New privy councilor and the CPB

12 03 2018

After the unceremonious sacking of Wirach (or Virat) Chinvinitkul  earlier this month a new privy councilor has been appointed.

King Vajiralongkorn “has issued a Royal Command appointing Mr Chirayu Isarangkun na Ayuthaya as a privy councilor effective as of March 11.”

Chirayu has been Lord Chamberlain of the Bureau of the Royal Household for about a year has long been director-general of the Crown Property Bureau, In fact, since 1987, when the then king plucked him from a corruption scandal in the Prem Tinsulanonda government.

The big news is that taking Chirayu out of the CPB allows the king to appoint Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol director-general of the Crown Property Bureau. This means the king now has “his man” in charge of the CPB and all its loot and assets.

Sathitpong was the king’s secretary when he was made caretaker and manager of his personal assets and interests in early 2017. Considered a trusted confidant, back in 2014, Sathitpong played the role of secretary to the prince and was involved in bringing down the family of the estranged wife, then Princess Srirasmi and in reorganizing the palace’s troops.





A consulate for the king

19 12 2017

In a rather coy report, Khaosod tells its readers that “Thailand’s diplomatic mission in Munich is slated for expansion, with a new Consulate-General to replace its honorary representative…”.

The “reason” provided by the equally coy Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai is that “We [Thailand] and Germany have been maintaining our friendship for a long time…”.

The truth is that the king, when crown prince, spent most of his time in and around Munich. Using official planes and Thai Airways first class, he an his large entourage jetted back and forth from Bangkok. His son with the ditched Princess Srirasmi was put in school there, the then prince bought a villa [we assume he paid for it, but who knows] just outside the village of Tutzing on Lake Starnberg where he kept his favorite mistress, now a sort of consort. He was also seen there with other concubines. Most of this used bags of taxpayer’s money.

Since he’s become king, he’s spent more time in Bangkok, but still jets off to Munich as often as possible.

That’s why the honorary consulate is being replaced by an official consulate-general.

The military junta’s cabinet approved the new Consulate-General’s office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs “is tasked with furnishing personnel and funds to make it happen…”. That’s the taxpayer again.

Germany “was extended a reciprocal offer to expand its diplomatic presence in Thailand” but has no plans to do so.

The cost of the monarchy for the Thai taxpayer keeps increasing and under the junta the budget seems to be hidden away in a range of ministries.





Time to stand up

14 11 2017

It has been said that it is better to die on your feet than live on your knees. We wonder if this wouldn’t be better for Thailand’s media, which is traditionally on its knees before military regimes (and palace propaganda).

We notice that the Bangkok Post has demanded that the lese majeste accusations against Sulak Sivaraksa be dropped.

The Post’s editorial states that:

… the police formally charged the internationally famed 85-year-old Mr Sulak with lese majeste. An alleged violation of the Computer Crime Act was tacked on, as it so often and lamentably it is. A military court prosecutor will decide on Dec 7 whether to proceed with the charges.

Of course, the charge is a nonsense. But so are all lese majeste charges. The Post reckons that “the four previous charges had a tiny shred of substance.” Really? If so, why were all of them ditched?

This statement implies that the Post thinks some lese majeste charges are valid and it supports this feudal law. Which charges does it feel are “valid”? The one against a 14 year-old child jailed in Khon Kaen and awaiting sentencing? The man who “insulted” a dead dog that had something to do with a now dead king? The young law student jailed as one of thousands who shared a BBC Thai story? The mother jailed for decades? The family of the king’s former wife jailed in spite? The woman jailed for selling chilli paste to the palace at inflated prices?

Sulak is easy enough to support. He’s a royalist, he’s a middle class iconoclast and he’s a conservative.But all of this lese majeste stuff is a nonsense and makes Thailand a sad country seemingly stuck in some period in the 17th century.

It is long past time for the mainstream media to find its feet. Abolish this ludicrous law and free all political prisoners.

 





Funeral, significant others and the world’s gaze

28 10 2017

The Bangkok Post has one of those “maintain the royal myths” stories headed “World grieves in sympathy with sorrowful Thais.” The implication being that the “world” grieved for the dead king. Reading the story, it becomes clear that it is about Thai officials and Thais overseas remembering him, with the latter getting lots of prodding from the former.

It is true that some of the world’s media had some interesting spreads on the funeral. One striking set of pictures appears at The Daily Mail, one of the world’s most read news websites. While the salacious and strange are its standard fare, it doesn’t ignore a good story. And it found one in the funeral.

In an earlier post, PPT mentioned that some of the king’s concubines, in full military kit, were front and center at the ceremony. The Daily Mail noticed as well and had this long headline:

Thailand’s colourful new King brought ‘his mistress AND his former air stewardess wife’ to his father’s lavish cremation ceremony with both marching in bearskin hats

This is followed by several photos. This is snipped from one of these:

The caption states: “King Maha [Vajiralongkorn]’s alleged lover Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi screams an order as she takes part, marching in a military uniform…”.

Other significant points:
  • King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s wife Suthida Tidjai and his alleged lover Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi seen at service
  • Both women wearing military dress, with Tidjai in uniform of general and Wongvajirapakdi in that of colonel
  • Tidjai was never confirmed as wife of King Maha but was given honorific titles that imply they were married
  • She was spotted with the King boarding a plane while the monarch wore a crop top and carried a small dog…

Of course, the German fake tattoo-crop top photos get another run.

On the king, the paper observed:

The 65-year-old father-of-seven is known for his eyebrow-raising antics, whether its wearing a skimpy yellow crop top while shopping with a mystery woman, racing around in sports cars or reports of dubious business dealings.

And as his wife Suthida Tidjai marched alongside him in the procession, followed by his alleged lover Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, it appeared his ascension to the throne would not be curbing his old habits.

The story goes on to assess the king and his troubled past, with a picture from the famous video of a near naked Princess SrirasmiShe’s the wife ditched in 2014 and held under house arrest and her family jailed since then.

Not all the details are quite right, but the article’s drift is clear when writing of the king:

… a father-of-seven with three failed marriages, a love of fast jets and a reputation for having an explosive temper….

The King was described by one royal biographer as ‘a man prone to violence, fast cars and dubious business deals’.

Even Fu Fu gets a mention in this example of the rest of the world’s jaundiced view of the king and his court.





Kings and lese majeste

20 08 2017

In another interesting op-ed at the Bangkok Post, Alan Dawson comments on lese majeste. This is always a difficult topic in royalist Thailand.

On Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, Dawson considers, as we do, that his case is a “fit-up.” He says that:

Clearly, as the 3,000 people who weren’t charged [for sharing the BBC Thai story that got Pai charged] show, there’s more than a little bit of Beria in all this — the dreadful Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin’s secret police hatchetman who bragged: “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.”

He continues with “[a]nother example of that unique aroma of extra-careful selection” on lese majeste:

Patnaree Chankij, a 41-year-old domestic worker, wrote “ja” (yeah) in response to a Facebook post that kicked off a social media discussion about the monarchy. After police refused to charge her, the military prosecutor lovingly culled Ms Patnaree from among dozens of posters on that thread to face lese majeste charges.

There are those so blind that they actually deny that the motherly Ms Patnaree was selected from all the other candidates because she is literally the mother of Sirawit “Ja New” Serithiwat. Ja New, referred to by Bangkok junta supporters as a “pain in the extreme lower back area”, is an unrepentant coup opponent.

The fit-up:

Two events occurred. Ja New refused to take military advice to stop protesting against the coup. Ms Patnaree, his mother, was chosen for arrest, detention and prosecution on lese majeste charges for “yeah”.

Dawson concludes this comparison saying: “You can claim publicly these two acts are unrelated, so long as you enjoy people pointing at you and laughing uproariously.”

We get the point. Yet lese majeste is hardly a laughing matter even if the gyrations of its exponents are comical and extreme.

Like others who write on lese majeste and express some criticism of the law, Dawson also quotes the late king on lese majeste. He argues that the dead king “spoke several times in public against the lese majeste law.”

We are not convinced. The quotes that Dawson uses, like all the others who use it, are from the almost unintelligible and rambling 2005 birthday speech.

Yes, the king appeared to say that lese majeste was a bother, and also claimed that “the king” had never used it. But read the whole thing and read it in context and it is clear that the dead king was not advocating an end to the law or even its revision. He was criticizing Thaksin Shinawatra and complaining about the “trouble” caused for the king most especially when foreigners are charged with lese majeste.

(Recall that Thaksin’s government had caused an international kerfuffle when the Far Eastern Economic Review reported on alleged financial and business dealings between then Prince Vajiralongkorn and Thaksin, and used lese majeste.)

At the same time, we also know that that king’s offices have engaged in lese majeste cases, appealing sentences considered too light and even making complaints. So the dead king was embellishing the truth.

Then Dawson gets to the current king:

… the King has shown his feelings about Section 112 and about the government’s obsession with it. In the very first set of details given before last December’s royal pardons, His Majesty’s announcement stated specifically that prisoners imprisoned for lese majeste would be eligible. It was a slap against the junta’s fixation.

The general prime minister says His Majesty has clearly stated that he wants no one, ever, to be punished for lese majeste. That wasn’t the shock. The shock was the junta leader’s reaction. Which was to state that Section 112 exists to protect the monarchy.

The monarch does not want protection to extend, ever, to punishment. The military regime will continue to push for maximum punishment anyway.

This is buffalo manure.

The use of lese majeste against the king’s former wife Srirasmi, her family and associates is well known. So has been the use of lese majeste charges against unfortunates who have fallen out with the new king.





Updated: Royalism undermines popular sovereignty

14 08 2017

Everyone knows that the prince, now king, began his purges of the palace from late 2014, when he “divorced” Srirasmi. Dozens of her family and associates were jailed. Then there were the clearances that saw “unreliables” ditched, deaths in custody, lese majeste jailings and the use of a personal jail. Some fearful palace associates, now out of favor, fled the country.

This was followed by an aggregation of control to the palace. The constitution was secretly changed to accord with the king’s desires and then secret meetings of the puppet assembly gave him control over formerly state bureaucratic departments and the vast wealth of the Crown Property Bureau to the king.

Has he finished? Probably not. Fear and favor mean that an erratic king will lose interest in some people and some things and will need to be rid of them. Then he’ll desire control over other people and things.

But one of the other things that is noticeable is the “normalization” of the reign, as if nothing has changed or that the changes made are in line with the normal activities of the king and palace. Yet even this “normalization” has been a process of promoting a heightened royalism.

The media has been used recently to promote royalism. The excuse has been the queen’s 85th birthday, with a series of “stories” about “people nationwide” celebrating her birthday. Many of the photos showed military men and bureaucrats doing the celebrating.

The Dictator was especially prominent, leading the junta in an alms-giving exercise for 851 monks at the Royal Plaza, claiming it was also a tribute to the dead monarch.

More specific propaganda pieces have dwelt on “merit” and filial piety. For example, the Bangkok Post has run pictures of the king, his mother and Princess Sirindhorn making merit together.

Other royal stories include a donation to of 100 million baht to Siriraj Hospital, with the king thanking the hospital for taking care of his father. The money is said to have “come from revenue from selling his diaries featuring his drawings…”.

While we might doubt that so much money can be made from the sale of a collection of childish drawings, the junta’s support for the king has been strong and maybe it bought many diaries and distributed them.

But back to deepening royalism. The Nation reports on a “revival” of Kukrit Pramoj’s restorationist story “Four Reigns.” Kukrit was an incessant promoter of royalism, ideologue for the dictatorial General Sarit Thanarat, booster for King Bhumibol and diplomat for royalism translated for foreigners.

The Four Reigns is now Six Reigns. According to The Nation, the “restaging of Thailand’s most commercially successful musical play is more pro-absolute monarchy than ever.”

The play opens with the scene in which the spirit of Mae Phloi starts to recount her life story and confirm her unwavering love for “kings”, and the background is the familiar image of people gathering outside the wall of the Grand Palace paying respect to the late King Bhumibol.

And with the last scene showing Thai people paying respect to King Vajiralongkorn, the play now covers six, not four, reigns.

Clearly, the play … tries, more clearly than the original novel, to prove … that Thailand was much better before 1932 than after. This outdated attitude doesn’t sit too well in 2017 Thailand, as we try to build our political system from “military junta under a constitutional monarchy” to “unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy”, a kind of democracy that is already difficult to explain to our friends from many countries.

This royalism can only deepen as the cremation of the dead king approaches and as Vajiralongkorn and the junta further embed his reign and undermine notions of popular sovereignty.

Update: The new king is the old king propaganda continues, with two stories at The Nation of the king’s donations to 300 flood victims and 39 students in the south. We should add that there is no evidence provided of where the funds come from. Like royal projects, it may be that “donations” are all taxpayer funded.





A feudal king

26 07 2017

One of the themes of the new reign has been the accumulation of power to the king. Since his December 2016 accession, King Vajiralongkorn has managed a rapid unwinding of arrangements regarding the relationship between crown and state that were put in place following the 1932 Revolution.

That process has seen constitutional change demanded and received, control of formerly state offices associated with the palace handed over to the king and the king gain unfettered control of the Crown Property Bureau and its great wealth.

It has also seen a large reorganization of palace staff as Vajiralongkorn purged masses of people including many formerly considered close to him. These purges seemed to begin with his third wife, Srirasmi.

A further step in the king’s massing of wealth and power in his palace has been a refeudalization of the king’s relations with those in the palace. The most recent example of this has been revealed by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul. He shows that at least 11 women have been royally granted the family สิริวชิรภักดิ์ /Sirivajirabhakdi.

This royal attention to young women seems to indicate that a return to 19th century  concubinage and a royal harem will be another retrogression introduced in this reign.