Kooky king, lese majeste and opponents

30 08 2019

Back in 2016, the New York Post described Vajiralongkorn as a “kooky king.” The same newspaper had another eye-catching headline: “Thailand’s new king is a kooky crop top-wearing playboy.” Of course, such descriptions downplay the fear associated with an erratic, neo-feudal, nasty and grasping king (see here, here, here, here and here, for examples).

The recent exposure of the king’s ardent promotion of his senior concubine has created another round of stories on the king’s eccentricities. One summary is at the Insider is of an “eccentric king.” A similar “playboy king” story is at MEAWW . In a story on the consort photos at Rolling Stone, one academic notes the similarities in the approach to royal publicity used elsewhere in the world, a point PPT made a couple of days ago.

At the same time, however, there are recent stories that show the nastier nature of the monarch. One story comes from exiled anti-royalist dissidents who have staged a rally in Paris to remember the plight of eight missing comrades, believed “disappeared” by the royalist Thai state. The participants included the Faiyen band.

Clipped from AsiaNews

The report states:

At the Paris rally, the musicians played some satirical songs full of political nuances about King Rama X, who succeeded his father in 2016. Other songs targeted Thai generals, who took power five years ago with the blessing of the Royal Palace and have kept it even after disputed elections last March.

It reminds readers that:

Since December 2018, six exiles holding anti-monarchist opinion disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Families assume they are dead and blame Thai special forces for their death.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

And, it adds that two mutilated bodies of exiles have been found while Surachai Danwattananusorn is still missing, believed murdered.

In Thailand, officials have not investigated the murders or the missing. This is usually a sign of some kind of royal involvement in the grisly events.

In another important report, Prachatai summarizes a Thai Lawyers for Human Rights analysis of lese majeste prisoners who remain in jail. The report states that in August 2019:

there are at least 25 people still imprisoned throughout the country on charges under Article 112 in cases related to freedom of expression. This number does not include those charged under Article 112 in cases related to fraud or personal interest.

It must be emphasized that those charged with lese majeste for “fraud” or “personal interest” probably include several who were previously related to the palace and the king’s third wife, Srirasmi, who has been under house arrest since late 2014. The real number of lese majeste prisoners remains unknown. That affirmed, Prachatai’s graphic is worth reproducing:





Making the neo-feudal royal family

27 08 2019

It is said that the king long ago claimed that his royal family would be more like feudal royal families of the 19th century.

That may apply to the structure of the family – a queen and several concubines, each ranked and perhaps rising to queen as well – but the publicity associated with official senior concubine Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi looks more like a Hello magazine approach to royalty. “Celebrating” neo-feudalism in this manner is likely a means to promote the king’s popularity and to embed neo-feudalism.

So it is that the official tract about her is very … well … royal. The Bangkok Post has it as follows:

The King bestowed the title of Chao Khun Phra Sineenart Pilaskalayanee on Maj Gen Thanpuying Sineenart Wongvajirapakdi on July 28.

Born on Jan 26, 1985, in the northern province of Nan, she received her primary education at Rajapiyorasa Yupparachanusorn School in Nan’s Tha Wang Pha district before completing her secondary education at Thawangphapittayakhom School in the same district.

In 2008, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in nursing science from the Royal Thai Army Nursing College.

She went on to take several military training courses, graduating in jungle warfare in 2015 and a course offered by the army’s Command and General Staff College in 2017. Meanwhile she completed the Special Warfare School’s airborne training programme in 2015 and then the Marine Corps School airborne programme in 2017.

She graduated from the Royal Thai Air Force’s Flying Training School, and also joined the private pilot licence programme at the Jesenwang flying school [maybe this one] in Germany.

She has been serving as His Majesty the King’s bodyguard since 2017.

Presumably his wife – the most recent one – has agreed to this arrangement or must be accepting of it in the neo-feudal palace.

The photos that have been released seem rather more in the Hello style where the new rich and royalty rub shoulders across the pages, mixing the trashy, the feudal and the rich and sometimes a mix of all in the same story. One of the points of Hello-like publications is to make the fabulously rich seem less remote and even less feudal. The Thai-language version of Hello seems to also fit this model while seemingly doing more to emphasize hierarchy.

In making the neo-feudal more acceptable, it is noticed that concubine Sineenat is shown as talented – which royal isn’t? – capable and something of a fit match for the king as athletic, a pilot and a military woman. She is made to appear as a kind of woman copy of the king as they do the same things and dress identically.

Royal Household Bureau via Khaosod

She even fits the scanty clothing model of the king’s perfect woman, which was seen in the lewd video of him and former third wife, Srirasmi and then in the odd skimpy clothing paraded several times in Germany. In the most recent photos, Sineenat is shown as skimpily dressed while piloting a light aircraft.

Clipped from Reuters report

In other photos of her as military woman, she’s uniformed, but we don’t imagine that perfect makeup and diamond earrings are standard for the military.

While a Reuters report states that these were “unusually candid pictures,” but it is clear that the unusual (for the last almost 100 years) is being made usual. Don’t be surprised if Sineenart is promoted to queen.

The point of all of this seems to be to reinforce Thailand’s turn to neo-feudalism in the 10th reign.





On coronation III

5 05 2019

So the king has crowned himself and the newspapers and local media are full of concocted stories and news about the him and his many “achievements.” Nothing critical, nothing really truthful and no body count.

A couple of days ago we mentioned Srirasmi’s ousting from the palace when the prince tired of her and how nasty and vicious it was. We added that she was in imposed seclusion and that several members of her family have served jail terms.

The German newspaper Bild has taken up her situation and has released some photos that confirm rumors that have been around for more than a year, that have her under house arrest and treated so badly that it is almost unimaginable. Yet, as some have said, she’s lucky to be alive, and we guess her former spouse thinks that way as well. The Bild story is behind a paywall.There’s also a short Facebook post by the newspaper which states:

Thailand has a new king – and this one is unceremoniously himself as part of a solemn ceremony in the great palace of the capital of Bangkok. As magnificent as the coronation was, the stories of the disgraced ex-wife: Srirasmi … is supposed to be under house arrest. What this one should look like, show these pictures.

Thanks to Andrew MacGreogor Marshall at his Facebook page, we have some of the photos of her torment.

Her house is made as unpleasant as possible. And, she’s not permitted to use an indoor bathroom.

The sign tells her she has to now learn the meaning of “sufficiency.” It seems the king can even channel his father to increase her torment.





Vajiralongkorn takes another wife

2 05 2019

Barely mentioned in the mainstream media before today, King Vajiralongkorn has taken Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya as his fourth official wife and new queen.

Reports now mention her as General Suthida, a rank given to her by Vajiralongkorn about the time he became king. He has given military rank to several wives and consorts in the past.

The Post states:

Since the marriage took place in line with the law and royal traditions, Queen Suthida is henceforth entitled to all the benefits of royal rank and status of the royal family, according to an announcement dated Wednesday and published in the Royal Gazette.

The fourth official wife Vajiralongkorn has had, the ceremony saw the officials register the marriage, witnessed by Princess Sirindhorn and Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulanonda.

The king has several consorts and has been seen with them in Germany. He was also seen in the infamous crop-top/fake tattoo photos with her.

Previous reporting on the 40 year-old Suthida has tended to coincide with her official promotions.

One event, in 2017, saw her awarded one of the highest royal decorations as commander in King Vajiralongkorn’s guard. Essentially, this made Suthida the “de facto head of security for … the King. Although she formally holds the title of deputy commander of the royal guard corps, the top rank had been left vacant since December 2016.” It was said Suthida had been serving in the royal guards since 2013.

The relationship between Vajiralongkorn and Suthida goes back several years.

In 2017, BBC Thai had a useful account of Suthida’s rise, beginning from 2012 and listing the many promotions and awards that have been showered on her by the prince-now-king, with each event is linked to the Royal Gazette.

Given her long relationship with Vajiralongkorn, we guess she knows what she’s getting into. His three previous marriages all ended in bitterness and some of them in terror.

As crown prince, Vajiralongkorn’s first official marriage was in early 1977 to his first cousin on Queen Sirikit’s side, Soamsawali.

It was an unhappy marriage.

The relationship had ended long after the prince abandoned Soamsawali, when she was pregnant, for the woman who would become his second official wife, Yuvadhida Polpraserth.

Soamsawali was protected by her family position after the divorce in 1991. She remained a member of the royal family as the mother of a royal grandchild.

Prince, and kids in earlier times

Yuvadhida was an actress from low-budget films that some saw as soft porn. Her official marriage to Vajiralongkorn in 1994 was only announced to the public a while after it took place. This was because the prince’s philandering was viewed dimly by the public.

Yuvadhida produced sons and a daughter. Within a couple of years, however, the family was thrown out of Thailand in a fit of princely rage over what might have involved allegations of her infidelity.

Only the daughter, now Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, returned to live with Vajiralongkorn, with the sons and their mother living in the U.S.A.

Meanwhile, the prince had already taken up with Srirasmi, made infamous by the leaked nude birthday party video.

She produced a son who is considered heir apparent, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti.

Srirasmi’s ousting from the palace when the prince tired of her was nasty and vicious.

It seems she remains in Thailand but is in imposed seclusion and several members of her family have served jail terms.

Given the turmoil of the past, the new marriage will be watched with considerable interest, although reporting on it will not be possible in Thailand.





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.