Sulak, the king and lese majeste

24 11 2018

A story from an Australian newspaper provides yet more detail on the king and lese majeste via Sulak Sivaraksa. It is kind of looking like Sulak is a palace messenger.

The report notes that despite multiple lese majeste charges brought against him (all under the previous king), Sulak “remained a monarchist.” As a monarchist, “[h]e believes the lese-majeste law, Article 112, should be abolished for the sake of keeping the royal family strong.”

Sulak “speaks highly of the new king … who he says is not only responsible for his freedom but for no new lese-majeste charges being laid against anyone in a year.” He claims that on lese majeste, Vajiralongkorn “… is impatient, he said ‘no more’…”.

Academic Patrick Jory argues that the frequency of use has to do with “… political crisis, particularly one in which the monarchy is involved…”. He also suggests that “the coming election and Vajiralongkorn’s coronation, on a date yet to be set, have both played a part in the year-long moratorium on new charges.”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk says: “While there has been a sharp drop in lese-majeste prosecutions, Thai authorities have switched to using other laws, such as the Computer-Related Crime Act and sedition law, to prosecute critics of the monarchy…”.

As well as praising the king, Sulak refers to Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, as “mediocre” and “the worst of the dictators we’ve had,” but “competent.” Worst, mediocre and competent is a wide range of descriptions and he also describes Gen Sarit Thanarat as “the worst.”

Mixing all that up, Sulak then declares: “Prayuth’s afraid of me. He’s a hypocrite. He used this case to silence me. Every dictator hated me. Suchinda [Kraprayoon, whose brief tenure in 1992 was marked by a massacre] was very bright compared with Prayut. He tried to kill me.”

No of this makes sounds particularly compos mentis, his comments on Vajiralongkorn need to be seriously considered as he is one of the few who has spoken about him.

Sulak is described as “circumspect about what the king is like in person,” but admits that “[h]e has a bad public image…”. He continues:

He’s shy, but he’s very knowledgeable. He’s very concerned with the survival of the monarchy, and very concerned about whether this country could be really democratic.

I think the king is wise. He wants the monarchy to be more open and more transparent. He has gained a lot of confidence [since he assumed power].

That’s all very scary.

On the future of lese majeste, Jory says “the new king is very unpopular, particularly compared to his father, and with “too many skeletons” in the monarchy’s closet he does not expect the lese-majeste law to be reformed any time soon.”

Jory says the “monarchy has lots and lots of enemies. This issue in the medium term won’t go away,” meaning that lese majeste will be maintained. “He is not expecting much to change with the election expected in February.”





The other Vichai story

31 10 2018

With all the eulogies for Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha being wholly laudatory, BBC Sport Editor Dan Roan is in a spot of bother after being caught “talking about Vichai[‘s]… personal assistant Nusara Suknamai.” He said: “As opposed to the mistress who died in the crash, otherwise known as member of staff, i.e. mistress… family man…”.

Nusara has been described as a “[f]ormer beauty queen who was runner-up in Thailand’s Miss Universe.”

Fans of Leicester City attacked Roan, variously describing him as despicable and an enemy of the club. He was told by some that he was no longer welcome at the club. These fans lauded Vichai and hated the fact that the BBC editor had, well, told the truth.

The claims by others were uncritical and blur truth. It was Britain’s Prince William who stated:

My thoughts today are with the family and friends of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and all the victims of the terrible crash at Leicester City Football Club…. I was lucky to have known Vichai for several years. He was a businessman of strong values who was dedicated to his family and who supported a number of important charitable causes.

Vichai is next to the tall lad in red

There’s no evidence that Prince William’s claims are anything other than a repetition of the spin that has been associated with Vichai and King Power in recent years. The BBC mistress slip is just one aspect of this.

Lauding Vichai as something of a hero in the context of Leicester and Leicester City is understandable. Spin from a royal polo partner are also no surprise.

But the failure of the media to investigate more is disappointing.

After all, Vichai’s business history is of virtually inexplicable, very sudden and huge wealth. Yes, King Power is known, but the company and its founder are secretive. What is known suggests he may have grifted his way to great wealth, not least by polishing the right posteriors. Once he had great wealth, he selectively polished his own posterior by carefully managing his and the company’s limited media profile.

On the mistress claim, it is not at all odd to learn that a Sino-Thai mogul would hire an “assistant” who is a former beauty queen. That she might be a mistress is also pretty much “normal” in Thailand. Most Sino-Thai tycoons have a stable of mistresses.

And, of course, not just tycoons and not just Thailand.

But in Thailand, there’s a normalization of such relations. Politicians and military types are good examples. Gen Sarit Thanarat had a bevy of mistresses. Whispers about other leaders are only sometimes revealed, usually in squabbles over their ill-gotten gains. Examples included Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong, Chatichai Choonhavan and Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.

And, of course, there’s the massive official silence in Thailand about the current king’s “troubled relationships with a succession of wives and mistresses.”

It is about power. For the tycoons, wealth means power and having a mistress is “normalized.” But that link between wealth, power and mistress should not be ignored.





Elections, populism and campaigning

12 07 2018

Current Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak was an important member of Thaksin Shinawatra’s economic team, responsible for the policies labelled “populist” by opponents and “policy corruption” by the People’s Alliance for Democracy. Others considered the policies as examples of vote-buying by using state funds.

As the military junta embedded its rule following the 2014 military coup it looked to extend its time in power, Somkid was brought in as an “economic czar” to engage in policy plagiarism and improve the junta’s economic performance with doses of Thaksin’s policies.

From the Bangkok Post: Somkid and his master

Somkid adapted himself well to the military dictatorship and has now become one of the critical ministers in the junta’s efforts to “win” its rigged election. Somkid may tell himself that he’s just a technocrat but he’s become a willing tool of military dictatorship. This pattern of technocrats supporting authoritarian regimes is not unusual. In Thailand, it was a defining feature of Gen Sarit Thanarat’s regime, put in place in 1958 and extending to 1973 and the long Gen Prem Tinsulanonda regime.

Somkid has now become a junta politician, dealing with two other Thaksin traitors, organizing a political party that intends to have The Dictator continue in power for years to come.

In preparing for the “election,” Somkid’s attention is not just on organizing the Palang Pracharath Party but to ensuring that huge transport infrastructure projects (valued at almost 1 trillion baht) are in place for the Sino-Thai conglomerates to continue using state budgets for enrichment and pouring funds into the poorer parts of the population who make up the majority of voters. (As the poor spend most of the money they receive, this consumption spurs businesses, as Thaksin proved.)

As Somkid showed when he worked for Thaksin, such policies are powerful vote winners.





“Elections” matter for the junta and its supporters

30 06 2018

Readers will be interested in a new op-ed by Pavin Chachavalpongpun. As the article is long and also likely to be able to be read in Thailand, we just highlight a couple of points.

Drawing on an observation by Italian Communist and Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, Pavin observes that “[t]hese are the days when an old system refuses to die and a new system isn’t ready to be born.”

Reflecting on the current grim political situation, Pavin looks back to the rise of the People Alliance for Democracy (PAD) some 13 years ago. He argues that the “crux” of the political problem of the time was “apprehension among the royal political network concerning the rise of Thaksin [Shinawatra], who threatened to replace the old political order with his own.”

As the Shinawatras and their parties continued to triumph in elections after the 2006 coup, Pavin observes that this “coincided with the flagging power of the Thai monarchy.”

This characterization is a little off. The monarchy’s power wasn’t flagging but was being challenged by the rise of anti-monarchy sentiment associated with a political movement. That’s why the “royal political network sought to eliminate its enemies once more in a coup.”

Whether this had much to do with “manag[ing] the royal succession” remains debatable. But it is clear that crushing anti-monarchy sentiment and agitation was critical for both the military and palace as it was red shirts who constituted the existential challenge to monarchy and military. Pavin provides a neat potted history of the construction and maintenance of the military-monarchy nexus and its struggles with the rise of electoral politics.

Today, while it may appear that “the royal political network had won this political tussle,”Pavin isn’t so sure. He links this to the new reign and potential instability, where the “prospect of Thailand being ruled by a new unpopular king was daunting. While Bhumibol was able to safeguard the political benefits of the elitist class, his son, now King Vajiralongkorn, seemed unlikely to be able to guarantee the same” for that class.

We think that explaining the long political crisis by focusing on the succession has now been shown to have been overdone. In fact, there was no succession crisis. Rather, there was a crisis that emerged from the challenge to the military-monarchy nexus that came from the grassroots. It was that crisis that in part prompted the 2014 military coup.

Pavin is right that the new political system is not yet in place. That is why the junta wants 20-year “plans” and to control the election after putting new political rules in place. If the current junta succeeds and puts Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in place following the election heading a coalition of unimportant military boot-licking pseudo-parties, then it will have given birth to the “new” system.

All the stuff about the “new monarch is lacking in moral authority” and so on is quickly being replaced by a “new” conservative royalism that is backward looking, nationalist and military sponsored, not unlike the monarchism invented under Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat.

Pavin concludes by asking”: “So, where does Thailand go from here? Will the upcoming elections mean anything for the country?” Remarkably, he can only say: “Elections, if they are to happen, may not deliver a genuine democratic regime.”

May not? Seriously, this is a desperate grasping at straws. They not only cannot deliver a “genuine democratic regime” but are meant to deliver – and designed to deliver – military political dominance for years to come save the prospect of “political violence” that Pavin briefly considers.

Finally, Pavin returns to “palace politics” which he says is “complicated and unpredictable.” It has always been so because the palace remains the most opaque and secretive of institutions. Pavin is certainly right to observe: “Since the Thai monarchy cannot be separated from politics, developments within the walls of the palace matter greatly to Thais.” That is probably how the junta and palace prefers it. The alternative of the people mattering has been pretty much erased by the junta’s selective and targeted political repression.





TIME’s dictator of the year II

26 06 2018

Khaosod reports that the TIME edition featuring The Dictator will not be distributed or sold in Thailand.

As we stated earlier, we felt it was a story that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha will like because it promotes him as a strong leader, now and into the future.

Indeed, “a top government spokesman held up Prayuth’s Time interview as a sign the world was warming to the retired general as he embarked on a tour of European capitals.”

However, there seems to be elements of the story that seem to be a problem. Some in the regime seem to say that the description of The Dictator as a “little Sarit” somehow inappropriate. But that seems an unlikely reason for a ban on the magazine.

That the article says Prayuth was seen talking to a frog has not come up as something causing a ban.

Based on the fear expressed by the magazine’s local distributors, it seems that very brief comments on coronation and the monarchy may be the issue.

One is reported as stating:

We were informed by the distributor from abroad … that it may contain inappropriate content. Some text may need to be censored, meaning we’d have to cover some parts, so we decided it’s better not to sell it.

Exactly which content was considered inappropriate was not disclosed.

Another distributor dded no more information, stating, “Please excuse us for not clarifying.”

Khaosod states that the article “contains one sentence describing King Rama X in general terms. It cannot be reproduced here [in Khaosod] for fear of violating the draconian lese majeste law…”.

In the article, there are references to the monarchy:

The royal family is treated with almost divine reverence in Thailand [PPT: not by all]. Prayuth strengthened ties with the royal household and earned himself the nickname Little Sarit, after Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, who seized power through a putsch in 1957 and helped raise the monarchy to its paramount role in Thai society. Today every [PPT: not all] Thai household displays a portrait of the monarch as the highest picture in the room. And the country boasts some of the world’s strictest royal defamation laws, which are increasingly being used to crush dissent.

Many believe Prayuth’s coup was meant to ensure that Thailand’s elites remained in control during a sensitive time of royal succession. Thailand’s new King, Maha Vajiralongkorn, leads an unconventional lifestyle and does not command the same respect that his father did.

The latter statement has become a media mantra, so hardly seems controversial. Another paragraph includes this:

For more than a decade, Thailand has been wracked with color-coded street protests between the typically rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother Thaksin–who served as Prime Minister from 2001 to 2006–and their mainly urban opponents, backed by the powerful royal palace, military and judiciary. The pro-Yingluck faction wear red. Their opponents wear yellow.

Perhaps the claim of palace support to the yellow shirts is the issue? Whatever the particular statement on the monarchy that has created fear and a ban, it is clear that any commentary on the monarchy that is not laudatory is now more or less banned.





TIME’s dictator of the year I

23 06 2018

TIME magazine has a long story on The Dictator and his politics. We won’t repeat it here as the story is widely available.

Also, we think it is a story that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha will like as it promotes him as a strong leader, now and into the future. Sure it says some things that many will interpret as negatives, but The Dictator occupies a different headspace and will read one reader’s negatives as his positives.

That some claim he will appear on TIME’s cover will have him puffing his chest as well. We don’t know if this is true, and it may be that there are multiple TIME covers for different regions. CNN has been reporting that the next TIME cover features Donald Trump and a child, reflecting America’s immigration crisis.

TIME does say that “General Prayuth Chan-ocha appears at ease among the lavish trappings of politics…”. Well, that’s well-known.

It does say that Thais have been waiting for long-delayed elections. That’s also well known. And Prayuth has long said that only he can decide when his junta will allow and “election.”

It also says that “[m]any … fear that under Prayuth’s watch [Thailand]… is undergoing a permanent authoritarian regression.” We doubt that anything is permanent, but its hardly a secret that Prayuth’s junta has sought to wind back the political clock and intends this to be permanent or at least a total of 25 years.

And it cites some opponents. Their views are pretty well known.

But none of this is criticism that The Dictator hasn’t seen off for more than four years and some of it perversely builds Prayuth’s preferred “tough guy” image.

That image-building reshapes Prayuth’s military career as a tough guy rather than a polisher of royal posteriors. The article claims that there was no “opulence” in Prayuth’s military career. TIME seems to have neglected how the Thai Army actually operates, where commanders are treated like kings, have personal slaves by the dozen and live in rather nice houses, have chauffeured cars and nice little earners on boards of state enterprises. It also neglects how wealthy Thailand’s military leaders are.

It paints him as a man who sacrificed for the country: “When people are in trouble, we, the soldiers, are there for them…”. That will have Prayuth all puffed up and happy for it justifies corruption, coups and murderous attacks on the “people.”

It says he’s a hero, winning “the Ramathipodi medal, the country’s top honor for gallantry in the field.” We had never heard of this before, but we also don’t know about this stuff, but there’s a related discussion from a while ago at Thai Visa. That set of threads seems to suggest that this TIME information is either new, a story concocted by The Dictator’s PR or an error.

Not just a brave man, but a selfless servant of nation and monarchy: “I told myself that I had to dedicate my life for my homeland and the monarchy.” Prayuth’s PR staff must be over the moon.

It compares Prayuth with another strongman, Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat. Again, Prayuth will love this. For another comparison with Sarit, see this exchange.

We could go on. But the theme is clear. TIME has done the junta’s work. It often did the same during the Cold War, but that’s another sad tale.





2014 military coup: assessing and forgetting

21 05 2018

There’s currently a plethora of stories and op-eds that assess the results of the 2014 military coup.

Despite limited resources, Khaosod is usually a news outlet that is better than others at reporting the events of the day and in trying to be critical of military rule. However, one of its assessment stories is rather too forgetful.

Teeranai Charuvastra is the author and begins with the sad statistic that The Dictator Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been directing the state since he seized it 1,641 days on Tuesday. In fact, he effectively seized power a couple of days earlier and the official coup announcement then followed.

That long four years is, Teeranai observes, “longer than any other coup leader since the Cold War.”

We are not exactly sure when the Cold War ended. Perhaps its late 1991 when the Soviet Union itself dissolved into its all those republics. Perhaps it is the fall of the Berlin Wall two years earlier. It matters only because if it is December 1991, then there’s only been two military coups in Thailand in that period, both involving roughly the same military crew as is in power now. If it is 1989, then add one more coup.

Two or three coups in Thailand’s long history of military seizures of the state doesn’t necessarily amount to establishing a pattern, although Teeranai’s thinks it does. The claim is that:

Every ‘successful’ military takeover of the last four decades has followed the same script: The generals who led the putsch quickly install a civilian prime minister, ostensibly to give the appearance of democratic rule, before retreating into the shadows. Typically, general elections have been organized within a year.

For one thing, that time period takes us back to about 1978, when Gen Kriangsak Chomanan was in the premier’s seat, having seized power in late 1977 from the ultra-royalist/ultra-rightist regime of civilian and palace favorite Thanin Kraivixien.

But back to Gen Prayuth, who is claimed to have gone off-script. Military junkie/journalist Wassana Nanuam is quoted in support of this claim: “He tore to pieces the rules of the coup.”

Back to the dates. Is there a script. In our view there is, but it isn’t the version proclaimed by Wasana. Rather, the script for the military is in seizing and holding power. When Gen Sarit Thanarat seized power in 1957, he put a civilian in place but in 1958 took power himself. He and his successors held power until 1973. When the military again seized power in 1976, it reluctantly accepted the king’s demand for Thanin to head a government. He failed and Kriangsak seized power in late 1977. Kriangsak held the premiership until 1980, when the military leadership convinced him to handover to palace favorite Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, who stayed until 1988.

Now there’s a pattern. We think its the pattern that Prayuth’s dictatorial junta has had in mind since they decided that the 2006 coup had failed to adequately expunge Thaksin Shinawatra’s appeal and corral the rise of electoral politics.

So Wassana’s triumphalism about The Dictator “breaking a mold” is simply wrong. The military regime is, like its predecessors in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, about embedding the military and throttling electoral politics.

Wassana’s other claim is that Prayuth’s coup and plan to hold power was risky. We think that’s wrong too.

In fact, after 2006 was declared a failure, Prayuth and his former bosses, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda, had worked with various rightist and royalist agents to undermine the likely opponents of another military political victory: red shirts and politicians of the elected variety.

ISOC was an important part of that as it systematically destroyed red shirt operations and networks.

In addition, the courts and “independent” agencies had all been co-opted by the military and its royalist and anti-democrat allies.

There was never any chance that Prayuth would hand over to an appointee.

Teeranai’s piece also asks; “So how did Prayuth’s National Council for Peace and Order, or NCPO, manage to stay this long?”

The response is: “The reasons are many, … [that] range from the junta’s use of brute force to Prayuth’s personal influence.” But a “common thread has to do with what the junta is not. The regime’s success, according to most people interviewed, lies in convincing people it is a better alternative to the color-coded feuds and churning upheaval that have plagued the nation.”

We think this is only true for some people and certainly not all. And the people who were convinced are the anti-democrats. Those interviewed are mostly yellow shirts who define “the people” as people like them.

When Suriyasai Katasila says that “The people felt there was only instability… So people accept the NCPO’s [junta] intervention, even though it cost them certain rights,” he speaks for some of Bangkok’s middle class and the anti-democrats.

Other anti-democrats are cited: “people don’t see the point of calling for elections, because they think things will just be the same after the election. People are sick and tired.” Again, these are words for the anti-democrats and by the anti-democrats.

If elections were rejected, one would expect low turnouts for them. If we look just at 2011 and 2007, we see voter turnout in excess of 80%. The anti-democrats propagandize against elections and speak of “the people” but represent a minority.

We’ve said enough. The aims of the current military junta are clear. And the anti-democrats are self-serving and frightened that the people may be empowered by the ballot box. That’s why the junta is rigging any future vote.