Prem dead IV

31 05 2019

In our first post on Gen Prem Tinsulanonda’s death, we warned that there was likely to be plenty of buffalo manure, piled high by royalists and lazy commentators who recall Prem’s time as unelected premier as somehow better than anything else.

As it has turned out, while there has been some of this bleating, there’s also been some excellent assessments in the international media and in the local press.

That has seen some efforts to roll back the truth and to make a silk purse of a sow’s ear. A recent sycophantic effort is by commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak. As far as we can tell from his CV, Thitinan has never actually written much at all about Gen Prem. This would suggest that he’s working on that sow’s ear based on his impressions of a man he admired.

Thitinan seems miffed that some of the commentary on Prem has been negative. He puts this down to considering Prem’s 21st century and forgetting his 20th century work. And, he seems to think that other mistakenly use 21st century lenses to consider the earlier Prem. And/or, the youngsters of today just don’t get what their “elders” did for them back in the grim days of the Cold War military dictatorship.

He admits that “Gen Prem’s legacy is certainly mixed.” However, he wants to resurrect Prem’s 20th century when “[h]e served what he often called the “motherland”, astutely and with distinction when the heyday of Thailand’s military-authoritarian era needed him to thwart communism…”. Look at these interventions as “Gen Prem’s lasting legacies, which marked his illustrious political life and performance at the top…”.

Unfortunately, Thitinan really only begins his 20th century story when Gen Prem becomes army chief in the late 1970s, “when communist expansionism was an existential threat.” There’s stuff about Prem staring down Vietnamese tans across the border in 1979. Where does Thitinan expect the nation’s military commander to have been? At the same time, its was clear to all who were deeply involved  that the Vietnamese weren’t invading Thailand but defeating the Khmer Rouge. What this prancing at the border did was give Prem more ammunition for replacing Gen Kriangsak as prime minister.

When he succeeded in ousting Kriangsak, he relinquished control of Cambodia policy to hardliners:

… Prime Minister Prem … has delegated Cambodian policy primarily to three officials–Foreign Minister Siddhi Savetsila, Secretary-General Prasong Sunsiri of the National Security Council, and Army Deputy Chief of Staff Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. While Siddhi directs efforts on the diplomatic front, Prasong is in charge of Bangkok’s policy toward all Indochinese refugees. Lt. General Chavalit coordinates Chinese and ASEAN military aid to the resistance and is the principal architect of non-Communist resistance strategy.

Thitinan ignores the political turmoil of the early years of the Prem premiership and the opposition to him.

For him, the two big deals of the Prem period are “compromises.” One is the amnesty for “Communist Party of Thailand members and student activists who earlier fled to jungle hideouts and strongholds to return and restart their lives in society.” Chavalit had much to do with that too, but the fact is that there were other things happening within the CPT that saw it in decline and made amnesty good strategy. Prem did recognize this and deserves credit.

The second compromise “was between civilian leaders and military generals.” He says:

As prime minister, Gen Prem presided over three elections and five governments. He maintained control over security- and economy-related cabinet portfolios, especially interior, defence, finance, and foreign affairs, but allowed elected politicians to run line ministries, such as commerce, industry, agriculture, and transport and communications. This compromise led to a so-called “Premocracy”, that was semi-authoritarian and semi-democratic. Similar to the current Thai military regime’s situation, this kind of compromise requires fair and sufficient power-sharing, which may be lacking in the post-election political setup.

This is only part of the story. Prem was under constant pressure from civilians for real electoral democracy. He resisted and that’s why there were five governments. Prem resisted, again and again, and the palace was unwavering in its support of Prem-style authoritarianism. No politician ever challenged Prem for the premiership. They knew their place. Prem spent the rest of his life trying to prevent civilian politicians from ruling. He did his job and he was rewarded. Thailand lost elected governments time and time again.

For a different take, mostly 21st century Prem, the Council on Foreign Relations is good.

Asia Sentinel on the prince’s war

12 11 2015

Asia Sentinel has another article on Thailand’s bizarre royal politics. The article seems to be written by the same “correspondent” as an earlier piece on this topic.

Its main claim is that Thailand’s royalist elites “may be horrified by the prince’s behavior, but they have little recourse” and have jumped on board with Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

The article believes that “Thailand’s elites … [have] campaigned for years  to prevent him from becoming king upon his father’s death…”. As we have said many times over the years, we are not convinced by this claim. We do acknowledge the Wikileaks cable that was unflattering, but as we said back then, despite their reservations about the prince, Prem and Siddhi Savetsila seemed resigned to his becoming king.Asia Sentinel

Even so, the claim of a succession struggle has motivated many observers and succession, once hardly mentioned, has become an important topic, discussed in whispers.

The observation that Prem Tinsulanonda, the head of the Privy Council, appeared at the “Bike for Mom” event in August does show support for the prince. The claim that Prem had previously supported Princess Sirindhorn hasn’t seemed to us to carry any supporting evidence – not that evidence is easy to find in matters related to the secretive royal family.

We are also not sure that the “massive purge [is] to cement the prince’s position…”. It is a “reign of terror,” but the reasons for it remain unclear. The prince has been erratic and violent in the past, and the current events could be another example of that petulance, enacted with the power of the military behind him. If that is so, Thais should be very frightened.

We still wonder about social media claims that the military is cutting out the prince’s advisers and backers and may be is even forcibly cleaning up the prince’s act.

Whatever the real motivation behind the purges, deaths and alleged torture of those who died, we agree that these “are dark, evil days” in Thailand.

They are also days that threaten the military junta’s efforts to put a “prince-proof” political system in place. With the king gone, the military realized that it needed to have political arrangements in place that allow for an erratic monarch but allow for the monarchy to remain the keystone of the existing system of privilege and power.

These are very strange and very scary times.

Wikileaks, Siddhi and Anand on Samak

10 02 2014

WikileaksPPT hasn’t put up anything from Wikileaks for some time, but a Facebook post we saw drew this cable to our attention. We don’t think we saw it previously.

The cable links perfectly with comments made in a post earlier today and with an interview former premier and royalist spokesman Anand Panyarachun has made today in two articles at the Bangkok Post. We’ll say more about his Post interview in a later post, probably today, if we have time.

In his interview, to cut to the chase, Anand essentially supports the anti-democrats. Yes, he says a lot about democracy, but he is making the anti-democrats point in a calm, conservative and royalist manner. Clearly, the old men are all talking behind the scenes and trying to regain control of “their” Thailand.

So we thought readers would like this line-by-line reproduction of a cable (minus paragraph numbers) of a previous time the old royalists thought they needed to solve a national political “impasse.” Their proposed “solution” then didn’t come off, but Samak Sundaravej was soon gone as premier and the end game was put in place, so that the hated pro-Thaksin Shinawatra government was soon sent packing by the toady royalist courts.

The rest of this post is the cable:


US Ambassador Eric G. John writes of a meeting he had with Privy Councilor ACM Siddhi Savetsila September 3 2008 to discuss the then “political impasse and Siddhi’s views on the way forward.”

Siddhi laid out a scenario which he said he would present to King Bhumiphol in an audience at the Hua Hin Palace later in the evening September 3. In short: PM Samak had to go. The best replacement would be former PM Anand Panyarachun, bolstered by “honest” figures to “rehabilitate democracy.” The House and Senate would stay in place; the Constitution would also remain but needed to be amended to allow non-elected MP figures to serve in the Cabinet. Ambassador repeatedly stressed that any action in Thailand needed to stay within the constitutional framework, and that the U.S. would react negatively to developments which amounted to an extra-constitutional coup. Anand subsequently confirmed to Ambassador that he had been involved in related discussions for the past week, but he refused to be involved “before the fact,” and would only discuss terms of any possible role afterwards, focused on the least impact on the contents of Thai democracy.

¶2. (S) Comment: Confirmation that a trusted Privy Councilor and long-time friend of the U.S. is on his way to seek King Bhumiphol’s approval for the above scheme is disturbing news.

Siddhi suggested that matters might come to a head in the next 48 hours (In a separate Sept. 3 converation with Ambassador, Defense Ministry PermSec Winai said there could be some “good signs” this evening). That said, Siddhi freely acknowledged three crucial pieces to the plan are not yet in place, and might not fall into place: first and foremost, the King’s assent; second, Anand has not yet agreed to  participate; third, Army Commander Anuphong, probably the only person who could deliver the necessary message to Samak, had so far refused to tell Samak it was time to go. We will continue to press our message of staying within the constitutional framework to all parties involved. Anand took Ambassador’s message on board, but made clear he did not agree with the U.S. perspective.

Samak has to go

Privy Councilor ACM Siddhi Savetsila made clear to Ambassador Sept. 3 that he viewed Thaksin and, by extension, PM Samak as an existential threat to the Thailand he supported, centered on the monarchy. Samak had lost his legitimacy, beset by multiple court cases and the violence in the streets of Udon Thani and Bangkok against civilians. The only way out of the current political impasse was for Samak to resign or the House to dissolve. But Samak refused to leave; he had lied to coalition partners about his August 30 audience with the King, had dismissed Opposition Leader Abhisit’s suggestion during the August 31 parliamentary debate to call new elections which pro-Thaksin forces would win again, and had even rejected his own wife’s and daughter’s prostrate entreaties to resign for the good of the country. Samak therefore had to go.

Stressing that Ambassador was the only foreigner he would share the information with, Siddhi laid out a scenario which he said he would present to King Bhumiphol later in the day in an audience for the Privy Councilors in Hua Hin. The solution was not by using force but to rehabilitate Thai democracy. The same Constitution would remain, amended to allow outsiders (non-MPs) to serve in the Cabinet. The House and Senate would stay. Universally respected former PM Anand should serve as the leader of the “project,” which would involve respected, “honest” ex-military and Ministry of Interior officials, academics, one or two PAD members, and perhaps some Democrat Party figures. The mandate would be to initiate a wide array of reforms in the economic, social, and political sphere. That in turn would “weed out” the bane effects of Thaksinism from the system. Army Commander Anuphong would have to deliver the message to Samak; no one else could.

Who is behind the effort and why?

Siddhi said that a group of prominent figures had approached him with the plan, more than could fit in his modest living room. The only one he named was Pramote Nakorntab, a retired respected professor and political scientist from Chulalongkorn University; others included a high ranking Air Force officer and a Constitutional Court Judge. Since, as a Privy Councilor, he was not supposed to be involved in politics, only in advising the King, Siddhi agreed to meet “as a former military leader” ready to do his best for the country. He was willing to push forward and present the project to the King in part to shield Privy Council Chair Prem Titsulanonda, who had been heavily and unjustly criticized for backing the PAD and trying to promote a Democrat Party-led government. The stakes were high; it was essential to rehabilitate the democratic system in Thailand. “If we lose, Thaksin will come back, and if Thaksin comes back, the monarchy will be lost,” Siddhi explained.

Siddhi acknowledged that neither Anand nor Anuphong were on board yet. Anand said he would need to review a proposal in detail before accepting. Even though Anuphong thought Samak must go, Siddhi said Anuphong was reluctant to push in part because he disliked the PAD, especially leaders Sondhi and Chamlong. Siddhi said he had challenged Anuphong – was he prepared to lose his principles in support of the monarchy because he did not like 3-4 people? Most importantly, it was up to the King to indicate what he thought of the plan. Siddhi would brief; the King would stay aloof, but provide his reaction. “What will happen will happen.”

Ambassador repeatedly emphasized U.S. concerns with non-elected systems of governance; the U.S. could not condone any extra-constitutional change in government in Thailand, since it would amount to a coup by another name. Ambassador urged Siddhi to explore alternatives within the constitutional framework: caretaker government prior to snap elections; reconfigured coalition with a different PM; or a national unity cabinet involving the Democrats. Leaders in a democracy needed to be elected.

Siddhi demurred, and said that Samak simply would not listen to anyone. Ambassador stressed that PAD leader Sondhi was just as stubborn as Samak, but that it was imperative to push for a dialogue to begin to seek a political resolution to the political crisis.

Anand more forthcoming the second time

Ambassador engaged Anand after the Siddhi meeting for the second time in 24 hours. More forthcoming this time than on September 2 (reftel), Anand acknowledged he had been listening to the group for the past week, but refused to get involved directly in anything before the plan was put into action. If the plan went forward, he was prepared to meet with them at that point. It was imperative to ensure the least impact on the contents of Thai democracy; even in the case of non-elected persons of supposed quality, care needed to be taken. Anand claimed that “I’m always my own man,” and that he had turned down many positions offered when he thought others sought to control him.

Ambassador underscored the critical importance of developments in Thailand staying within the framework of the constitution and rule of law; if that did not occur, the U.S. would respond accordingly. Anand replied that he had disagreed with the U.S. reaction to the 2006 coup and frequently disagreed with western views of what constituted democracy in various countries.

Is the Thai monarchy in danger?

11 10 2013

That’s the headline for a story by Florian Decludt at the International Affairs Review, a web-based magazine produced graduate students from the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington D.C.

It begins with the usual nonsense about the king having “served as the sole guarantor of the country’s stability.” You really would think that graduate students would be able to read a bit more widely and finally discern that this claim is nothing more than palace propaganda. Graduate students may not have much influence, yet there is enough in the article to warrant a critical assessment.

The story told is about an “old and ailing” king and the implications of succession for the political order. If the alleged stabilizer is dying, what happens to the alleged stability? All a bit tortured really, for it depends on this fake idea that the king has stabilized politics rather than supported coups and authoritarian leaders who have a notion of stability that revolves around crackdowns, jailing opponents and maintaining the royalist political order.

Leaving this false premise aside for the moment, the article says that “[e]nsuring stability means that the succession process proceeds smoothly and that prominent figures such as Thaksin Shinawatra do not interfere with the process.”

This is an odd claim, and mainly heard from yellow shirts in Thailand who think Thaksin is somehow close to the prince, with rumors circulating that Thaksin funds the prince or once did. So while it is clear in law that the Crown Prince will succeed his father, the article notes the “unpopularity of current Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn,” as if this matters. The article goes so far as to state: “It is clear, however, that Vajiralongkorn is not fit to become King because of his unpopularity.”King, prince

To make the point clear, the article states: “Vajiralongkorn, unlike his father, does not enjoy the same prestige due to allegations of adultery and ties to criminal organizations.” It is hardly a state secret that the prince isn’t seen in the same way as his father, who has been the subject of massive, state-funded propaganda campaigns. The rest is rumor and ignores the king’s long association with the military, also long associated with illegalities in trade, on borders and in terms of state murder.

At the same time, this observation also buys into the palace line that the king has to be popular, with the implication that popularity is somehow akin to a people’s mandate. Of course, no monarchy works that way, as blood is the only critical measure. And male blood, with an heir, in place matters more than female blood and no possibility of an heir. So ignoring law and royal “tradition” in Thailand – at least for the 19th and 20th centuries – and elsewhere, relying on palace propaganda and rumor, the article then claims:

The Thai monarchy could circumvent this block by having King Rama IX disinherit Vajiralongkorn and designate Princess Sirindhorn as the heiress to the throne. This would follow the recommendations made by three prominent Thai political figures: former Prime Ministers General Prem Tinsulanonda and Anand Panyarachun, and Air Chief Marshal Siddhi Savetsila.

So this puts the claim about Thaksin interfering in a different perspective. Drawing on a famous Wikileaks cable, it becomes clear that it is actually the courtiers, as “prominent figures,” who could “interfere with the process.” The claim, often heard in red shirt circles as much as amongst yellow shirts, is that Privy Council President Prem will manipulate succession. The red shirts claim that Prem is an old interferer while the yellows seem to be hoping that he does intervene to ensure the jolly Sirindhorn may save the monarchy from Vajiralongkorn and thus maintain their feudal royalism.

2006 royalist coup

The military in the king’s yellow in 2006

Prem’s recent political game-playing – actively participating in coup planning in 2006 – was a political disaster for the monarchy and destabilized it more than any other event since 1976, when the monarchy intervened on the side of vicious rightists causing remarkable political damage. In the latter case, the monarchy intervened to protect its interests and seemed prepared to accept the damage. In 2006, it thought it was on a political winner, only to be seriously disappointed.

The article then states the royalist argument for Prem’s interference:

If the Crown Prince keeps his title, it is certain that the royal family’s standing will be weakened by Rama IX’s passing. In this situation, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration will attempt to secure more executive power at the expense of the King, and ensure the return of her brother, Thaksin.

Constitutionally, the king is meant to have little political role and the idea of wrestling “executive power” away from him is misguided. What the author appears to mean is that succession may mean that the monarchy is less able to intervene in political matters. For many, that would be an excellent development and may be the one thing that actually works to stabilize Thailand’s democracy.

The article then gets confused and lost, prophesying a military coup “in favor of Vajiralongkorn” that would seek “to topple Yingluck,” leading to “internal support to overthrow the monarchy.” If the prince is close to Thaksin, this argument seems illogical. Even so, the article then states that the end of the monarchy in Thailand “would have disastrous consequences for Thailand as a whole.” Why? Well, circular logic is employed:

Without the royals, the country would lack the unifying force that guarantees a certain level of stability, which has allowed the country to prosper despite numerous coups. King Rama IX’s prestige and influence is the sole reason why Thailand did not descend into civil war following Thaksin’s ouster in 2006.

That palace seems such a dysfunctional place that it is capable of bringing itself down. It was the palace’s intervention that led to the 2006 coup, which very nearly unraveled royalist power in Thailand.

Ignoring all of this, the article makes the following claim, which may well represent some of the parallel universe thinking that characterizes conservative elite thinking both in Thailand and the U.S.:

The only way to ensure the preservation of the status quo would be to coronate Princess Sirindhom. While it is likely that Vajiralongkorn will attempt to prevent this from happening, his widespread unpopularity will prevent him from taking the crown from his sister, forcing him to withdraw from political affairs. Princess Sirindhom’s relative popularity compared to her brother would also reduce the odds of the Yingluck administration’s attempts to secure more executive power. Such continuity in power is the best outcome for Thailand’s stability and therefore for US interests in the region.

More on Akechai’s lese majeste conviction

29 03 2013

Prachatai has a longer report on the court’s decision to send Akechai Hongkangwarn to jail for lese majeste.

Akechai was sentenced to five years in prison (reduced for “cooperation”) and a fine of 100,000 baht for selling documentary CDs of an Australian Broadcasting Corporation documentary program on the monarchy and for having copies of Wikileaks documents that the court deemed were defaming to the queen and the crown prince.

Details of the “Foreign Correspondent” documentary and a link to the now well-known birthday party video are here. The Wikileaks cables are from 2008, indicating “the Queen supported the 2006 coup” and from 2010 about “opinions about royal succession from Privy Council Chair Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, Privy Council member ACM Siddhi Savetsila, and former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun.” These can be found here, here and here. The court essentially refused to allow any of these big shots to be called to give evidence.Akechai

The report states that the judges “deemed the content of the materials misleading and defamatory for the monarchy.” It is a royalist fabrication that the materials are misleading. In fact, they use material directly from the palace and from the mouths of royalist flunkies to paint an accurate picture of the monarchy. That these insider accounts may be defamatory says more about the palace than of anything else.

But the propaganda-defending courts noted that:

The country’s constitution and criminal code stipulated that His Majesty the King is the head of state and highly revered. No one shall violate or use rights and liberties for any adverse effects. The state and its people have duties to uphold the monarchy system forever….  Any defaming speech causing irritation to … His Majesty shall not be acceptable,” the judge read out the verdict.

As usual, the royalist courts manipulate the constitution’s words in order to lock up someone considered guilty of telling the truth. Akechai is reported as being “upset by the court’s decision as his intention was merely to spread neutral and objective information produced by foreign media outlet to the public.” The court’s ruling is a reminder that truth shall not be spoken.

Sulak Sivaraksa commented that “the punishment for lese majeste is too severe. The monarchy should also be for open for criticism as it is important for democracy…”.

Lese majeste evidence censored by court

24 07 2012

This post refers to events a few days ago that were reported in the Bangkok Post. PPT wanted to get back to it for the light it projects on the way lese majeste cases are handled by the courts.

During the third day of the now suspended trial of Akechai Hongkangwarn, accused of selling CDs and WikiLeaks documents that are allegedly insulting of the royal family, the judges halted the day’s trial “multiple times as judges asked whether the evidence should be presented in the courtroom.”

In other words, the judges want to have a trial where evidence is censored by the court. The reason for this is quite clear: all of the evidence is produced by persons close to the royal family and is damning of them, and most especially of the crown prince.

The Criminal Court “had to break the session on a few occasions to seek clarifications on the defence approach and a push by prosecutors to show the evidence in court.” The trial was said to have “been interspersed with informal discussions on how to proceed.” Further, as the “trial proceeded, the judges could be heard at one point telling the defence and prosecutors that this is a delicate and sensitive lawsuit in which ‘no one wanted to proceed recklessly’.”

Clearly, the royalist judges were in a twilight zone, between legal and constitutional rights and their need to “protect” the monarchy. Their response was to tutor the defense team, saying the “best approach should be to focus on intent.”

This dilemma is why the royalist legal system seeks guilty pleas from those charged with lese majeste; they do not want truths about the monarchy aired in any public forum.

The report states that: “So far the court has not allowed the evidence to be shown, but it is still kept in the list of exhibits.” In other words, the censorship remains in place.

The “horror” facing the judges include the defense team’s intention to call Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda, Privy Counselor Siddhi Savetsila, and royalist ideologue Anand Panyarachun to testify in relation to a Wikileaks cable. In the face of the judges claiming that this approach was an error, the legal defense team agreed to postpone this. In return, the defense got the court to agree to forward its claim that the lese majeste law “breached freedom of expression and civil liberties and so violated the constitution.”

The conduct of the trial – tutoring the defense and prosecution, keeping evidence secret and so on – are revealing of the inability of the judiciary to function lawfully and logically where the monarchy is concerned. The monarchy is an impediment to rule of law.

Wikileaks, Democrat Party, palace and lese majeste

31 07 2011

In our series on leaked cables, a Wikileaks cable dated 6 February 2009, by Ambassador Eric John, notes the rising tide of lese majeste charges.

He seems somewhat bemused by the Democrat Party’s position as ardent promoters of the use of the law. He comments: “Many of the Democrat Party leaders who have moved into top government positions are cosmopolitan, well-educated people who nevertheless appear to be facilitating growing efforts to clamp down on forms of speech critical of the monarchy. Whether that is primarily out of personal conviction or political advantage, or both, remains unclear.”

What he may have missed is the royalist heritage of the party and the fact that, in 2009, it owed its position to the Army that was also gung-ho on lese majeste and, like the so-called Democrats, dead keen to preserve the existing order that congeals around the monarchy.

John also has a comment on the case of Ji Ungpakorn, stating: “Giles [Ungpakorn] has traditionally attacked all elements of the traditional Thai elite, including all political forces without distinction, XXXX despite earlier pressure from Special Branch, formal charges did not surface until the inauguration of a Democrat-led government.”

On “friends of the monarchy” warning that lese majeste was damaging, John recounts: “15. (C) Several private Americans with long-term experience in Thailand and good connections with palace insiders weighed in ‘as friends’ February 3-5 out of concern that the increased application of lese majeste, without distinction between those who mean ill towards the monarchy and those who otherwise would be ignored, ran the risk of undermining the very institution the law seeks to protect, and which they feel has served Thailand well through the decades. The reception to the message was mixed. Privy Councilors Prem Tinsulanonda, Surayud Chulanont, and Siddhi Savetsila thanked one U.S. businessman for the ‘very good advice; we’ll take it seriously.’ The reaction from the Crown Property Bureau to a similar approach by a second businessman was completely negative; the self-described friend of the monarchy remarked afterwords: ‘these people live in an alternate reality’.” The emphasis is added by PPT.