Thailand’s super-queen

19 10 2020

The palace propaganda that developed over many decades has always portrayed royals as “good” and with super intellects. One can never know how intelligent or dull they are because no one could ask or challenge and one never knew if what was in their name was their own thought. We do know that Vajiralongkorn was never very bright.

One of the ways the royals were propagandized as geniuses was was through honorary degrees. The dead king, who had a high school diploma, has a whole Wikipedia page on all the “trophies” he was given, almost all arranged for him by government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He held the “world record” for honorary doctorates at almost 140. Chiang Mai University gave him 14 in one year and in another year Kasetsart gave him 11. He got some of them in areas remote from his claimed “expertise.”

In recent days, Queen Suthida appears to have surpassed King Bhumibol for the number of honorary degrees in one year – in fact, all in one day! She got 19 from different Rajaphat universities at a ceremony where the bosses of all 38 Rajaphat universities showed up to present her with her “awards.” That’s one hell of a super queen!

We are sure that we at PPT aren’t the only ones astounded by such nonsensical posterior polishing. Both king and queen seem anything but sharp in their responses.

As a footnote, it was noticed that about this time, Consort Sineenat went home. Readers will recall that when he was unhappy with her and had her jailed, he also demolished the family home. Presumably it has been rebuilt.





The Economist on King Vajiralongkorn

16 10 2020

The Economist has a timely briefing on the king. With humble apologies to the publisher for taking it in full, but it is very good and deserves to be read by all. Here it is:

Battle royal
Thailand’s king seeks to bring back absolute monarchy
Maha Vajiralongkorn has provoked something new in Thailand: open criticism of a king

THE MONUMENTS disappear in the dark. In April 2017 it was a small bronze plaque from Bangkok’s Royal Plaza. It marked the spot where, in 1932, revolutionaries proclaimed the end of Thailand’s absolute monarchy. In December 2018 a statue was hauled away. It commemorated the defeat of rebels who attempted a coup against those same revolutionaries. Last month activists installed a plaque in the heart of Bangkok’s royal district to protest against the missing monuments. “The people have expressed the intention that this country belongs to the people, and not the king”, it stated. Within a day it was gone.

The world knows Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn as a playboy who has churned through four wives, lives among lots of women in a German hotel and relishes skimpy crop tops that reveal elaborate temporary tattoos. For Thais, his four-year-old reign has been more sinister.

The king makes elderly advisers crawl before him, shaves the heads of courtiers who displease him and has disowned several of his children. Worse, he has steadily amassed power, taking personal control of “crown property”, assuming direct command of troops and ordering changes to the constitution. He makes no secret of his hankering for the days of absolute monarchy (hence the disappearing monuments). But Thais began to protest in July. Can they prevent the removal not just of plaques, but of constitutional constraints?

On October 14th thousands of protesters marched through central Bangkok to camp outside Government House, where ministers’ offices are located. They also formed human chains to carry away potted plants that blocked the way to the country’s Democracy Monument. Not far away King Vajiralongkorn himself, in the country on a fleeting visit, passed by in a motorcade. Clusters of royalists gathered wearing yellow shirts to show their loyalty to him.

That night a spooked government issued an emergency decree banning gatherings of more than four people and prohibiting reporting on topics that could “harm national security” or “cause panic”. The government warned that protesters who insulted the monarchy would be prosecuted. Several prominent leaders of the protest were arrested the following morning. Yet tensions increased as protests continued in defiance of the decree.

Thailand defines itself as a democracy with the king as head of state. The monarchy is revered. Photographs of royals adorn public buildings and private homes. Father’s Day is celebrated on the previous king’s birthday. Thais hear a royal anthem before films start at the cinema.

Technically King Vajiralongkorn rules as a constitutional monarch. But ancient structures have never entirely disappeared. The king used to sit at the apex of society in a semi-divine role. Defenders of the vestiges of this order have long clashed with those claiming to represent an alternative source of authority: the Thai people.

The conflict helps explain why Thailand has endured 12 coups and 20 constitutions since 1932. Since the 1950s a symbiotic relationship between the army and the palace has bolstered the legitimacy of military regimes. For the past two decades the greatest foe of such elites has been Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist prime minister ousted by the army in 2006. His supporters, known as red shirts, battled their yellow-shirted foes in the streets on several occasions in the years after he lost power.

The generals engineered a coup in 2014. The commander who led it, Prayuth Chan-ocha, remains prime minister. An army-friendly constitution disadvantaged large parties, such as Mr Thaksin’s flagship one, Pheu Thai, in an election last year.

One supposed reason why the army seized power six years ago was to ensure a steady succession between the ninth and tenth monarchs of the Chakri dynasty. King Vajiralongkorn’s path to the throne was not simple. Thailand’s elites took against him while his popular father still lived. King Bhumibol Adulyadej was considered the richest monarch in the world, his wealth outstripping that of oil-endowed Middle Eastern rulers and Europe’s royals with their castles and palaces.

Aristocratic types fretted because the crown prince, as Vajiralongkorn was previously known, caused so many scandals. Even his mother likened him to Don Juan. After leaving his first wife, a princess in her own right, he disowned four of his five children with his second wife, an actress, who eventually fled Thailand. When the relationship ended with his third wife—once filmed almost naked and crouching before her husband with birthday cake—several of her family members went to prison. The prince spent lavishly and indulged in eccentricity, elevating his beloved poodle, Foo Foo, to the rank of “air chief marshal”.

Still, King Vajiralongkorn took over unimpeded after his father’s death. Whereas the father was publicly loved, the son is privately loathed. His coronation last year attracted tiny crowds compared with those at the late king’s funeral rites. Despite his co-operation with army regimes, millions of Thais felt King Bhumibol displayed the virtues expected of a Buddhist monarch.

King Vajiralongkorn does not even live in Thailand. He rules a country of 70m people from more than 5,000 miles away in Germany. One insider bluntly appraises his activities there: “Bike, fuck, eat. He does only those three things.” The German government finds his presence awkward. “We have made it clear that politics concerning Thailand should not be conducted from German soil,” the foreign minister, Heiko Maas, told the Bundestag on October 7th.

Money, money, money

The king’s militaristic harem inspires embarrassing headlines around the world. Just months after his fourth marriage to a former air stewardess last year, he elevated one concubine, a former nurse, to the status of “royal noble consort”. She is the first woman to hold this title since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy.

Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi fell from grace soon after her elevation. She disappeared from view. Then, in September, she was reinstated and declared “untainted”. Chinese netizens have likened Ms Sineenat to a crafty concubine from a popular television series, “Empresses in the Palace”.

In March 2012 permission from the Justice Department was published in the Royal Gazette for a temporary prison. A spartan map appears to show its location as possibly within the grounds of a palace owned by Vajiralongkorn. His bad books are a miserable place to be. Pictures allegedly of Srirasmi Suwadee, once his third wife, appeared in a German newspaper last year. Head shaved and tearful, she was reported as being under house arrest.

Airing such dirty linen in public in Thailand, however, is perilous. The country’s lèse-majesté law allows between three and 15 years in prison for insulting “the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent”. King Vajiralongkorn has instructed the government not to use the law. But this hardly reflects newfound tolerance. Critics instead risk charges for sedition or computer crime, among others. In July one man was sent to a psychiatric hospital for wearing a T-shirt that stated: “I have lost all faith in the institution of monarchy”.

Playboy antics distract from the more sinister feats of the monarch since he came to power. In political, financial and military matters King Vajiralongkorn has gained powers never possessed by his father. His interventions appear part of a larger strategy to push Thailand closer to absolute monarchy once more.

Take his finances. In 2017 he gained full control of the Crown Property Bureau (CPB), which manages royal investments (it was previously run by the ministry of finance). Its holdings are estimated to be worth $40bn. In 2018 the CPB declared that its assets would be considered the king’s personal property. As a result the monarch has stakes in some of Thailand’s corporate titans. He is the largest shareholder in Siam Cement Group, a conglomerate with revenues of almost $14bn in 2019, with a third of its shares. The head of the CPB, long a stalwart in the king’s circles, is a director of Siam Cement Group and of the 113-year-old Siam Commercial Bank, one of Thailand’s biggest, in which the king also has a stake.

In addition to the king’s private means, the Thai state showers the royal family with funds. For the 2021 fiscal year government agencies have drawn up budgets which allocate more than 37bn baht—over $1.1bn—to the monarchy. The Royal Office will receive 9bn baht of that directly. Much of the rest goes to government agencies, the police and the defence ministry for security and for development projects. By comparison, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth cost her taxpayers the equivalent of $87m last year. Precise details on where the money goes are elusive. Huge sums go to pay for royal transport alone (there are many planes and helicopters to maintain).

King Vajiralongkorn’s political interventions are another demonstration of his growing authority. In theory the monarch sits above parties, parliament and politics. But after a referendum in 2016, in which campaigners were banned from opposing the constitution put forward for approval, the monarch demanded changes to the charter. He altered it specifically to make ruling from afar easier.

He meddled even more audaciously ahead of last year’s parliamentary election. Mr Thaksin persuaded the king’s older sister to run as a putative prime ministerial candidate for a party with links to him. But the crown in effect came to the rescue of Mr Thaksin’s military foes. The monarch declared his sister’s ambitions “unconstitutional”. He also stated that royals should stay out of politics—yet the night before the election, he urged Thais to vote for “good people”, which was taken as an endorsement of Mr Prayuth and his allies.

Tomorrow belongs to me

This is just one example of how the palace and the barracks have continued to support each other since King Vajiralongkorn came to the throne. The king has a deep interest in military matters. Trained in an Australian academy, he holds the titles of admiral, field-marshal and air-marshal. The queen is a general and Ms Sineenat a major-general. The king has drawn military forces to his direct command. The Royal Command Guard has been created with some 5,000 soldiers. They are stationed in Bangkok, while other important army units, including an infantry regiment and a cavalry battalion which have facilitated past coups, have been moved out of the city. Overthrowing any government without advance co-ordination with royal troops would prove extremely difficult.

Why has the army permitted such manoeuvres? Defence of the monarchy is one of its central reasons for existing. Both the powerful army commander who retired in September, and his replacement, are deeply loyal to the king. They also rose through the ranks of the King’s Guard, in which Vajiralongkorn himself once served. Mr Prayuth and his closest allies, by contrast, emerged from the Queen’s Guard within the Second Infantry Division.

The prime minister can hardly counter the monarch’s power grabs. He depends on the king’s support for a semblance of legitimacy. Whereas the middle and upper classes of many countries contain democratic champions, those of Thailand “have never needed mass support to advance or protect their interests”, explains James Wise, a former Australian ambassador to Thailand, in his book “Thailand: History, Politics and the Rule of Law”. These conservatives would not stand for an army-linked prime minister rebuffing the royal institution.

Mr Prayuth is also weak: he wrestles even with his allies in the ruling coalition and lacks personal popularity. That hinders his ability to tackle the difficulties Thailand faces. Growth was slowing even before the coronavirus pandemic struck (see chart). Now the central bank expects the economy to contract by more than 8% this year—worse than the crash in the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

Why should I wake up?

A very few opposition politicians have resisted King Vajiralongkorn’s growing control. In October most MPs from the liberal Future Forward Party, founded in 2018, opposed an executive decree in the lower house of parliament. The decree, which passed anyway, facilitated the partial transfer of army units and related budgetary allocations to the Royal Command Guard. Even so, it was the first time that lawmakers had ever opposed a legal procedure linked to the monarchy.

Future Forward no longer exists. Its platform in favour of democratic freedoms and army reform, as well as the popularity of its charismatic leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, made it a threat to the establishment. The outfit grew from nothing to become the country’s third-largest party in parliament in little more than a year. Legal cases against the institution and its leadership started to mount. In November Mr Thanathorn was stripped of his status as an MP. In February the party was dissolved by the constitutional court and its executives banned from politics for a decade. The judges decided that a loan Mr Thanathorn gave the party was an illegal breach of individual-donation limits.

Flash mobs mounted protests, though social-distancing measures soon put an end to them. The lull was temporary. Social media have provided an outlet for audacious criticisms. So widespread was moaning over the traffic jams caused by royal motorcades, for example, that in January the king instructed police not to close entire roads for travelling royals.

Other grumbles could not so easily be sorted. In August, after legal threats from the Thai government, Facebook blocked access from Thailand to a 1m-member group criticising the monarchy. “Requests like this are severe, contravene international-human rights law, and have a chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves,” the firm stated. It is preparing to mount a legal challenge.

Popular anger has moved from screens to streets. Since July protesters have gathered to call for the dissolution of the government, reform of the constitution and an end to the harassment of opposition activists. Students’ demonstrations inspired a wider swathe of Thais to march, too. Their efforts mark an evolution from the feud between red shirts and yellow shirts. New battle lines are over democratic freedoms.

Maybe this time

The boldest protesters have called openly for reform of the monarchy. They object to the king’s financial set-up and his consolidation of military power. Mr Thanathorn has also called for transparency about how state funds are spent on the monarchy.

The situation grew more serious as the protests swelled in size. The great fear is that the bloody treatment of student protesters in the 1970s will be repeated. In 1976 police, army and vigilante groups attacked students after they staged a mock hanging in protest against the killing of two pro-democracy activists. A story spread among royalists that the figure hanged resembled Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. According to official figures, 46 students died and more than 3,000 were arrested.

So far the authorities have arrested a few dozen protest leaders. The government had claimed it wanted to talk to students about their grievances. “Having a peaceful and civil dialogue where we exchange our views is the best approach for moving forward,” said the education minister. However, this week the establishment ran out of patience. If the prime minister cannot bring calm he may be replaced. Any drastic intervention is unlikely, however, without the monarch’s foreknowledge.

But King Vajiralongkorn’s clout has come at a price: open criticism of the monarchy. “The ghost is out of the bottle and you won’t get it back again,” reckons one diplomat in Bangkok. The more brazen the king’s moves towards a more absolute form of rule, the more forceful the criticism. “We are trying to bring the king and monarchy under the constitution,” explains one teenage protester. “We aren’t trying to bring them down.” King Vajiralongkorn’s actions could determine whether Thailand continues to revere royalty, or starts to revile it.





Updated: Der König kehrt nach Thailand zurück I

10 10 2020

The king has returned to Bangkok on yet another taxpayer funded flight on the struggling Thai Airways flight put on especially for him and his entourage.

It is said that he’s back for three weeks or so, to participate in religious and family events, including the taxpayer funded glorification of his dead father. We wonder if he might rethink his return following the German government’s warning. That warning has not yet been reported anywhere in the mainstream media.

This is the first time the king’s on-again, off-again consort Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi has been paraded in public since he forgave and reinstated her following her release from prison. He had sent her to prison.

Royal World Thailand has published official and media photos, with the one below showing the king, his official major queen and (again) official consort Sineenat.

As if nothing happened, and that’s the way the erratic Vajiralongkorn reinstated her, Sineenart was back at the center of things, surround by Privy Councillors and the premier, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Update: Prachatai now has an English-language version of the story regarding Germany’s warning to the king about conducting official business in Germany.





Wanchalearm and the loyalist royalists

17 09 2020

We wonder if there isn’t a connection between the palace appointments of army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong and Corrections Department director-general Naras Savestanan and the enforced disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit.

Prachatai reports that the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has:

submitted a second letter to the Cambodian government over lack of progress in the investigation since the Thai activist was kidnapped from the front of his residence in Phnom Penh on 4 June 2020.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

Both the Thai and Cambodian governments have been silent on the abduction. To us, that indicates both regimes are complicit.

The UN Working Group states: “The right to truth is therefore an absolute right which cannot be restricted and there is an absolute obligation to take all the necessary steps to find the [missing] person…”. Sadly, the Group felt the need to add: “We further underline that his family should be protected from ill treatment or intimidation if required…”.

What does this have to do with the rewards to loyalist royalists? We can’t help thinking that Gen Apirat is being rewarded for taking a leading role in the abduction, disappearance, torture, and murder of several activists in third countries. Each of the operations has a strong whiff of special operations by the Thai military. Gen Apirat is likely being rewarded for illegal and murderous operations. We’d also guess that he’s also being rewarded for all the efforts he’s made to remove symbols of the 1932 revolution.

Clipped from Khaosod

And what of Corrections Department director-general Naras? Again, we’d guess that he’s rewarded for royal deeds associated with prisons, including the operations at the king’s Dhaveevatthana Palace prison and probably the imprisonment as punishment of Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi.

We can but wonder.





The king and his antics II

11 09 2020

Thailand’s king and his antics in Europe have attracted plenty of unfavorable comment, The most recent is from The Statesman. While we think that most of PPT’s readers will know all of the facts and antics recounted, we consider the article by Francis Pike, with our added illustrations, worth reproducing in full:

The depraved rule of Thailand’s Caligula king
Protestors are risking it all to take on the monarchy

Fu Fu

The Roman emperor Caligula was renowned for his extravagance, capricious cruelty, sexual deviancy and temper bordering on insanity. Most famously, before he was assassinated, he planned to appoint his favourite horse as a consul. This is probably a legend. But King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who ascended the Thai throne in 2016, adopted Caligula’s playbook for real. In 2009 the then crown prince promoted his pet miniature poodle Foo Foo to the post of air chief marshal, in which capacity he served until his death in 2015, aged 17. Foo Foo’s cremation was preceded by four days of formal Buddhist mourning.

The poodle first came to the attention of the general public when a video was released showing him eating cake from the hand of Vajiralongkorn’s third wife, Princess Srirasmi, while she cavorted in a G-string at the dog’s lavish birthday party. At a 2009 gala dinner in honour of Vajiralongkorn, Foo Foo was kitted out head to paw in black-tie dress and, according to a WikiLeaks-revealed account by US ambassador, Ralph Boyce, ‘jumped onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses, including my own’.

When on parade the new king wears crisp, snowy-white, gold-braided, Ruritanian military uniforms or elaborate Thai regalia that make him look like a Buddhist temple in human form. In downtime his dress code can at best be described as kinky: trainers and low-hung jeans paired with the skimpiest of crop tops. His back and arms are festooned with possibly fake tattoos.

Vajiralongkorn is famously lecherous. Indeed, in his youth, Thai aristocrats would pack off their daughters to Europe to get them out of his clutches. Happily for Bangkok’s elite, the crown prince’s tastes, after his divorce from his first wife, an aristocratic relative of his mother, were consistently low-rent. His second wife was an aspiring actress, albeit of the soft-porn variety.

Prince, and kids in earlier times

The marriage did not last. After Vajiralongkorn put posters all over the palace accusing her of adultery, she fled to London and later to the US with her children — apart from a daughter who was kidnapped and brought back to Bangkok. The daughter was elevated to the rank of princess, but her mother and brothers had their diplomatic passports and royal titles revoked by the crown prince. The Thai public was left horrified by his treatment of his family.

Another marriage followed in 2001, to the aforementioned Srirasmi, though it was not publicly announced until 2005 when the crown prince, by then in his early fifties, declared it was time to settle down. How-ever, in 2014 he stripped his wife of her royal titles because of her relatives’ corruption. Srirasmi’s parents were jailed for two and a half years each for lèse-majesté.

Sineenat

Five years later, on 1 May last year, and just three days before his official coronation, Vajiralongkorn married for the fourth time, to Suthida Tidjai, a former Thai Airways hostess, giving her the title of Queen Consort. The Thai people were dumbfounded when just two months later, the new king named his mistress, Major General Sineenat Wongvajira-pakdi, as his Royal Noble Consort; it was the first time this form of address had been used for more than 100 years. The new relationship lasted three months. On 21 October, Sineenat was stripped of all her titles and disappeared from public view, supposedly for being disrespectful to the queen.

The king’s extravagance is no less remarkable than his private life. A monarchy that was impoverished in the postwar period had, by some estimates, increased its wealth to between $40 billion and $60 billion by last year. Most of the wealth resides in land; ownership of some four square miles of central Bangkok makes the Thai monarchy the world’s wealthiest by a large margin. Overseas holdings include a major stake in the Kempinski hotel group.* Indeed, for years Vajiralongkorn has spent months on end at the Munich Kempinski with his harem and servants. In addition, he owns a mansion on Lake Starnberg to the southwest of Munich. In spite of his huge allowances as crown prince, affording him ownership of two Boeing 737s, it is thought that he had to resort to begging funds from the then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to cover his gambling debts.

Why do King Vajiralongkorn’s private shenanigans matter? Royal families throughout Europe have long weathered sexual and financial scandals. Juan Carlos may have had to step down as king and go into exile, but the Spanish monarchy has survived. So too has the Belgian monarchy after the former King Albert II admitted to a love child. There is no suggestion that Prince Andrew, cherubic by comparison with King Vajiralongkorn, will bring down the British royals because of the Epstein imbroglio. But the key difference is that, unlike Thailand, all those are constitutional monarchies.

Bhumibol and Ananda

In Thailand the monarchy is integral to the country’s real power structures. This was a 70-year legacy of Vajiralongkorn’s father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Bhumibol’s reign started under a cloud following the killing of his 20-year-old predecessor, King Ananda Mahidol, by a single shot to the head with a Colt .45 pistol. After a questionable trial two servants were executed for the murder, though it is widely suspected that the king was accidently shot by Bhumibol, his brother. For the first decade of his rule King Bhumibol was entirely powerless and lived under the rule of the quasi-dictator Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram, who, during the second world war, had allied Thailand with the Axis powers.

Bhumibol, Sirikit, Prem

But gradually, as Thailand inched towards a democracy, Bhumibol won the adoration of the Thai people thanks to his moderating influence and good works, such as paying for medical facilities for the poor. His political power increased. In 1952 he bravely refused to preside over ceremonies for Phibunsongkhram’s new militaristic constitution.** However, Bhumibol’s finest moment came in 1981 when he faced down the ‘April Fools’ Day’ coup d’état by fleeing Bangkok and raising the Thai royal standard at the military base at Khorat, where General Prem emerged as the new military strongman. There followed what is now known as the ‘Network Monarchy’ era, a coalition of military interests and those of the financial and industrial elite based in Bangkok. As a former American deputy-president at Thailand’s Bank of Asia noted: ‘Thai politics has been about dividing up the pie among the elite.’ At the centre of the web stood the Thai monarchy. Elected democratic institutions remained largely an adornment to this oligarchic structure.

In 2001 a business chancer and mobile phone billionaire, Thaksin Shinawatra, later the owner of Manchester City FC, swept to power with his Thai Rak Thai party promising a populist agenda including reform of health and education. Much to the chagrin of the ‘Network Monarchy’, Thaksin won a sweeping electoral victory again in 2005. Bhumibol, who loathed Thaksin, gave tacit support to the coup that first removed him and then sent him into exile two years later. Until his death in 2016, Bhumibol thwarted, either by military or judicial coup, the democratic will of the Thai people, who since 2001 have consistently voted into power Thaksin-backed parties and their proxy leaders. Bhumibol’s historic reputation, albeit tarnished by his thwarting of the democratic will, became an important pillar of resistance to Thaksin’s outsiders. After Bhumibol’s death in 2016, the critical power of the monarchy was left in the hands of his dissolute playboy son.

Will King Vajiralongkorn redeem his dire youthful reputation and do a ‘Prince Hal’, moving to the path of royal righteousness? The signs so far are not good. Just over a week ago, the Royal Noble Consort Sineenat suddenly re-emerged with no information other than an inventive Royal Gazette announcement that ‘It will be regarded that she was never stripped of the royal consort title, military ranks and royal decorations’.

More important than this saga of extra-judicial fiat, the king intervened in the drafting of a new constitution by the military junta in 2017 to grant himself new powers over the appointment of regents. In addition, the new constitution asserted the king’s rights to ‘manage’ during any constitutional crisis. Given that Thailand has had 17 military coups since 1932, this is not trivial. Two crack regiments have also been put under his direct control. As the political exile and professor at Kyoto University Pavin Chachavalpongpun has noted, the king ‘is basically running the country now, though he’s not doing that like his father did through moral authority. He’s using fear to solidify his position and to take command.’

It is therefore interesting that in the past month, demonstrations of up to 10,000 people have called for the powers of the king to be curtailed. Protestors have defied Thailand’s draconian lèse-majesté laws — which can incur up to 15 years’ imprisonment — to chant ‘Down with feudalism’. It remains to be seen whether the protests are a straw in the wind of future political instability. The new king’s attempt to transition from a monarch with influence within the ‘Network Monarchy’ to a monarch who rules is fraught with danger. But at least Vajiralongkorn is unlikely to come to Caligula’s sticky end; the king has a ready-made home for an exile in his beloved Bavaria.

*For discussions that reflect changes in ownership, see here and here.

**The refusal to attend was a fit of pique and self-interest.





The king and his antics I

8 09 2020

King Vajiralongkorn’s erratic and egotistical behavior is again a cause of international mirth. It is also reinforcing negative domestic sentiments.

The Straits Times, says the king’s most recent mood swing with “Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi … back in favour with Thailand’s King … took [Thai] citizens by surprise last Wednesday, but the development once again shone the spotlight on the King’s personal life.”

The report mentions incredulity:

No one expected that Ms Sineenat would be back in the royal fold. Then again, no one could have predicted her swift fall from grace 10 months ago either, less than three months after being made royal noble consort.

And, it notes the link between “palace intrigue” and “widespread protests across Thailand by pro-democracy groups calling for more transparency and reforms in the royal institution [royalist speak for monarchy].”

Elsewhere, The Times suggests that a “wiser and less capricious monarch than … Vajiralongkorn, the king of Thailand, would be keeping his head down at the moment. In the past few weeks he has faced something unknown in modern Thai history: direct and outspoken criticism of the monarchy.”

With Vajiralongkorn in Germany and his major queen in Switzerland, and the monarchy living high from the taxpayer’s money, the increasing scrutiny suggests that he’s not much interested in Thailand and that Thailand is less interested in him as king. The regime may seek to “protect” the king and monarchy, but it appears a lost battle. Of course, this does not mean that the battle is over, and it may get nastier still.





We are all “unblemished”

5 09 2020

In a recent post we commented on the king’s announcement that Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi had been re-elevated to no. 1 concubine-cum-chief consort. That announcement was adamant that she was not a defiled/guilty person. To maintain her dignity, her titles, military rank and royal awards are restored, deemed to have never been withdrawn.

Stunning stuff from a king who is now an international laughing stock. One think is clear, this egotistical king doesn’t bother much about what others think of him. Nor does he seem very concerned that his obsessive-compulsive behavior may exacerbate rising anti-monarchism.

Clipped from Royal World Thailand FB page

Prachatai posts on the reaction in Thailand to this gob-smacking news and uses the word “unblemished” to translate the Thai term we translated as “she was not a defiled/guilty person.” The term is now being used in memes linking it to activists and those currently in jail as political prisoners. They are “unblemished” too:

Free Youth’s Twitter account said that Netnapha Amnatsongsoem was eating noodles near to MRT Yaek Tiwanon waiting to be arrested despite the fact that she was #unblemished. She will be the last of the 15 student activists to be arrested for reading a statement on stage at the anti-government protest on 18 July….





She’s back as consort

3 09 2020

Yesterday we briefly noted that reports that King Vajiralongkorn had restored all of Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi honors and awards, reinstating her as official consort.

At that stage we hadn’t seen the official announcement, which is now widely circulated.

While the king is known for his furious language when sacking people, this announcement is an official “love letter” and a kind of apology for having jailed her and destroyed some of her and her family’s assets.

The announcement states that Sineenat is not a defiled/guilty person. To maintain her dignity, her titles, military rank and royal awards are restored. In addition, these ranks and awards are deemed to have never been withdrawn.

This is truly remarkable. He’s never done this before, although his war with his first wife gradually eased over time. Other former wives continue to be treated very badly.

It was in July 2019 that Vajiralongkorn “bestowed the title of ‘Chao Khun Phra,’ or Royal Noble Consort, to Maj. Gen. Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, one of his royal guards.” She had been his minor wife for several years, often photographed with the prince-cum-king in Germany, and reportedly was some kind of “nurse” to his son when he was young. In August 2019, royal consort Sineenat got huge palace-arranged propaganda as the king’s favorite.

But, in October, Sineenart was out, disappeared, and dismissed. The official announcement accused her of attempting to prevent Queen Suthida from being crowned and abusing her royal status. According to that announcement, Sineenat not only “expressed her opposition and exerted her pressure in every possible way” regarding Queen Suthida’s elevation to the throne as the Queen of Thailand, she also sought to have His Majesty the King appoint her to the role instead.”

Clipped from the New York Times

The July promotion to official consort was “explained” as an (unlikely) attempt to “reform” her: “After her repeated disobedience and attempts of interference with the royal affairs, the statement said, … the King graciously bestowed her the title of Royal Noble Consort in July out of hope that Sineenat would “lessen her pressure” and change her tact [sic.].”

Sineenat was charges with having continued to display “ambition” and to have repeatedly “overstepped her authority by engaging in many royal court activities without … the King’s approval, which caused much confusion to the public…”.

That announcement concluded: “Her actions are considered disloyal, ungrateful, and ungracious of [the king’s] kindness…. They caused division among the royal servants and misunderstanding among the public; these amount to acts of sabotage against the country and the institution [monarchy].”

The king can be erratic and displays obsessive-compulsive behavior. That behavior is now the subject of numerous international media reports (see here, here, here, and here). Even Thai reports cannot ignore the king’s remarkable change of mind and how the new announcement contradicts the earlier announcement, just a few months ago.

An absolutist king in a royalist Thailand can do pretty much anything he wants. But this kind of behavior is eye-popping, especially when he is disdainful of Thailand and lives overseas. He’s even taken his reinstated consort to Germany to join his harem.





Updates on subs, Sineenat, Kra, Boss and students

2 09 2020

Usually PPT updates its posts by adding to the original post. However, there are a number of updates for various posts over some time, so we thought we’d update them all in a single post.

Submarines: The Chinese submarine purchases might be delayed following the public outcry, but the Royal Thai Army is going ahead with more purchases. That’s if the bumbling – he got India’s flag wrong – and tone deaf Chutintorn Sam Gongsakdi, Ambassador of Thailand to India, is to be believed. He’s gone public in a big way, declaring that “Thailand’s Royal Thai Army is in the process of placing an order for 600 military trucks with Tata Motors.” He’s saying that over 600 TATA LPTA military trucks will be purchased for Thailand. No prices are provided, but a military trucks are usually purchased with spare parts, so we may assume that this is quite a significant amount of money being spent.

Sineenat: Both the New York Post and the Daily Mail reports on the former royal concubine who the king has had returned from a Thai prison to his harem in Germany. The Post’s headline is notable: “Thai king frees jailed concubine to join ‘sex soldier’ harem amid pandemic.”

Both stories build on a Bild story that produced a picture of the king – the “playboy monarch – greeting his concubine at the plane: “On Saturday morning, the king himself is said to have picked her up wearing his customary tank top at Munich Airport.” It is reported that the “king and his entourage then drove straight to the Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl in the German resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen…”.

The BBC reports that all of her honors and awards have now been reinstated by the king.

Kra IthmusBloomberg reports that the regime has kicked the “land bridge” back onto the policy agenda. It is no surprise at all that a Chidchob is promoting the huge project with its potentially mammoth commissions. Transport Minister Saksiam Chidchob reckons that the Malacca Strait “has become quite congested…” said in an interview with Bloomberg News last week. Yet it is probably no more congested now than it was in recent years and there have been measures to improve separation. The proposal is for “two deep seaports on either side of the country’s southern coasts, and link them via highway and rail…”. Some reports are that the move away from a canal is another “major shock to China.”

If there can’t be a canal, then other money makers are available. Not exactly a new idea. And, as Wikipedia puts it,

there the construction of a land bridge across the isthmus was started in 1993. A superhighway was built that crosses the isthmus, but as the location of the harbours at either end were undetermined, Highway 44—the only finished part of the project—does not end at the sea. The highway’s two lanes were built 150 m apart to leave space for railroad tracks and eventually also a pipeline.

The other Boss: The Bangkok Post reports that there was massive “negligence in the handling of the 2012 hit-and-run case involving Red Bull scion Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya.” There was also massive corruption. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was quick to buffalo manure his explanation of this, blaming individuals and “saying it was not the entire justice system that failed in the handling of this case.”

Actually, the justice system has worked as it is meant to: double standards and privileges for the rich and powerful.

Warning the kids: Various warnings directed at student activists continue to urge them to be “nicer” and more “conciliatory.” There are also warnings that they must remain non-violent. In fact, it is the the state, the military and the rightists who are the main perpetrators of violence and haranguing the students suggests a failure to understand this basic fact of Thailand’s political life. When, like the linked op-ed, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are cited as examples, then we wonder if the author has read much about the latter’s support for violent revolution and the former’s acknowledgement of violence.





Further updated: Sineenat’s travels

28 08 2020

Social media has lit up with reports of King Vajiralongkorn’s once favorite consort being released from prison and being sent back to the king in Germany. Internationally, these reports have come from Junya Yimprasert and Andrew MacGregor Marshall, at their Facebook pages. However, the reports are also circulating widely in Thailand.

The king has a long record of cruelty, punishing minions, and as the rumors over several decades have it, for having some killed. He sacks people in a rage, issuing angry royal announcements. He also has a reputation for punishing his former wives and consorts along with their families.

Readers will recall that in October 2019, the king banished Maj. Gen. Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, one of his royal guards, but really his favorite minor wife over several years. Until the king punished her, Sineenat or Koi had often photographed with the prince-cum-king in Germany.

This act was shocking for only in July that year that the king officially made her Chao Khun Phra or Royal Noble Consort. And, in August, Sineenat received huge palace-arranged propaganda as the king’s favorite.

At the time, the official announcement “accused Sineenat of attempting to prevent Queen Suthida from being crowned and abusing her royal status.” Reports of the announcement stated:

Sineenat not only “expressed her opposition and exerted her pressure in every possible way” regarding Queen Suthida’s elevation to the throne as the Queen of Thailand, she also sought to have His Majesty the King appoint her to the role instead.

The announcement also explained away her previous position and official lauding by the palace propaganda machine:

After her repeated disobedience and attempts of interference with the royal affairs, the statement said, … the King graciously bestowed her the title of Royal Noble Consort in July out of hope that Sineenat would “lessen her pressure” and change her tact [sic.].

Instead, Sineenat continued to display “ambition” and overstepped her authority by engaging in many royal court activities without … the King’s approval, which caused much confusion to the public….

The announcement concluded that:

Her actions are considered disloyal, ungrateful, and ungracious of [the king’s] kindness…. They caused division among the royal servants and misunderstanding among the public; these amount to acts of sabotage against the country and the institution [monarchy].

She was stripped of all royal ranks, decorations, and her military rank.

That all sounds pretty grim. It got worse. While not reported in Thailand, her family home was demolished and she was jailed.

Over the last couple of days it has been widely rumored that she has been released from the Lat Yao Women’s Prison. Several on social media believe that she is now on the king’s personal plane (paid for by taxpayers) on her way back to the king in Germany.

Originally, it was thought she would be traveling later in the week, but the movement of the king’s plane suggests she might now being transported across borders. The plane must refuel on its way to Germany, so she’s unlikely to be seeing Thaksin and Yingluck in Dubai.

It is not known if this means further punishment or if she will be rehabilitated. We’d guess that if she’s back with the king, then she remains in a dangerous relationship.

Update 1: If Sineenat is aboard HS-HMK, then she’s now departed Dubai heading to Europe.

Update 2: HS-HMK arrived in Munich at about 8.50 am Munich time. We must now await to see if Sineenat was on it and if she is being publicly rehabilitated or whether her abuse will continue.