleared of the allegation that he is involved in massive graft, even before an inquiry by the Ministry of Defense yesterday formally let him off the hook.

Just hours before the announcement of the Ministry’s weeks-long investigation into Rajabhakti Park, the monument complex built under Udomdej’s watch and said to be mired in widespread corruption, Udomdej received a glowing endorsement from Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda, the influential former Prime Minister and top advisor to … the King.

“Good” person Prem reportedly declared:

“I believe goodness will bring success to you, Dong,” Gen. Prem told Udomdej at his residence on Wednesday, calling him by his nickname. “I believe you are not that kind of person. I believe you are a good person.”

Udomdej told reporters “that he also chatted with Prem some more in private, and Prem repeated his confidence that the former army chief was not involved in any wrongdoing in the construction of Rajabhakti [Corruption] Park.” He added that Prem told him “he believes I didn’t do anything wrong…”.

The Khaosod report states:

Gen. Udomdej has been embroiled in the scandal since he admitted to reporters in November that he was aware of some financial irregularities in the one-billion baht project. According to Udomdej, the army hired private foundries to make giant statues for the park through a businessman who took a 10 percent cut from the budget. (Khaosod English is withholding the man’s identity to avoid a possible lawsuit under defamation laws.)

Admitting that there was corruption in the project he oversees means little when Udomdej is anointed as “good” by a senior “good person.”

Udomdej is not out of the corruption woods yet. Even so, Prem, like his cronies heading the military junta, knows that those pointing to the corruption are “evil” and “disloyal.” This means they must protect Udomdej and the junta and in doing so, they are doing more “good.”