Humpty’s men

3 07 2019

Marwaan Macan-Markar, at the Nikkei Asia Review, contributes a long and useful review of the remolding of the relationship between monarchy and military.

He claims that diplomats in Bangkok know which military leaders are closest to King Vajiralongkorn by a pin with an “image of Prince Dipangkorn, the king’s 14-year-old son” which are “pinned on the left breasts of a select few military leaders…”. (Dipangkorn is widely considered to be heir apparent, lives in Germany and seldom appears the full quid.)

Gen Apirat

One diplomat described those wearing the pin as “a small network,” with Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong an important bearer of the pin. Gen Apirat is known to present himself as “fiercely loyal to the king.”

Macan-Markar says that this “network” indicate “a major change in the relationship between two of Thailand’s most powerful institutions — the monarchy and the military” under King  Vajiralongkorn.

While his analysis, based on interviews with diplomats, pundits and academics, is interesting, it is one that is based on a kind of “Kremlinology” of military watching which can be somewhat misleading if the forest is obscured by the trees. Hence the interminable speculation over Queen’s Guard versus King’s Guard.

In our view, it is misguided to see the king’s faith in the “senior generals of the King’s Guard, a Bangkok-based faction” as representing a spurning of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and his junta. As far as anyone can tell from available evidence, the junta has done everything that the king has wanted and it is Gen Prayuth, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda who have put in place military succession plans that lead from Gen Apirat to Gen Narongphan Jitkaewthae, currently commander of the First Army region and Gen Songwit Noongpakdee, the leader of the Bangkok-based 1st Infantry Division.

That “defense analysts say the monarch’s choice of trusted lieutenants stems from his own military record” is no surprise, now. What they miss, however, is that the king’s succession was a long one, with his father incapacitated, and the then crown prince and his advisers long having had influence over the military brass.

Interestingly, and barely mentioned, is the ways in which the king revamped the Privy Council, the Crown Property Bureau and the palace administration over that period of long succession. In these moves, he made these institutions his own, bringing in junta loyalists and advancing those closest to him, including Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol, long the king’s private secretary and now, arguably, his most powerful adviser, heading the CPB, Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement Group, among other important bodies.

ACM Sathitpong Sukwimol (clipped from The Nation)

All of these rearrangements, promotions and not a few demotions and ousters do mean that a military man on the throne has ensured that he has the military under control. Just in case of problems, there’s some “insurance,” with ACM Sathitpong’s younger brother Pol Maj Gen Torsak at the head of a large force of “protectors.”

Naturally, Prawit remained a Prayuth confidant during the five years of the junta, serving as the deputy prime minister and defense minister. Gen. Anupong Paochinda, another former army chief from the Queen’s Guard, was also a key figure in Prayuth’s coup and junta.

That the king promotes the “King’s Guard, the faction he was part of, in the driving center of army power,” hardly seems a revelation. Yet there’s no evidence that the Queen’s Guard is in any way untrustworthy or disloyal. (It was King Bhumibol who placed his son in the King’s Guard.)

With little evidence, Macan-Markar discerns that the generals of Queen’s Guard is somehow more “politically ambitious” than those of the King’s Guard. There’s no evidence for this. In addition, there’s an amnesia for previous claims made. In the view of many pundits, it was the Queen’s Guard who conducted the 2014 coup in order to ensure the current king’s succession. What happened to that position? And, it was the Queen’s Guard coup masters who purged the military of those perceived as disloyal.

Former foreign minister Kasit Piromya is quoted as saying: “The king clearly wants a vertical hierarchy without any distractions and divisions that can cause splits in the army…”. That seems to have been the junta’s aim as well. To see this as a move against the Queen’s Guard ignores the fact that the junta’s role has been to “cleanse” the military, to immeasurably strengthen it and to embed it at all levels of society. That’s the important message, not the Kremlinology of watching factions.

It seems that “experts” on the military blame “factional rivalries” for “repeated coups.” We think the experts need to re-read the history of successful coups.

Former ambassador and new author James Wise is right to observe that “the monarchy and the military exercise authority in their own right, often without reference to the more familiar legislative, executive and judiciary…”. The big picture matters.

When Kasit predicts: “No more coups,” we think he’s in la-la land. It will depend, as in the past, on on perceptions of “threat” to the monarchy and the broader ruling class.





What happened to that palace “crisis”?

9 12 2018

Readers may recall that, in the period before Vajiralongkorn came to the throne, there was a widely-held view that there was a “succession crisis” in Thailand.Nothing was seen publicly, although when the incoming king did not take the throne for a period, the media was abuzz.

Earlier, PPT wrote that it had to be admitted that Wikileaks, the 2006 coup, the role the palace played in that, the royalist opposition to electoral representation, the infamous birthday video, and the rise of the successionist line in blogs and on social media have changed the way most of the world thinks about Thailand’s monarchy.

There were also those stories circulating that the then Crown Prince was close to Thaksin Shinawatra and red shirts. This even led to a forlorn hope that the new king might be “more democratic.”

Then there were stories about rifts in the palace, most notably between the then prince and Princess Sirindhorn, who were characterized as competing for the throne. One story reckoned she was preparing to decamp for China if her brother became king.

PPT wasn’t convinced by this successionist argument., but we couldn’t ignore the way discussion of succession merged with rising anti-monarchism.

We can’t determine whether this crisis was a beat up based on limited evidence coming from an opaque palace, wishful thinking, an effort to destabilize the palace under the junta or something else. What we did notice was that the 2014 coup had a lot to do with snuffing out anti-monarchism.

In the end, it turns out, the biggest “crisis” for the palace occurred in late 2014, when the king-in-waiting “cleaned” out his family and continued a palace cleaning and reorganization that saw dozens of lese majeste cases and saw many jailed and some die.

All of this is a long introduction to a new op-ed by Pavin Chachavalpongpun at FORSEA. On all of the above, he now states: “There was no such war. Vajiralongkorn was already firmly in charge of palace affairs before his father passed away in October 2016.” He adds:

After the long authoritative reign of Bhumibol, some would have hoped that the new monarch would be more open, liberal even. Yet, they were wrong. Now that Thailand has installed a military-trained king on the throne, who is determined to expand the monarchy’s powers, the country’s future does not seem bright. The new monarch promises authoritarianism rather than democracy.

The op-ed deserves attention for its focus on what Vajiralongkorn has been doing on the throne:

Vajiralongkorn is striving to re-establish the power and authority of the royal institution, fully enjoyed by Thai kings prior to the abolition of absolute monarchy in 1932….

This is the first time since 1932 when a new Thai king holds more formal power than his predecessors. The entrenchment of the monarchical power has been made possible by a renewed alliance between the monarchy and the army through a repressive military regime.

His economic and political power has expanded. Under the junta, no one can say anything much about this.

Pavin mentions the huge land grabs in Bangkok:

has taken into his possession a number of major public buildings in Bangkok, from the Dusit Zoo to the Nang Loeng Horse-racing Track. Both are located within the close radius of the royal palace. The confiscation of these buildings was supposedly meant to be an expansion of the spatial power of the new king. A dream of redesigning Bangkok to mimic London where royal properties have been integrated finally comes true under Vajiralongkorn reign. The only difference is that whereas the British royal parks are open for public, those in Thailand will be forever shuttered.

The grabs in the area of the palace – also including Suan Amphorn, the so-called Throne Hall and the current parliament buildings and land – have coincidentally been about erasing 1932.

In terms of politics, it seems pretty obvious that all of this palace work depends on the extension of authoritarian rule.





Commentary on the junta’s rigged election II

21 10 2018

This post is a bit of a catch-up.

According to a VOA report a couple of days ago, the Future Forward Party was “on the verge of announcing it would defy any order from the junta that bans direct fundraising.”

It challenges the junta: “We are fully aware that the NCPO can do anything, actually, to us. But if we don’t push for normality in politics and doing political campaigns — it is four months before elections — if you still ban political activities except [to] recruit new members, that is nonsense…”.

Interestingly, “Election Commission Secretary-General Jarungvith Phumma has not responded to inquiries from VOA.” He seems to be awaiting his orders from the military junta.

Commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak said the “junta’s treatment of the Future Forward party is consequential. If the Future Forward party is suppressed, manipulated, marginalized in a fashion that is not acceptable to the public, then the election will lose legitimacy…”.

Funny that, we hadn’t thought of the military dictatorship having “legitimacy.” He often claims the junta’s legitimacy has something to do with “most Thais” – he means the Bangkok middle class – “accepted” the coup because they worried about succession.

We can believe he worried about it.

At least he is able to say that the “pro-military parties have substantial latitude to raise money, accept donations, organize activities, whereas the anti-military parties have had a much harder time.”

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post reports that the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party “plans to establish a think tank so people from all sectors can brainstorm the future trajectory of Thailand’s economic, social and political development.”

We were thrown by this. We thought the junta has done the brain (sic.) storming by establishing its 20-year plan.

Of course, Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee as a would-be deputy leader of the party “explained” the scheme. How does anyone distinguish between the minister and his party and the junta’s party and the minister? It simply can’t be done. This is corruption at work.

The minister-party-executive-cabinet-member-junta-minion tried to say that the “Institute” would have something to do with “principles are demand-based policies, adopting a bottoms-up approach, and participatory politics…”. Impossible, but worth throwing out there to scramble the fact that this is the junta’s preferred party and answers to The Dictator.

The minister-party-executive-cabinet-member-junta-minion seemed to indicate a fear that the Future Forward Party is grabbing the attention of younger voters when he said the “Institute” was “intended mainly for young people who want to play a role in shaping Thailand’s future…”.

Again, it is the junta that considers it has “shaped” the future f a royalist and anti-democratic Thailand. The minister-party-executive-cabinet-member-junta-minion sees the need to camouflage this fact.





Propaganda for the junta and monarch(y)

29 08 2018

While PPT was posting of Fascism and academic accommodations to it and for it, a couple of interesting stories appeared in The Nation and Khaosod that seem to reflect on the issues of academic (un)freedom, indoctrination and propaganda.

With the so-called succession crisis seemingly never really materializing, royalism and royalist propaganda for the king has moved into an even higher gear, fertilized by the junta’s fervent monarchism and anti-republicanism.

Khaosod’s story is of blunt force propaganda inflicted on students at Thammasat University by junta and royalist university administrators:

Eight people, six women and two men wearing yellow neckerchiefs and blue baseball caps, marched on stage with the precision of a military parade. Taking turns speaking over the next two hours, they described the benevolence of the Chakri dynasty in bringing peace and happiness to the people of Thailand.

The propaganda for the monarchy began with the shameful groveling of “rector Kesinee Withoonchart …[who] prostrated herself on the ground before it [a portrait of the king].”

The propagandists, “drawn from the armed forces and police” are “volunteers” in the pay of the state and are known as “Volunteers Unit 904. The number 904 is derived from the former radio call sign of the king before he was king.”

Endless palace and junta propaganda wrapped up “with people being asked to stand for a song newly written for the new king and the traditional royal anthem.” The message seems to be that the population will now endure double doses of forced erect standing that Fascists mistake for obedience.

This gross effort concluded in an entirely appropriate manner: “a question-and-answer session saw no takers from the audience.” Fascists and royalists – many of them combining these proclivities – mistake this for orderliness and attention to hierarchy.

The Nation has a more on propaganda, this time for the junta’s Deputy Dictator, the Watch Man, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan. Like magic, a “new Facebook page has been created to support and defend Deputy Premier and Defence Minister Prawit …, who has been embattled with damaging scandals recently.” It seems this page is to support “Uncle Pom’s Lovely Side.” We are unsure which side that is, but we guess it is his right side.

The creation of the page is more or less an admission of guilt because of its need to manufacture “messages in support of Prawit, news reports in favour of the ruling junta, and video clips defending Prawit against allegations.” The syrupy propaganda reckons the dumpy general is “a reliable man who has been trusted by the armed forces for over five decades, and also a former commander well loved by his colleagues and ‘brothers’ in the Army.” No recommendation at all! But is does suggest that the Army is at work creating the page.





Updated: On not being anti-royal

12 08 2018

The level of self-censorship in Thailand is at an all-time high. That’s an outcome of the military junta’s 2014 coup and its heavy-handed crackdown on anything considered anti-monarchy.

One of the reasons for the coup was to crush anti-royalism and republicanism. These rising sentiments threatened the social hierarchy and the ideology of conservative royalism that holds Thailand’s military-monarchy alliance and the whole exploitative class structure together.

The Dictator’s assigned task was to crush anti-royalism. This task was made all the more important as it was clear in 2014 that succession was not far off.

The use of lese majeste and sedition laws, together with a militarization of bureaucracy and an embedding of military personnel at all levels of Thai society in order to repress anti-royal sentiment has been successful. Indeed, in the past year or so, lese majeste cases have dwindled after a huge spike after the coup. A combination of repression and self-censorship, along with the jailing of several hundred has had a marked impact. So too have the huge sentences that were being handed out. These said to people: you are warned! Cross the line and you rot in a stinking prison!

This long background is a way of introducing a Bangkok Post editorial that raises questions regarding the opaque deal being done on the Dusit Zoo. This is a deal to return public space to the monarch. It is a part of the king’s unstated but all too obvious plan to recover land that he feels rightly belongs to the monarch. He’s rolling back the 1932 revolution one property at a time.

The best the Post can do is stress animal welfare and the royal heritage of the zoo. These might be well-made points, but the real issue is the opaque deals being done between the junta and the palace.

The Post simply can’t say anything direct on anything that may be construed as critical of the monarch or the monarchy.

Update: Displaying high royalism but hinting at the unease over the royal land grab, Thai PBS has not one but four pictures of the title deed and land that the king has swapped for his prized piece of real estate. It is about 50 kilometers from central Bangkok. This report says there are more than 1,600 animals that have to be moved elsewhere and also indicates the shock of the deal for some patrons.





New king, old king, same story

29 07 2018

On Saturday evening, The Dictator and his junta buddies got their best uniforms on to hail the king on his birthday.

As far as anyone can tell, the junta, the military it represents and the monarchy continue their anti-democratic partnership that has crippled Thailand’s political development for about six decades.

More than this, though, the birthday presents an opportunity to celebrate the presumed defeat of the anti-monarchism of the period before the coup.

This is why the birthday celebrations seem so familiar. Nothing much seems to have changed since the old king: new king, old message. Perhaps the only change is that no one (yet) has to listen to the rambling of he who must be obeyed.

If readers think back to all the talk and words printed about a succession crisis and how much Vajiralongkorn was hated, feared and the wrong person for the position, the wonder is that it never really happened, and that (maybe) there was more hope that there was a crisis than there really was a crisis.

Now all the monarchy stuff and the propaganda just feels so familiar. Heck, even some Puea Thai Party supporters are praising the new king as a great king.

As in the past, the media are required to provide the outlet for palace propaganda, whether coming from the palace directly or just manufactured by royalists. Looking just at the English-language efforts of The Nation and the Bangkok Post, we see little different from years gone by, except for the fact that they have had to stretch a bit to fit the new king into the palace narrative.

in one item, The Nation wishes to advertise the king’s alleged sympathy for the downtrodden. Of course, this theme was long-term propaganda fodder for the past king, pointing to royal projects (publicly funded since the 1980s). In the new story, which will be recycled year after year, readers are told that a poor village in the northeast (no coincidence that its oppositional heartland) has “a new life thanks to a Royal initiative.” It is added that the villagers owe everything to “the efforts of one very special individual…”. No prizes for guessing that its King Vajiralongkorn.

Apparently the then crown prince visited in 2000, and immediately ordered things done that miraculously changed the villagers fortunes. All of the “innovations” mentioned in the article and attributed to the crown prince-now-king sound exactly like those attributed to his father.

The point is to tell one and all, but especially the monarchy’s political base in the urban middle class, that the “results of this royal project, one of the many models that exemplifies His Majesty King Rama X’s resolution to fulfil the wishes of His Majesty the late King Rama IX and work for the benefit of all Thais.” That the villagers troubles inconveniently arose from royal-sponsored dam projects is overlooked.

The rest of the article is the usual story of how grateful every villager is and how successful the royal projects have been. Royal magic works wonders: “Every time we think of the royal graciousness, we shed tears of joy. Wherever Their Majesties visit, prosperity comes to those areas.” How could it be otherwise?

The Bangkok Post takes a different tack, inventing the new king as a great sportsman. According to this tale, the new king has followed the old king “on several paths including sports.” Who knew?

The story claims the king “was once known as the ‘Football Prince’ but is now renowned for his involvement in cycling.” Of course, he’s been a great sportsman since birth: “The King’s love for sports is obviously in his blood through his late father, a great athlete and patron of sports…”.

“Great athlete” seems to mean that the former king won a medal skippering a dinghy. That victory saw Bhumibol proclaimed “king of sports.” Now it is Vajiralongkorn’s turn. (Just by “chance,” when Bhumibol won his medal, he shared first place with none other than his eldest daughter.)

Vajiralongkorn is said to have been talented at every sport he’s tried! But now he’s a “major supporter of Thai cycling” since he headed the Bike for Mom/Dad stuff. Most sporting associations seem to be headed by serving or past generals. So a quote from president of the Cycling Association of Thailand Gen Decha Hemkrasri is quoted: “”We have enjoyed success thanks to enormous support from [then] HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn…”.

And so the story goes on.

The Nation also gets into reporting congratulatory messages (perhaps message is a better way to put it) from other royals and global leaders. Apparently His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan of Brunei Darussalam has consented to send message of congratulations to King of Thailand His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, on the occasion of the King of Thailand’s 66th birth anniversary.” We’d have thought there’d be more than this – after all, Vajiralongkorn is head of state – but maybe the story was run on Brunei based on the length of the title.

In short, nothing has changed and the same palace propaganda – with the help of junta repression – is ensuring that the new king get the reverence his father had and that the international media repeatedly says he lacked. That will change too, unless the erratic Vajiralongkorn has yet another public meltdown.





“Elections” matter for the junta and its supporters

30 06 2018

Readers will be interested in a new op-ed by Pavin Chachavalpongpun. As the article is long and also likely to be able to be read in Thailand, we just highlight a couple of points.

Drawing on an observation by Italian Communist and Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, Pavin observes that “[t]hese are the days when an old system refuses to die and a new system isn’t ready to be born.”

Reflecting on the current grim political situation, Pavin looks back to the rise of the People Alliance for Democracy (PAD) some 13 years ago. He argues that the “crux” of the political problem of the time was “apprehension among the royal political network concerning the rise of Thaksin [Shinawatra], who threatened to replace the old political order with his own.”

As the Shinawatras and their parties continued to triumph in elections after the 2006 coup, Pavin observes that this “coincided with the flagging power of the Thai monarchy.”

This characterization is a little off. The monarchy’s power wasn’t flagging but was being challenged by the rise of anti-monarchy sentiment associated with a political movement. That’s why the “royal political network sought to eliminate its enemies once more in a coup.”

Whether this had much to do with “manag[ing] the royal succession” remains debatable. But it is clear that crushing anti-monarchy sentiment and agitation was critical for both the military and palace as it was red shirts who constituted the existential challenge to monarchy and military. Pavin provides a neat potted history of the construction and maintenance of the military-monarchy nexus and its struggles with the rise of electoral politics.

Today, while it may appear that “the royal political network had won this political tussle,”Pavin isn’t so sure. He links this to the new reign and potential instability, where the “prospect of Thailand being ruled by a new unpopular king was daunting. While Bhumibol was able to safeguard the political benefits of the elitist class, his son, now King Vajiralongkorn, seemed unlikely to be able to guarantee the same” for that class.

We think that explaining the long political crisis by focusing on the succession has now been shown to have been overdone. In fact, there was no succession crisis. Rather, there was a crisis that emerged from the challenge to the military-monarchy nexus that came from the grassroots. It was that crisis that in part prompted the 2014 military coup.

Pavin is right that the new political system is not yet in place. That is why the junta wants 20-year “plans” and to control the election after putting new political rules in place. If the current junta succeeds and puts Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in place following the election heading a coalition of unimportant military boot-licking pseudo-parties, then it will have given birth to the “new” system.

All the stuff about the “new monarch is lacking in moral authority” and so on is quickly being replaced by a “new” conservative royalism that is backward looking, nationalist and military sponsored, not unlike the monarchism invented under Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat.

Pavin concludes by asking”: “So, where does Thailand go from here? Will the upcoming elections mean anything for the country?” Remarkably, he can only say: “Elections, if they are to happen, may not deliver a genuine democratic regime.”

May not? Seriously, this is a desperate grasping at straws. They not only cannot deliver a “genuine democratic regime” but are meant to deliver – and designed to deliver – military political dominance for years to come save the prospect of “political violence” that Pavin briefly considers.

Finally, Pavin returns to “palace politics” which he says is “complicated and unpredictable.” It has always been so because the palace remains the most opaque and secretive of institutions. Pavin is certainly right to observe: “Since the Thai monarchy cannot be separated from politics, developments within the walls of the palace matter greatly to Thais.” That is probably how the junta and palace prefers it. The alternative of the people mattering has been pretty much erased by the junta’s selective and targeted political repression.





The royal(ist) mess that is Thailand

3 04 2018

The success of palace propaganda, reinforced by decades of fascist-military domination, promoted by a royalist lapdog media, both state and private sector, and buttressed by draconian laws and belligerent royalist agencies like the military and ISOC, has been so sweeping that there’s little overt opposition these days (we note the linked article is no longer free to download). That which does exist has been firmly under the military boot in recent years.

Some wondered if the succession would temper there would be some cutting of the strings that tie Thais to the palace. Wonder no longer. Almost nothing has changed. As evidence, we cite two news stories from the last day or so.

The Nation reports that “Thai Heritage Conservation Week” is upon us. Like the recent noe-feudal celebration of the repression under pre-1932 absolute monarchy, this week royal posterior polishers get another chance to dress in feudal style – “traditional costumes.”

The useless Culture Ministry “kicked off the week with Thai Heritage Conservation Day on April 2…”. That day “has been celebrated annually since 1985, honouring … Princess … Sirindhorn, who was born on April 2, 1955, and her contributions to the conservation of the nation’s heritage.”

We can’t immediately recall her “contributions” but there must be plenty claimed for her by palace propagandists.

More worryingly, The Nation also reports on the kerfuffle in Chiang Mai over the mansions being built on forested – now deforested – hills that will be handed out to judges and others in the Ministry of Justice.

What do the people opposing this project do to protest? They “will petition … King … Vajiralongkorn for help.”

A network of those opposed to the project will gather signatures before petitioning the king.

Why? Get publicity? Look doltish? Look loyal? Who knows and who can blame them in the current ideological straitjacket of royalism.

Apparently they “would also lodge a complaint with the Administrative Court in early May,” which seems far more grown up.

Yellow shirts among the opponents blame Thaksin Shinawatra and his clan for the problem. Perhaps that says something about the feudal fawning.





Military and monarchy as Siamese twins

10 12 2017

The Asia Times has another long commentary on Thailand’s political predicament by Shawn Crispin. There’s some interesting bits and pieces.

For one thing, it is stated that in “the lead-up to the cremation of … King Bhumibol …, authorities rounded up 42 suspects at check points around the royal ceremony…”. Further,

Rights groups and diplomats monitoring the arrests say the detained suspects likely face prosecution on national security-related charges for threatening the ceremony, including under the penal code’s harsh lese majeste provision that shields the royal family from defamation, insult and threat.

It is interesting that Crispin credits The Dictator “for steering a smooth succession from Bhumibol to Vajiralongkorn, a delicate transition many feared could spark instability.” To be honest, we think the “delicate transition” was a bit of a beat up.

The next royal big deal, he says, is “Vajiralongkorn’s formal coronation, now seen as astrologically auspicious to be held in March…”.

Crispin asks “how stable is the transition from royal old to new, and how serious is the threat posed by anti-monarchists supposedly lurking in the shadows?”

He notes that Vajiralongkorn “has set a tone for his reign in moves that diplomats and analysts say shows his intent to shake-up royal institutions in terms of personnel, protocol and operations.”

That’s somewhat bland for what he’s doing, which is erasing all notion of popular sovereignty in favor of a monarchy that is independent of all checks and balances introduced after 1932.

Crispin says that the “Royal Household Bureau has also openly targeted those found to have abused their palace positions or association for personal gain.”

That’s somewhat bland for what somewhat bland for what’s happened. Rather, the new king has been purging the palace and appointing his trusted allies.

One interesting observation is that “[c]hampions of the new reign say the housecleaning is overdue and that ill-deeds grew in the latter years of Bhumibol’s reign when he was hospitalized for ill-health.”

That’s what might be expected, but it is one of the first statements of the fact that the new reign is embedding in a manner that is essentially neo-feudal and that shifts political and economic power to the palace.

The notion that the new palace will “challenge the big business families that have long leveraged royal connections to corner sectors of the economy, a commercial domination that has grown since the 2014 coup” seems to come out of nowhere, but it is known that the king maintains relations with several Sino-Thai tycoons.

It isn’t clear to us that Vajiralongkorn taking “full control of the Crown Property Bureau …[and] the board of the palace’s Royal Project Foundation,” seems like him establishing his dominance and lining his pockets rather than a challenge to the big tycoons.

Crispin is correct to note that the military junta has “unquestioningly” done the palace’s bidding, but adds a note:

Thailand’s military and monarchy have long had a symbiotic relationship, with the former sworn to the protection of the latter, but the new emerging balance between the two powerful institutions is still being determined under Vajiralongkorn’s young new reign.

Both General Prayuth Chan-ocha and the king are self-centered and erratic, leading to concerns that the two may clash.

Crispin is also on the money when he notes that the king is asserting authority of Bangkok-based military units, He refers to the “absorption of military combat units, including the First Region Command’s First Infantry Division, a top-fighting force, into the king’s personal guard.”

That division “was recently moved from the military’s main command in Bangkok to Vajiralongkorn’s secondary Tawee Wattana palace on the capital’s outskirts, with certain soldiers transferred upcountry.”

On the transition to an “elected” government, Crispin observes the junta’s reluctance and suggests that “anti-monarchy elements remain bent on undermining the royal institution…” may be a “reason” for further “election” delays. at a still uncertain juncture of the succession.

He reckons that there are 1,000 lese majeste complaints “still under police investigation…”. That’s a whole lot of anti-monarchists and a whole lot of justification for ongoing military repression.

For the moment, the junta and the king remain joined as Siamese twins in neo-feudal repression.





The “necessity” of military dictatorship

13 10 2017

In the Bangkok Post, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak comes up with his repeated excuse for military domination. He claims the succession explains it:

The consequent royal transition is likely to be viewed in posterity as the principal reason why the Thai people have had to put up with Gen Prayut.

Later he states, as he has before, that:

To appreciate how Gen Prayut and his cohorts could seize power and keep it with relative ease, we need to recognise the late King Bhumibol’s final twilight. The royal succession was imminent by coup time, and the Thai people collectively kind of knew the special and specific circumstances this entailed. Power had to be in the hands of the military, as it had to ultimately perform a midwife role. Unsurprisingly, ousted elected politicians may have complained about and deplored the coup but none wanted to retake power during the coup period. They knew that after seven decades of the reign in the way that the Thai socio-political system was set up around the military, monarchy and bureaucracy, it had to be the generals overseeing this once-in-a-lifetime transition.

This is nonsensical propaganda. There were, at the time, and today, many, many Thais who reject this royalist babble. But Thitinan just ignores the deep political and social struggles that marked the period of discord that began with the Asian economic crisis in 1997 and which was punctuated by two military coups.

Thitinan appears to us to be expressing the views of the socially disconnected middle class of Bangkok, those who hate and fear the majority of Thais, and “protect” themselves by attaching themselves to the economic and political power of the Sino-Thai tycoons, monarchy and military.

Thais have “put up with” ghastly military rulers for decades. The military dictators and rulers have used the monarchy to justify their despotism. General Pin Choonhavan used the “mysterious” death of Ananda Mahidol; General Sarit Thanarat promoted the monarchy as a front for his murderous regime; General Prem Tinsulanonda made “loyalty” de rigueur for political office.

Thitinan is wrong and, worse, whether he wants to or not, he provides the nasty propaganda that is justification for military dictatorship. We can only imagine that the military junta is most appreciative.

One reason Thais “put up with” military dictatorship now is because anti-democrats want it, because many of them hate elections that give a power to the subaltern classes. And, as Thitinan acknowledges,

Gen Prayut and his fraternal top brass in the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have guns and tanks to intimidate and coerce. In their first year in power, the ruling generals detained hundreds of dissenters and opponents for “attitude adjustment”. They even put some of those who disagreed on trial in military court. They also came up with their own laws in an interim charter, including the draconian absolutist Section 44. And they have used and manipulated other instruments and agencies of the state to keep people in check and dissent suppressed.

To be sure, dozens of Thais are languishing in jail during junta rule. One young man, a student with his own strong views, has been jailed for re-posting a social media message that appeared on more than two thousand other pages. The junta also has banned political parties from organising, and has generally violated all kinds of human rights and civil liberties all along.

In addition, the generals have not been immune to corruption allegations….

Thais, it seems, must just “put up with” all this in order to facilitate the death of a king, succession and coronation. Thitinan goes even further, lauding The Dictator:

who grew up in the Thai system from the Cold War, who came of age at the height of Thailand’s fight against communism in the 1970s, seeing action on the Cambodian border against the Vietnamese in the 1980s, serving both the King and Queen and the people in the process with devotion and loyalty.

In fact, General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s military promotion was not forged in “battle” but in providing service to the palace and especially the queen.

Thitinan declares that General Prayuth is the “soul of the nation,” a term once used for the dead king:

When Gen Prayut spoke for the nation [after the last king died], he meant it. Fighting back tears, in seven short minutes, he said what had to be said, and directed us Thais to two main tasks, the succession and the cremation after a year’s mourning. Had it been Yingluck [Shinawatra], who is not known for her eloquence, she might have stumbled during the speech. Had it been Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is fluid and flawless in speechmaking, it would have lacked the soul of the nation.

It had to be Gen Prayut, the strongman dictator and self-appointed premier. He is an earnest man, purposeful and well-intentioned….

Make no mistake, this is pure propaganda for military dictatorship. Make no mistake, Thitinan is justifying military dictatorship for the West, “translating” Thai “culture” for those he thinks are Thailand’s friends. He is saying to The Dictator and to “friends” in the West that 2018 or 2019 will mark the end of an “unusual” time and a return to “normality.” That “normal” is Thai-style democracy, guided for years by the military and its rules.

For those who seek a more nuanced and less propagandist reflection try Michael Peel in the Financial Times. He was formerly a correspondent for the FT based in Bangkok, and has penned “Thailand’s monarchy: where does love end and dread begin?” (The article is behind a paywall, but one may register and get access.) Peel asks: “In a country where few dare to speak openly about the royals, how do Thais feel about their new ruler?”

That is, how do they feel about the succession that Thitinan propagandizes as having “required” military dictatorship working as midwife.








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