Thinking about the end of the monarchy

29 01 2014

The Wall Street Journal has a take on the end of the monarchy in Thailand. We are sure the journalist involved wouldn’t say it that way, but that’s what it is.

It begins rather shakily:

For decades, Thais have looked to King Bhumibol Adulyadej to referee political disputes. But with the king now 86 years old, some people here say it’s time to sort out their own problems.

Of course, this is incorrect. Some Thais have looked to the king.And this is a recent longing, mainly associated with 1973, canceled by the involvement in the 1976 massacre, and then in 1992, canceled by the 2006 coup. The Thais who seem to look to the king most are those who have gained much from a royal connection: the military, wealthy Sino-Thais and the culturally rudderless Bangkok middle class.

It is still a bit lost when it says:

Elevated to almost divine status with the help of the military during the Cold War, King Bhumibol has interceded during flashpoints over the years. Sometimes he has sided with street protesters demanding more democracy and accountability; at others, he has endorsed autocratic military rulers.

In fact, the king has always been on the side of autocrats. They are the ones who elevated him. His occasional comments on democracy have been conservative and reactionary, and mainly associated with notions of Thai-style democracy. When he has supported civilians against the military, it has been when a crisis threatened the roots of autocracy and his ruling class.

It is then stated that:

Unlike some other Asian royal houses that have faded into the background or, in Nepal’s case, been abolished, Thailand’s monarchy is still part and parcel of everyday life here, despite not having any formal power.

This is a common enough statement about the king’s constitutional power. In fact, though, it isn’t correct. Since 1932, and especially since 1958, constitutions have gradually returned real powers to the monarchy. Yes, the current constitution states: “The King as Head of State shall exercise such power through the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers and the Courts in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.” However, many sections give real power to the king:

Section 7. Whenever no provision under this Constitution is applicable to any case, it shall be decided in accordance with the constitutional convention in the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.

The king has been encouraged by anti-democrats to use this provision.

Section 90. An organic law bill and a bill may be enacted as law only by and with the advice and consent of the National Assembly and when the King’s signature has been given or deemed to be given thereto; it shall come into force upon its publication in the Government Gazette.

The king has withheld his signature. This effectively kills such bills. There are many other provisions which refer to the king’s “prerogative” and it remains unclear if this is on the advice of the premier.

There are several provisions which relate to the so-called independent agencies, where the king and Senate act in concert to make appointments. Given that the Senate is only half-elected, this is a most powerful weapon used by the king against perceived opponents. So it is that the judges, appointed senators and other “independent” agencies are able to depose governments.

It is true that “Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws penalize criticism of the royal family with prison terms of up to 15 years.”

The interesting bits follow this:

But as King Bhumibol enters the twilight of his long reign, the political divides here in Southeast Asia’s linchpin economy are widening as protesters, many of them invoking the name of the king, try to check the growing power of the country’s elected leaders. And some supporters of the populist government say it is time to stop using the king’s name for political leverage.

Of course it is, but wander about the hawker stands at the anti-democracy protests and you see a lot of paraphernalia that is of the “We love the king” variety common at People’s Alliance for Democracy events in the past. Listen to the speeches and you hear calls for lese majeste to be more vigorously used. As the article states:

The protesters aren’t coy about invoking the name of King Bhumibol. During frequent parades around Bangkok’s busy business district, many wear yellow head bands declaring “I Love the King.” Some of their placards accuse Mr. Thaksin, who was overthrown as prime minister in 2006 and now lives abroad, of plotting to usurp the king’s powers—a charge Mr. Thaksin has consistently denied, and which the king hasn’t publicly commented on.

Red shirts know they are attacked as anti-monarchy and stymied by calls to monarchical loyalty:

“We’re not really supposed to talk about these things in Thailand,” says Wutthipong Kotchathammakhun, a leader of a pro-government “Red Shirt” splinter group here, just north of Bangkok. “But we want people to understand how the establishment is using ‘the sky’ to grab power for itself,” he says, using a common term to refer to the royal family.

While it might be true that the “king himself has remained silent on the months-long standoff playing out on the streets of Bangkok,” his youngest daughter has been vociferous. We don’t know what the king himself is capable of saying as he is often incoherent as dementia takes its toll.

And here’s the real point of the article:

The clash represents an almost existential struggle to determine what kind of country Thailand should be in the 21st century. On one side are Thailand’s traditional power bases in the military and technocratic political parties, and in the rival camp are supporters of populist politicians backed by billionaire businessman Thaksin Shinawatra.

Actually the struggle is bigger than Thaksin. The army “has a strong and visible attachment to the monarchy,” but that will fade over time and with succession as the connection between the two has been highly personalized via the aged and infirm Prem Tinsulanonda as the royalist wheeler-dealer premier and then privy councilor. That era is at an end:

… the more the demonstrators play the royal card—by making lèse-majesté allegations or simply waving royalist placards—the more they risk undermining the institution in the eyes of millions of Thais who have repeatedly voted for the Shinawatras.

“Everything the royalists do is working against the long-term interests of the monarchy,” says David Streckfuss, a Thailand-based scholar and author. “The lèse-majesté laws, trying to secure the positions: any of it, really, is bad for the monarchy.”

It might be the end, but the real end is a struggle, a battle. And, as was seen post-1932, the monarchy is nothing if not tenacious and resilient and was able to rebuild. This time?

Dueling oligarchs and settling old scores

7 01 2014

In some of the analysis of the events around the 2006 palace-military coup, there was a line of argument that considered the political struggle to be between dueling elites, with Thaksin Shinawatra representing one side – new capital, perhaps – and the palace, king and Crown Property Bureau representing old capital.

In the Bangkok Post about a month ago, there was a set of stories that might add to this line of analysis. The first story was about “former Democrat Party secretary-general” Suthep Thaugsuban, now the frontman for the anti-democracy movement, and his family.

PPT was intrigued to learn that Suthep’s wife is Srisakul Promphan. Back in 2009, The Nation described her this way:

The case of Srisakul Promphan, mistress of Deputy Prime minister and Democrat secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban, has also been the rounds.

Suthep did not file an asset declaration for Srisakul to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, saying they were not married. The opposition plans to take up the morality of this on the floor of the House.Suthep and wife

Srisakul, a former star of Chulalongkorn University, is the sister of PM’s secretary-general and Democrat deputy leader Niphon Promphan and divorced from Porntep Techapaibul, a former Democrat who is now in the Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana Party.

A Facebook post states that her first marriage was to Krit Rattanarak, but we are unable to confirm this.Also unconfirmed is a statement at New Mandala that one of the Promphans bunked in with Prince Vajiralongkorn when students in Australia.

Suthep is obviously well-connected, with this photo (left) showing, from left, Niran Promphan, Sukanya Promphan, Suthikiati Chirathivat, Danapat Promphan, Thippawan Limsakdakul, Suthep Thaugsuban, Srisakul Promphan, Suthichai Chirathivat, Teevee Limsakdakul, Virat Limsakdakul, and Supatra Chirathivat.

Add together the names Tejapaibul, Ratanarak and Chirathivat, and some of the biggest Sino-Thai capitalists are connected to Suthep and his family, itself having large holdings and big businesses in the south.

Sutheps linksDescribed in the Post story as “[h]is wife,” Srisakul is said to have strongly supported Suthep, as have “their children from the couple’s previous marriages.” For example:

Mrs Srisakul’s son, Akanat Promphan, is close to his step-father. He has resigned as a Democrat Party MP along with Mr Suthep to lead the protesters and works as Mr Suthep’s personal secretary, according to a source close to the family….

Before he became an MP for the first time, Mr Akanat worked as Mr Suthep’s political secretary….

Tan Thaugsuban, Mr Suthep’s eldest biological son, serves as his father’s bodyguard at the protest site.

The source said normally Mr Tan takes care of his family’s Sri Suban farm and other businesses in the southern province of Surat Thani.

Perhaps the big business connections are a reason why the protesters have “many food stands are sponsored by protest leaders and financiers,” and why they “have mountains of donated goods _ from drinking water to gas masks to swimming goggles to rice sacks.”

However, if dueling capitalists is not the motivation one seeks for explaining anti-democracy, how about long-held royalist hatred of anyone seen to diminish the charisma, political and economic power of the monarchy.  The same Post story says that:

Given the political upheaval, the Krairiksh siblings _ Democrat Party MP for Phitsanulok Juti and his sister, senator Pikulkaew _ feel there is no better time to dust off their grandfather’s book and have it reprinted.

Authored by “Lt Jongkol Krairiksh, a former deputy House speaker and a three-time MP for Phitsanulok, under the pseudonym ‘Saowarak’,” the book is a royalist account of the 1932 Revolution by a man who “arrested and imprisoned for 11 years for his involvement in the Baworndej [Boworadej] revolt,” a restorationist  rebellion supported by King Prajadhipok in 1933. The book whitewashes the event and paints democracy as chaotic.

Old feuds get replayed in current contexts.

Royalist propaganda

5 01 2014

PPT has made a few comments recently on the domestic media and the work of anti-democracy propagandists like Veera Prateepchaikul and Thanong Khanthong. We haven’t commented too much on royalist and anti-democracy propagandists who are popping up in the international media, except to briefly mention royalist dolts like Stephen B. Young and extremists who have latched onto Thailand as a site for bizarre rants disguised as commentary.

In recent days, several readers have passed on more of the international propaganda that is being cranked up by the royalist anti-democracy campaigners in Thailand. As with much of this stuff, it tells a story that is not meant to be accurate or factual. Rather its purpose is to establish a discourse that “proves” the anti-democrats’ claims and program.

Interestingly, some of this is by exactly the same “friends of Thailand” who were prodded into action to defend the 2006 military coup and the actions of the Abhisit Vejjajiva-led government that used military force to smash the red shirts in 2010.  Like Young, these propagandists are those who have had long connections with the palace and monarchy. Indicative of this is David Van Praagh, a former professor and former Canadian Globe and Mail correspondent in South and Southeast Asia who is the author of Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy: The Life and Times of M. R. Seni Pramoj. The book is a hagiography of a prince and royalist politician who was one of the founders of the Democrat Party.

His recent piece in the Globe and Mail was under the headline “Why Thailand is crucial to democracy in Asia.” It is about “royalist democracy,” and seems somewhat awkwardly twinned with a far more scurrilous fairy tale on democracy at YouTube, apparently produced by people so closely connected to events that Thaksin becomes Tharksin, with Thaksin and his cronies being elected by uneducated, dumb or bought peasants and – this is a surprise – controls the military, police and independent agencies. Ho hum, but it tells the story of why democracy doesn’t exist in Thailand and why it is that pro-Thaksin parties have won every national election since 2001 but that this is wrong and bad.

Van Praagh does argue that his favorite Democrat Party should stand in the upcoming election. That’s all well and good, except that it is too late for this. He also seems to miss the point that the Democrat Party is now in the hands of extremists. Yet van Praagh lives in a different political world that wants the monarchy to be something it isn’t. The extremists in the Democrat Party know that they must grab the future. So while van Praagh supports “democracy” it is a “democracy” that is monarchist.

He begins his op-ed with a complete nonsense:

But Thais never learned from farangs (foreigners) how to make democracy work. Instead they have endured a long series of military coups, corrupt politicians and, at especially critical times, pro-democracy intervention by the revered constitutional monarch Bhumiphol Adulyadej.

Should we point out that the monarchy’s interventions have been some of the most anti-democratic? Think of 1976. Think of 2006. Think of the monarchy’s long support of military dictatorships. Should we point out that Thais don’t need to be taught about democracy by foreigners?

His perspective is colored by his prejudices:

One group, led by wealthy exiled Sino-Thai profiteer Thaksin Shinawatra, whose younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra is Prime Minister in his absence, thrives politically as well as economically on corruption – routinely paying poor rice-growing farmers for their votes.

Vote-buying? Really? There are still people who believe this after all of the recent commentary that has shown this claim to be a “dangerous nonsense.” Note the claim that Thaksin is a rich Sino-Thai profiteer and compare this with the description of Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is mistakenly taken to be somehow critical for the “other group” in this conflict:

… growing out of the middle-class Prachatipat or Democrat Party founded in 1946, has in effect thrown away this vital credential by opposing and even planning to disrupt a Feb. 2 parliamentary election called by Yingluck, who has rejected a postponement proposed by Thailand’s Election Commission.

Led by Oxford-educated Abbisit Vejjajiva, the Democrats have turned their back on democracy by following dissident Suthep Thaugsuban, who favors a non-elected national council.

Perhaps Abhisit could also be described as an elitist Sino-Thai who has never really worked, having been groomed for wealth and power? Perhaps the Democrat Party can also be accused of vote-buying, when the military poured funds into coalition constituencies in the last election? And the claim that the Democrat Party is a party of democracy is a claim that simply cannot be maintained when its long history of royalist support for coups and military rule are considered. In fact, Abhisit is the most recent in a line of anti-democratic Democrat Party leaders.

Van Praagh then comes up with a series of nonsensical claims:

The underlying assumption among Thais is that Yingluck and her ironically named Clean Thai Party will win another election.

The first claim is true enough, but “Clean Thai”? We think the author has been watching the propaganda video above, where the Puea Thai Party – For Thai Party – is referred to as the “Pure Thai Party.”

If she does, and brings back Thaksin under an amnesty – the first reason for anti-Thaksin street demonstrations – the so far laid-back army is likely to take matters into its own hands, reviving the tradition of military coups by again deposing the Shinawatra family. The army commander has neither accepted nor rejected the possibility of another coup.

For a start, PPT does not believe that an election will be completed and a government formed from it. But that’s our guess.The amnesty is pretty much dead and a coup is likely.

Living in a fantasy world, van Praagh opines:

If Prachatipat does not return to its senses and its roots, and does not win the early February election, Thailand’s democracy landscape will be all but barren.

Win? Really?

This will have an adverse impact on other Southeast Asian nations aspiring to genuine democracy, especially Indonesia with its army in waiting, and the Philippines with its gap between rich and poor much greater than Thailand’s.

Moreover, setbacks for democracy in Southeast Asia and elsewhere in Asia and the Pacific will provide grist for the mill of China’s expansionism, with Southeast Asia its first regional target for anti-democracy statist regimes. Thailand’s Thaksin, for example, has strong ties to Beijing.

The extremists and the anti-democracy lot reckon that Thaksin is an ally of a secretive U.S. alliance to tie Thailand into a global capitalist plutocracy. But then there is a long royal discourse on nasty Chinese capitalist who only become Thai by their allegiance to the king, and by funding his quirky projects and ideas. Thaksin is anti-royal and therefore not a “good Chinese,” but an evil one:

Thaksin, the root of Thailand’s troubles, also claims he owes allegiance to King Bhumiphol. Many Thais do not believe him, and they may also be swayed by the sharp drop in Thailand’s economy, particularly the decline in exports of rice.

We have no idea how the rice bit adds to the royal stuff, but plenty of farmers like the rice support scheme. To hammer the “bad Chinese” bit home, van Praagh makes the obvious point:

Presumably, the king does not believe Thaksin either. He has publicly excoriated Thaksin for corruption. That was before he was compelled for health reasons to suspend the role he had created of mediator of last resort in Thai politics. But after four years in hospital, and while anti-Thaksin demonstrations were going on, King Bhumiphol, looking healthy on his 86th birthday, drove with Queen Sirikit to his palace on the ocean near Bangkok.

He then gets to his point. Only the king can deliver democracy and “save the nation”:

The king’s appearance during the latest Thai crisis clearly sent a signal. It was not clear immediately what the signal is. But many Thais who have yearned for democracy for decades strongly hope that Bhumiphol is reasserting his role when he banished autocratic governments in 1973 and 1992, and thereby saved the nation.

Frankly, we think the palace learned a lot from its identification with the 2006 coup. It wants to stay behind the scenes. Indeed, both the king and queen are weak and doddery yet we have little reason to think that they are not supporting the anti-democrats. Van Praagh’s op-ed seems to suggest just this, calling for what the protesters say is absolute democracy with the king as revered head of state.

More on those behind the anti-democratic movement

16 12 2013

In earlier posts PPT had some information on those behind the anti-democratic movement, with some emphasis on the so-called academic support. Much of this indicated that the support base in that area was pretty much constant from the first days of the People’s Alliance for Democracy. In addition, it is clear that the leadership of the federated unions associated with state enterprises have remained solid in support of the anti-democratic movement that is now in action as a scion of PAD.

The leadership of the current incarnation is now focused on Suthep Thaugsuban and members of the Democrat Party. In past movements, this lot tended to remain in the background, leaving campaigning to the PAD types. Yes, certain members of the party spoke on stage, with the unpredictable Kasit Piromya appearing on the stage during the 2008 airport occupations. Of course, for a while there were some debates between the Democrat Party and PAD, with the latter demanding more radical action. That demand finally won through when the Democrat Party showed itself incapable of winning an election.

In terms of financial support for the anti-democratic movement, rumor has it that the major sponsors of Suthep’s have been the Bangkok Bank, the Singha Beer, and some add in the Central Group.

But rumors aren’t facts. So two stories by Reuters are of some interest, and we realize that these have been well-circulated, so we just highlight some bits and pieces from them.

The first story at Reuters is regarding “prominent Thais” who have joined the protests. First mentioned is the selfie-photogenic Chitpas Bhirombhakdi who at 27 and with nearly 2,000 Instagram photos of herself posted, is not just a self-indulgent and self-important upper class youngster, but is also “heiress to a $2.6 billion family fortune and, according to high-society magazine Thailand Tatler, one of Bangkok’s ‘most eligible young ladies‘.” The report notes:

Chitpas, whose family owns the Boon Rawd Brewery that makes Singha Beer, had dismounted the machine [a bulldozer that was to bust police barricades] long before police pelted it with rubber bullets and gas canisters. But her gung-ho act showed how members of Thailand’s most celebrated families are discarding all past pretence [sic.] of neutrality to hit the streets in the hope of toppling Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

We understand that several tubes of expensive moisturizer helped after the bulldozer scamming for headlines. Chitpas may be young for Thai politics, but her interests are with the old men who want to keep their hands on the political tiller. She supports harsher lese majeste laws – her family’s beer interests were initially co-invested with the then king back in the early 1930s.

Naphalai Areesorn, editor of banal Thailand Tatler, has also been spotting celebrities and hi-so opportunists at the anti-democratic protests. She is reported to have said:

“People you would normally see in the society pages were out there… All the people from big families used to be called the silent minority. Well, they’re not silent anymore.”

Spot market prices for sunscreen and cosmetics with high ant-sun indices have shot up.

Chris Baker is cited saying: “Banks, construction companies and other big Thai businesses have often openly supported Thaksin-backed parties or the opposition Democrats…”. True, but the big money has been with the anti-democrats for this movement is seen to best protect its interests.

Reuters reports that another “prominent Thai hitting the streets was real estate tycoon Srivara Issara, who along with her husband Songkran runs Charn Issara Development PLC. She led her own protest march from her company’s Bangkok headquarters to the nearby offices of the ruling Puea Thai Party.”Charn Issara

Srivara claims no party affiliation. “I really hate politics,” she said. Her march was inspired by her disgust for Thaksin (“that runaway criminal”) and her faith in protest leader Suthep, a former Democrat politician.

A friend in the PR business helped her dream up a protest slogan: “Moral righteousness comes above democracy”. Srivara publicised the march through Facebook and by personally handing out leaflets in the street the night before.

Thousands of people joined her peaceful rally, which she saw as an extension of Charn Issara’s corporate social responsibility programme. “It’s our duty to do something good for the country,” she said.

Here’s the company’s statement on CSR:

Charn Issara’s main principle is to differentiate the innovated projects and deliver only high quality product to exceed customer’s expectation. The Company ‘s ideology is to present only the best property development project to elevate better social responsibility and grant satisfaction to both the developer and its customers.

PPT has seen plenty of blarney in CSR, but this is pure marketing. She even dresses as she thinks a peasant did or would linking her to the religious base of the sufficiency economy nonsense that the elite embraces in ways that allow them to maintain their corporations and profits. So the company can build estates with golf courses and gobble up beaches. Its 2012 report can be obtained, with a 12MB download as a PDF, showing it as publicly-listed but family-controlled.

Another of Thailand’s wealth at the demonstrations is” Petch Osathanugrah, who along with his brother Ratch has an estimated fortune of $630 million. They own the energy drinks producer Osotspa and 51 percent of Shiseido Thailand.” It is known that the family has sponsored rightist NGOs and the report states that:

Petch believed it [another election] will only install another Thaksin-backed government, which will spark further protests.

His opinion of the mainly rural Thais who voted for Yingluck is unsparing but typical. They are ill-educated, easily swayed and greedy, he said, and their willingness to sell their vote to Thaksin-backed politicians renders elections pointless.

“I’m not really for democracy,” said Petch, who was educated in the United States. “I don’t think we’re ready for it. We need a strong government like China’s or Singapore’s – almost like a dictatorship, but for the good of the country.”

“I am longing for a Lee Kuan Yew,” he said, referring to former prime minister who oversaw Singapore’s economic rise.

We assume that he supported Thaksin Shinawatra when he wanted to be like the aged LKY.

The Sino-Thai business community, at least the big capitalists, have long felt comfortable with military dictatorships and see the monarchy as part of their created identity and a protector of their interests. They tend to see LKY’s conservative “Asian Values” ideas, which laud Chineseness as necessary for their prosperity.

Equally dismissive of voters is “Palawi Bunnag, a scion of a celebrated family of Persian descent who served Thailand’s early kings. Palawi, a qualified lawyer and frequent visitor to the protest sites,” and says:

Educating the electorate begins with people such as “our own drivers and maids,” said  felt people from northeast Thailand should be made to understand the limitations of short-term populist policies such as easy credit.

“They just want their lives to be comfortable, but they don’t think that in the long run they will have debts,” said Palawi. “Thaksin’s regime makes everyone have a lot of greed.”

Clearly, they have no conception of rural life or the changes that have taken place in the countryside.

But do they know the elite better?

Many in Thailand’s elite publicly excoriate Thaksin and his clan. But they also occupy the same rich lists – Forbes places the Shinawatra family 10th with a fortune of $1.7 billion – and move in the same rarefied circles.

Srivara Issara’s oldest son Vorasit, who recently vowed on his Facebook page to “beat the living crap” out of red shirt leaders, told Reuters he was friends with Thaksin’s son Panthongtae.

“Everyone knows each other,” said Palawi Bunnag, who – proving her point – is married to Vorasit and went to the same British university as Thaksin’s nephew Rupop.

Such proximity to the Shinawatras also affords a privileged insight. “They’re nice friends,” said Palawi. “But we also know their hidden agendas, their hidden businesses.”

They seem to be saying that the whole elite is a bunch of crooks. Few who vote for Thaksin are likely to disagree with that assessment. The subaltern judgement of politics seems to be that electoral democracy can produce some control of the elite, whereas the rich see it a nuisance for their profits and lifestyle.

The second story at Reuters: is not about the business elite but about the darker forces behind Suthep’s anti-democratic ranting:

But behind Thailand’s fiery anti-government protest leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, are two powerful retired generals with palace connections, a deep rivalry with the Shinawatra family and an ability to influence Thailand’s coup-prone armed forces.

The forces behind Suthep are led by former defense minister General Prawit Wongsuwan and former army chief General Anupong Paochinda, towering figures in Thailand’s military establishment, said two military sources with direct knowledge of the matter and a third with connections to Thai generals.

The report is clear on these two:

Although retired, Anupong, 64, and Prawit, 67, still wield influence in a powerful and highly politicized military that has played a pivotal role in a country that has seen 18 successful or attempted coups in the past 81 years…. It is unclear how far that influence goes, or how decisive they could be. But both have close ties to army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha. And all three have a history of enmity with Yingluck’s billionaire brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who they helped oust in a 2006 coup.

It adds:

Anupong was a leader of the military coup that removed Thaksin in September 2006 and two years later recommended on television that the Thaksin-allied prime minister step down. As army chief, he oversaw a bloody crackdown on Thaksin’s red-shirted supporters in 2010 in which 91 people, mostly red shirts, were killed. Anupong made Prayuth his heir apparent.

A former army commander, Prawit was a mentor of Anupong and a defence minister under the previous government replaced by Yingluck in the 2011 election. He’s also a close associate of former general Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, leader of the coup against Thaksin….

These older men are linked to a generation of soldiers nurtured by Privy Councilor Prem Tinsulanonda:

Anupong and Prayuth served with the Queen’s Guard, an elite unit with greater autonomy from the rest of military, with its allegiance foremost to the monarchy rather than the direct chain of command….

The report claims that:

As [t]his reign gradually draws to a close, long-simmering business, political and military rivalries are rising to the surface, forcing Thailand to choose sides between supporters of the Bangkok establishment or those seeking to upend the status quo – a constituency associated with Thaksin.

The king has now demonstrated his incapacity for political intervention as he is degraded by age and the interventionist queen is off the stage too. So the miltiary and the members of the Privy Council who can suck up their own drool step into the breech:

Prawit and Anupong had expressed readiness to intervene if there was a security crisis, such as a crackdown by police on protesters or clashes between pro and anti-government demonstrators, and if Suthep’s plan for an interim government was constitutional, said the source with military connections.

This even if “Suthep’s bid to upend Thailand’s current political order looks far-fetched.” But the military, while divided “has provided little security for her caretaker government at protests…”. The report adds, from a government source: “Once a lot of violence takes place and the government cannot enforce the law, then this country becomes a failed state. Then there can be a pretext for the military to come in…”. The report adds:

“Suthep is playing the game on the outside while Prawit tries to play the game on the inside,” said a senior military official who could not be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media. “General Prawit has been clear about his aspirations to become prime minister.”

The calling of elections is a last-ditch effort at a constitutional solution for the crisis.

For the moment, the military brass seems to favor elections. This leads to a dangerous situation where Suthep, with the Democrat Party now sidelined as a normal political party, needs violence and a coup if electoral democracy is to be rolled back.

With a major update: Suthep’s struggle

16 11 2013

Former Deputy Prime Minister and Democrat Party boss-cum-anti-government protester Suthep Thaugsuban hates Thaksin Shinawatra.

It is that fact that drives everything Suthep does. It colors his judgement, causes him to order the military to murder red shirts and causes him to expend his family wealth trying to attack the former prime minister. It causes his politics to be personal.Suthep blowing

As PPT noted a couple of days ago, the anti-government protests have lost their impetus and Suthep’s call for strikes and tax evasion fell flat.

So it is that the hateful Suthep and the boringly hopeless Democrat Party have rejigged Suthep’s protest to personalize the protests and directly attack Thaksin and his family. This will suit many of the radical yellow shirts who are similarly driven by personal hatreds (and personal love for the king). Talk with yellow leaders and true believers and the personal hatred for Thaksin is all too evident.

The Nation reports that Suthep, who begged people to show up for his campaign harangues, apparently wants supporters to boycott and attack Thaksin’s family, so-called cronies and those he thinks are the governments lackeys. The aim is to “get rid of the Thaksin regime from Thailand.”

A nasty example of this personalized politics is seen in social media attacks on Thaksin’s daughters, apparently facilitated by staff at Thai Airways.

Suthep has demanded that supporters boycott the “products and services relating to businesses run by the Shinawatra family and their cronies should be boycotted. These include mobile service, real estate and satellite TV.”

He charged that the Shinawatra family and its “cronies” threatened “democracy under constitutional monarchy for Thailand,” and called for the “Thaksin regime” to “be eradicated” before the end of November.

Other elements of his campaign include “a campaign to collect signatures for impeachment of the 310 coalition MPs who had voted in support of the bill for blanket amnesty.” Suthep refers to “slave MPs.”

We are not at all sure what legal grounds an impeachment can take, but then legalities have never bothered Suthep, except when they use the courts for political purposes.

Apparently Suthep also wants “social sanctions against senior public officials” he labels as “lackeys” of Thaksin. Attacking officials in this way is an interesting approach, and we guess he is referring to officials like the Department of Special Investigation’s elastic boss Tharit Pengdit, who politically served Suthep before back flipping and having Suthep and his “boss” Abhisit Vejjajiva charged with murder.

Suthep’s call for a boycott of Shinawatra family businesses seems to be erroneously based in the yellow-shirted belief that these businesses allow Thaksin to control money politics. This feeds the disbelief amongst Democrat Party leaders that the electorate repeatedly rejects them at the polls for any reason other than money.

Meanwhile, the Democrat Party has submitted an impeachment motion against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and two other ministers. Apparently, the Democrat Party believes that “the three ministers abused their authority and failed to comply with the law.”

The report provides no more details about the laws broken. Perhaps this is because this is just a political ruse with no basis in law but only in hatred of ministers said to be “inefficient, incompetent, immoral, irresponsible, hypocrites, lack intelligence and leadership and condone cronyism.”

As we said, hatred, but not much else.

Update: A reader drew our attention to a Khaosod report on Suthep’s pleadings, which includes material left out by many other mainstream media, perhaps because they are seriously embarrassing for Suthep who compared “Thaksin′s administration to Adolf Hitler′s subversion of the German Reichstag,” being quoted as stating:

“Thaksin′s Regime has destroyed morality and goodness,” said Mr. Suthep, “It turns the parliamentary system into a tyrannical Parliament, just like the German Parliament under Hitler, which led to the world war that killed millions of people”.

While we are not exactly sure which period of Hitler’s rise Suthep considers here, he probably means from 1930 or perhaps 1932 (a good year for Thailand, moving against the trend to Fascism elsewhere, at least for a few years). By 1933, Hitler effectively became dictator. Yet the comparison is specious. The fact is that Hitler wasn’t in exile and his party was never elected in multiple elections with consistent majorities. And nor was the Nazi party repeatedly thrown out by coups judicial and military or dissolved by the courts.

While reading the newspapers today, PPT was also a bit taken aback to suddenly come across a couple of pieces raising race as an issue. We have already posted the story from The Economist, and in that it is noted that: “… Thaksin, an ethnic-Chinese billionaire, is an odd leader for a group dominated by non-Chinese Thais from the north-east. But they like the populist economic policies, such as a rice-price support scheme attacked this week by the IMF, which he and his sister have pursued.” Well, they are also claimed to like the king, and he’s Sino-Thai too, as are almost all of Thailand’s big business people and major politicians. Northeasterners were particularly attracted to Chatichai Choonhavan, and he was also Sino-Thai.

But it is at the Bangkok Post that the ethnicity line is used more mischievously. In an editorial, the Post states at length that Yingluck’s decision-making in government is driven by her ethnicity:

the Thai-Chinese community champions the family unit. Whether in business or politics, the family is ever present. Never underestimate its cultural importance. As a younger sister – youngest in fact – of a Thai or Thai-Chinese family, obedience to elder family members, especially the patriarch, is the norm, the honourable, time-honoured, expected and righteous thing to do.

It hammers this line and concludes:

Leadership means one must be made of stern stuff. If one can’t stand up for oneself, how can one stand up for one’s country? Between the choice of family and country, as the prime minster, Ms Yingluck must choose the country first, in every single decision.

It does seem odd that suddenly ethnicity is made to matter.

Of course, they could have mentioned the king as an example of a Sino-Thai who has put country before family. But perhaps that example is a bit difficult to deal with as he isn’t the youngest daughter in the clan and his family has done very nicely indeed, with various members of the family doing pretty much what they like with the benefit of taxpayer funding.

Rich, rich, rich I

4 07 2013

Only a day or so ago, PPT posted about inequality and the political power of the rich. Interestingly, this coincided with Forbes posting its list of Thailand’s billionaires. The top 10 are:

1. Dhanin Chearavanont & family worth $12.6 B, from agribusiness and more, and ranked in the top 60 richest on the planet.1000baht

2. Chirathivat family worth $12.3 B mostly in the retail sector

3. Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi of beer, liquor and property, worth $10.6 B

4. Yoovidhya family of Red Bull fame and fast car notoriety, worth $7.8 B

5. Krit Ratanarak, of Bank of Ayudhya and with television interests, worth $3.9 B

6. Chamnong Bhirombhakdi & family, worth $2.4 B, mainly from beer, and with a scion in the Democrat Party

7. Vanich Chaiyawan, worth $2.1 B, in insurance and a big shareholder in Charoen’s Thai Bev

8. Vichai Maleenont & family in media and entertainment, worth $2 B

9. Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth, worth $1.8 B from medical, health and aviation investment

10. Thaksin Shinawatra & family, worth $1.7 B, from various investments in property, mining and more.

Most of the list are paid-up monarchists and some have been active politically, using their wealth in various political ways. PPT isn’t sure if politics earns money for Thaksin or costs him a pile of loot at present. It certainly cost him plenty under various royalist governments.

Of course, the richest tycoon family in Thailand is actually the king and his family. With the stock market rises and boom in tourism, PPT’s back of the envelope calculation will have the rich royals at about $35-45 Billion this year.

PPT will have a follow-up post on the Forbes stories on these tycoons.

Knowing the obvious on the military

10 05 2013

At The Nation there’s a story that seems all too obvious to PPT and probably to anyone else who watches Thailand’s politics: the military is politicized, runs coups and rejects any modern notion of civilian control.

It seems that when an academic recites these truths, it is newsworthy, especially when a foreign academic, Professor Aurel Croissant, is making these points.

That “Thailand remains among those countries that have failed to institutionalise civilian control over the military,” is clear, despite efforts by  premiers as diverse  as Chuan Leekpai and Thaksin Shinawatra.

The professor says that “Thailand ranks fifth the world in terms of having the most number of military coups,” with 18 “successful” coups since 1932.

Nicholas Farrelly at New Mandala some time ago pointed out that counting coups is difficult:

Here on New Mandala we recently hosted a discussion about Thailand’s coup history where I suggested that counting the number of coups (attempted and successful) is a complicated business. Often, when somebody asks “how many coups have there been in Thailand?”, the final number that is cited is 18 but I fear that this may be a product of force of habit rather than hard number crunching.

He adds:

As it stands I have 11 “successful” and 9 “unsuccessful” coup efforts in the 20th century [sic. he adds 2006 in] for a total of 20.

The army's real task: coups and repression

The army’s real task: coups and repression

Readers at that thread add several more.

Croissant tells us that “the risk of a putsch remains high,”another point widely discussed, even in the past few days.

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, “Croissant predicted it will be a long time before Thailand can achieve genuine civilian control over the military.”

Oddly, though, in the way he is reported, the professor seems to blame civilians for the problem.

It [civilian control] will depend on not just the military refraining from getting involved in politics but also on strong civilian support and consensus that civilians should have oversight of the military.

“There’s no consensus on that they will not pull the military into political conflicts,” said Croissant, who jointly conducted research on the topic over four years in which more than 180 people in the Kingdom were interviewed.

We guess it depends a bit on who you interview….

Croissant adds:

… the military’s power can be exerted not just through the staging of coups d’etat but also through influence over the government’s decision-making processes. The lack of coups doesn’t automatically mean that civilian oversight exists, he said. “The military can exercise control over policy because democracy is weak.”

And who do we blame for that?Certainly the military, but we will come back to this point below.

On the brighter side, the academic “sees the September 19, 2006 coup as a sign of the army’s ‘eroding military control’ over Thai politics and society.”

What is missing in this account -and, yes,we know it is only a news report – is any discussion of the forces that have institutionalized the military’s coup  mentality.

From 1932, the military became a “protector” of the state. By the late 1950s, the military was transformed – with considerable U.S. funding and advice – into a “protector” of the state with the monarchy as the central defining element. This latter role has demanded a military that was pretty much hopeless in terms of usual ideas about  warfare and was trained and armed for domestic warfare. This meant fighting communists, insurgents,and as required, civilian protesters, who have been murdered by the military in very large numbers.

Protecting the monarchy and state also meant support for and from the Sino-Thai tycoons who expanded their economic and,later, political power through this period. The military was rewarded, with awards, decorations and loot (especially in border zones and in “commissions”).

Of course, the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime represented a complete alliance of military power and civilian weakness. Abhisit was anointed by military and monarchy and was beholden to them.

The alliance of capitalists, monarchy and military is strongly in favor of military interventionism  to protect their interests, political and economic. Some saw Thaksin’s rise as a weakening of this alliance and 2006 was a way to put things right. Some predict this alliance will weaken again at succession.

Army propagandizes for the queen

17 04 2013

PPT ran across an Army press release, dated 10 April, that we wanted to share with our readers, with all of its idiosyncratic language and misspellings, as well as its propagandist intent. We wonder if this propaganda tract is announcing that the queen may actually be seen again soon, having dropped from public view since her stroke first mentioned by the media on 21 July 2012.Queen

It begins:

Their Royal Highnesses King Rama IX and Queen Sinkrit are the longest-running monarchs in Thailand’s history. For her part, Her Majesty the Queen has long been associated with a various amount of charitable acts since essentially the beginning of her reign, having not only spearheaded initiatives like the Royally Initiated Natural Resources Rehabilitation projects, but countless other charitable acts that have cementer her legacy as one of the most well-loved monarchs in the modern world.

It is odd that the spelling of the queen’s name is garbled and that the king’s name isn’t mentioned.The emphasis on charity is a royal mantra, and is explained in Paul Handley’s excellent book as part of building massive merit for the royal family using the resources from the state and particularly from the royal pandering of Sino-Thai tycoons.

The Army gloss uses all the alleged charity work as reason to declare the queen “a true national treasure.” She also controls much of the nation’s treasure.

Readers can try to make something out of this claim:

Over the course of the last decade, Her Majesty the Queen’s role as the primary emissary of goodwill in our country has been especially prominent, though unfortunately due to the onset of two extreme natural disasters during that time period.

Her promotion of “goodwill” is explained in Wikileaks cables, where she is portrayed as a rabid nationalist. Perhaps this is why the Army lauds her support:

Over the last six decades, Her Majesty the Queen has graced the military with her moral support and physical presence during many of the more trying times our country has seen, adding a moral weight devoid of politics to the struggles our military has faced against some of the most lawless terrorists we have ever seen. She’s steadfastly stood with us as the moral center of a sometimes complicated and messy world, adding light and strength at every turn.

PPT isn’t going to contradict this statement of fact. We would add that she has been a steadfast ally of other rabid nationalists and royalists, seen in her public support for anti-democratic movements, including the People’s Alliance for Democracy and the killers of 1976, including Navapol and other reactionary groups. These events make a nonsense of the quite silly claim that:

… she’s been able to use her position to rise above these national disagreements, never sullying her image with scandal or controversy.

The final claim in this blathering about the queen is truly confused:

It’s not easy to be royalty in this country, even though it could easily be if she so chose. A lesser woman would rather busy herself with social gatherings than actually engage in the welfare of her people.Thankfully for the people of Thailand, Her Majesty the Queen is not only a good monarch, but a vertiable saint of our time.

Updated: CP, Ping An and Thaksin

24 12 2012

The Bangkok Post has a headline that seems calculated to get attention: “Thaksin linked to Ping An deal.” This is a story regarding the acquisition of shares in Ping An Insurance being sold by HSBC and being snapped up by the money-laden Charoen Pokphand group, headed by Sino-Thai tycoon Dhanin Chearavanont for US$9.4

While the real story is from the Chinese-language Caixin Century Weekly and is about Ping An Insurance managers possibly having helped fund the Thai billionaire’s “Chinese backers in the man’s purchase of HSBC’s stake in the company,” the Bangkok Post has this:

Behind-the-scenes buyers of a stake in Ping An Insurance from HSBC Holdings may include former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and an influential mainland China businessman, according to a Caixin Media report.

About a third of the HK$15.2 billion first tranche of the purchase was funded by the Thaksin family, while the rest came from businessman Xiao Jianhua, Caixin Media’s Century Weekly magazine reported, quoting sources.

The Post story has nothing more on this supposed link.

PPT wonders how the Bangkok Post came upon this information, for no other news story we have so far seen has the link mentioned. Caixin‘s English-language story doesn’t mention Thaksin. The South China Morning Post doesn’t have this in either of its reports. Nor does Dow Jones Newswires or Bloomberg. These reports all put their focus on Xiao, his political links, and his funding sources as being internal to Ping An and from Chinese banks.

If readers can shed any light on the Bangkok Post claim or provide a translation of the original Chinese-language source, PPT would be interested to know more as it seems odd that no other agency has picked up this angle.

Update: The Nation has a CP denial of the Bangkok Post claim on Thaksin and Shinawatra funding to the Ping An deal.

VIPs and royal charity

9 11 2012

Buddhists are often interested in charity. In Thailand, the very rich have been interested in charity for its ideological and political significance. This has increasingly meant charity directed to royals and their foundations. The lines of Sino-Thai tycoons lining up to throw money at the rich royals in exchange for being seen to be loyal and charitable is standard fare on television and in the newspapers diligently reporting royal affairs.

Such shows of royal merit making and charity have been important in tying the ruling class together through the now huge official royal charities. This was one of the revealing parts of Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles. The opportunities for “donating” to things royal have expanded considerably to allow for these mutually beneficial events to show how charitable and good the very rich are.

Collecting the meritorious money has become quite a task, as the ritual of handing it over takes up considerable time, as anyone who still watches the televised royal news knows. So it is that Matichon reports on a rather more efficient congealing of royals, charity and Buddhism. As Christine Gray noted some time ago, “Merit ceremonies are the primary context in which economic power is converted into religious prestige…” and royals and the other rich make much use of this. Joining with royals to make merit is good business and good sense, especially as one may bathe in the reflected glory and just enough of the vaunted barami might rub off.

For a mere 500,000 baht each, 100 of the rich can buy a seat on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to Khon Kaen piloted by Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. Billed as a chance to make merit at a forest temple in Khon Kaen, while raising money for scholarships. And they get to be seen in the royal news as well.

While 49 seats are reserved for Thai Airways and related VIP guests, the other 100 seats are up for grabs and this seems like an opportunity too good to miss for rich royalists who want an efficient way to demonstrate loyalty, be royally charitable and to be recognized for this.


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