The monarchy-military alliance

28 06 2016

The alliance of the military and monarchy goes back to the foundation of the modern military under the absolutist King Chulalongkorn.That link was broken with the 1932 Revolution.



Despite continuous struggle between the 1932 Promoters and the royalists, the monarchy-military alliance was not fully re-established and made exceptionally strong under the military dictator General Sarit Thanarat and the military-dominated regimes that followed.

Sarit took over a boy-king who came to the throne after the death of his brother, with an ambitious mother and surrounded by restorationist princes. It was only after the 1973 uprising against military dictatorship that the current king began to really feel his oats. With the military’s role in politics reduced and challenged, it was left to the king to maintain the alliance in the interests of the rising royalist elite.

By 1976, the military was back, with the support of the monarchy, following the military-backed murder of workers, peasant leaders and students that came, in part, from the monarch’s expressions of concern and fear about the rise of the Left.

This potted history leads to the big challenge that faced the alliance in May 1992. Then, as is its penchant, the military brass decided to gun down civilians protesting yet another military attempt to dominate politics.

These events saw the military in disgrace and the monarchy worked hard to rehabilitate its murderous allies. The usual image – endlessly promoted in palace propaganda – is of the king sorting out the crisis, with his meeting with the military premier General Suchinda Kraprayoon and the self-proclaimed protest leader Chamlong Srimuang.

This video shows the meeting, which included privy councilors General Prem Tinsulanonda and Sanya Dharmasakti. It is preceded by calls from Prince Vajiralongkorn and Princess Sirindhorn.

The king’s belated intervention in the events was meant to “save” the military. Even so, the military was shunned by a stunned public following the attacks on demonstrators.

Within a few short months, however, the king was speaking to rehabilitate his allies. As reported in the Bangkok Post on 15 November 1992, this was expressed in this way:

Recently there has been much talk about having too many generals, and why is there such ceremony to confer two hundred more general ranks to military personnel? … In truth, if we compare with foreign countries to the west or east or us we will find that they all have as many generals as us. One difference is that when their generals move to other jobs, they are no longer called generals.

Even in the United States, when a general becomes president he will be called mister which makes it seem as if they have fewer generals. But in Thailand those with a military rank retains it even when they go to work in other jobs. This is because they consider it an honour, an indication of a man with good performance. No matter what job you do, if they carry the rank with them, it is an honour, and it makes their colleagues trust them.

Therefore the number of generals in the country must be taken as not too many. We are not top-heavy. So do not feel disheartened after listening to those words, since it is only a kind of tongue wagging, and it is not damaging.

In fact, according to the Thai concept, those with a military rank consider it an honour which makes them proud and any job they do will be done better because of this realisation of the honour. There is no negative side to this. If they are transferred to other job or retired, their military salary Will not be tied to their rank. This means that the government does not have to pay more because of it.

But every person who acquired a military rank is proud of it. He will do a good service without the government having to pay him any extra salary. It is a way of saving government budget. If an army officer loses his rank when he is transferred to another unit he will feel sorry and may be discouraged. If there is a military rank attached to him when he works outside the military service it will encourage him to work efficiently, and the country will benefit more from him.

The king’s support for the rehabilitation of a murderous military is an act of loyalty and one of self-protection.

One result is that the military was not reformed, meaning it was again able to conduct coups in 2006 and 2014, seeing off supposed threats to the palace and the status quo.

The senate and the military’s power grab

3 03 2016

The Nation tells its readers about the military dictatorship’s revised plans for staying in power, a la General Suchinda Kraprayoon.

The junta is urging that “the junta did not want the new charter to be rejected in the national referendum because of a special mechanism or body to check and balance the power of the government.” They know that everyone thinks this idea is mad.

So, instead, the junta has “agreed to bank on the Senate to carry out this role.”

How will that work? First, make the senate a wholly appointed body. Second, have the selected senate select a non-elected premier. Third, have the selected senate select a non-elected premier and make that General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is the junta’s new idea for staying in the driver’s seat.

While the military junta might splutter about “[t]he move to have no elected senators is aimed at balancing the power of the Upper House against the elected Lower House,” this is nonsense. They just want the military in charge.

This kind of grab for power was Suchinda’s downfall, but we imagine the current crop of dozy, gun fondling, would-be Hitlers think the model is General Prem Tinsulanonda’s period in power. As PPT said just weeks after the junta first grabbed power, this has been the model all along.

The plan includes the notion that the appointed military-backing senators would also be able to “launch a no-confidence debate” any time they wanted. Say good bye to normal parliamentary politics in Thailand for years to come.

The source from the junta – probably General Prawit Wongsuwan – added that the “junta’s formula on acquiring senators and their roles would work only if Prayut accepts to be nominated as PM after a general election.”

In their wet political dreams, the junta seems to think that some kind of public support!

The report advises that The Dictator “has softened his stance against staying in power longer.” Rather than being new, as suggested, this has been his desire since he took power and the coyness is a media show.

An election will not end the junta

19 02 2016

The military junta and especially The Dictator keep saying that there will be a 2017 election. Some in the Puea Thai Party are putting all their political eggs in the election basket. However, election or not, the military foxes are not about to let the chickens run the hen house.

Why Puea Thai and Thaksin Shinawatra think an election is going to change anything in the junta’s Thailand is anyone’s guess. The junta has been clear that it ain’t going anywhere. Just to make this crystal clear, as reported in the Bangkok Post, the military junta “has proposed that the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) prolong its tenure after the general election, which, if effective, could overrule the authority of an elected government.”Fox and chicken

The chickens can play at elections, but the foxes will be in charge.

The junta wants “a special set of rules during a transitional period to avoid plunging the country into another crisis.” THe CDC is asked to extend these special powers to “the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta] and NCPO chief [The Dictator] after the election and after having a new elected government.”

Those powers will be “constitutional,” but if the referendum is rejected, the junta stays as well.

Even those who appreciate the military’s interventions and its murderous capacities are “alarmed,” including the hapless (anti)Democrat Party semi-leader Abhisit Vejjajiva. But no one listens much to him or his failed party.

More serious is Adul Khiewboriboon, who is chairman of a committee of relatives of the Black May 1992 victims, and said the “cabinet proposal is a clear indication that the military wants to be in control after the general election.” Of course! His point was to warn “that history could repeat itself, pointing to the Black May uprising in 1992, when huge protests erupted following the 1991 coup d’etat by Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon.” He says: “I am seeing a pattern…”. Yes, there is a pattern. The foxes are creatures of habit but also cunning.

This is only one of 16 changes demanded by the junta.

Remembering Meechai’s previous work

1 11 2015

Back on 15 May 1994, the Bangkok Post had a Sunday Perspective column regarding the constitutional developments during the time following the 1991 military coup that removed the elected government led by Chatichai Choonhavan.

Titled “A Fledgling Democratic Process at a Standstill,” (no hyperlinks available) it discusses the lack of progress on a new constitution following the May 1992 uprising against General Suchinda Kraprayoon and “other NPKC leaders, known collectively as Class 5 graduates of the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, who intended to dominate Thai politics indefinitely.” The column continues:

MeechaiThe junta leaders appointed a committee headed by Meechai Ruchupan and Osoth Kosin to draft two constitutions with provisions for them to perpetuate and share political power with
their allies.

The 1991 constitutional draft was made the law of the land amid across-the-board protests….

“Should the Constitution be found imperfect or undesirable, it can be amended later, junta sources said. [as they said in 2007 as well]

The result of that constitutional process led by Meechai was the May 1992 uprising and massacre of civilians.

Following the May Uprising, there was more debate, and with Anand Punyarachun again an appointed premier, Meechai got into the act again, as a senator:

Senator Meechai Ruchupan, an expert in constitutional law, wasted no time proposing drafts he claimed to be democratic.

Although Meechai may be well-intentioned, the inquisitive media and the general public think otherwise.

The Meechai constitutional drafts were found to be the 1974 charter with some minor alterations. For example Article 169 reads:

“0n administrative affairs, the Cabinet members are individually accountable to the House of Representatives in matters pertaining to ministerial performance; However, they are held collectively accountable in matters pertaining to Cabinet policy.”

Compared to Senator Meechai’s proposed amendment:

“In administrative affairs, Cabinet members are to abide by dictates of the Constitution. They are to follow the guidelines as stated in Article 108. They are individually accountable to the
House of Representatives in ministerial matters and collectively accountable in matters pertaining to the general Cabinet policy.”

Naturally in a politics where royalists were seeking to dominate, Meechai’s regressive and anti-democratic proposals got support, in terms that seem very familiar today:

Senator Sompob [Hotrakit], lauding Sen Meechai’s initiative, said the proposed draft would prevent parliamentary dictatorship….

How was this to be engineered? Again, familiar territory. One proposal was for appointed senators:

… proposals were made for senators to come from diversified professions with the Royal appointments countersigned by either the chairman of the Privy Councillors or the Prime

At the time, a Democrat Party MP Preecha Suwannathat, said to be “a legal expert who graduated from Thammasat University in the same class as Senator Meechai” stated that “Senator Meechai goes back in time, invoking the obsolete 1968 constitution which allowed permanent officials to become actively involved in politics…”.  That charter was a military document drawn up by a regime that had, by that time, dictated for a decade, and would stay until 1973.

And so it went on. Readers will get the picture. Essentially, the proposals being concocted by Meechai and his hand-picked Constitution Drafting Committee are but the most recent in a long line of proposals, several of them coming from Meechai himself, to embed a constitution for the ruling elite based in the military-monarchy alliance. The difference this time is that Thailand’s constitutional future is in the hands of a military junta that is more determined to get its way.

The dictatorship stumbling and bumbling

13 10 2015

In a recent post, we noted how the military dictatorship seems enamored of its weird version of history. In that perspective, the 1976 October massacre is a victory for monarchists and the May 1992 massacre is seen as some kind of political mistake. As we noted, Marx put it this way: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

Appointing Meechai Ruchupan, a villain of 1991-2, as the chief constitution writer appears to support Marx’s contention. Farce becomes an absurdity when the junta and Meechai appoint the aged academic Tinnapan Nakata as chairman of the National Reform Steering Assembly.

The Bangkok Post reports that not only is Tinnapan 81 years of age, but he was a “minister in the 1992 ‘Black May’ government has been named  over the protests of relatives of victims of the deadly street protests…”. He was a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office “during the brief, turbulent tenure of Suchinda Kraprayoon, who resigned after seven weeks in office following street protests in which 52 people officially were confirmed dead while hundreds went missing after soldiers opened fire on unarmed students and demonstrators.”

Naturally enough, relatives of Black May victims had protested Tinnapan’s appointment.

The junta is bumbling. Deliberately insulting the middle class who are associated with the protests against the Suchinda government is a political error. It isn’t a single fumble.

The Nation reports that the regime is after a middle-class NGO. The Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth) has been around for a considerable time, funded by so-called sin taxes. The Bangkok Post states that The Dictator “Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered authorities to look into … ThaiHealth … to ensure its funds are being spent to improve people’s health and promote the well-being of the general public.”

A junta audit panel reportedly “found ThaiHealth’s budget this year may not have been spent properly. The report found that more than half of the foundation’s funds went on financing political reform projects, election procedures and assessing the Thai political landscape, which were not related to health promotion.”

ThaiHealth has denied the allegations.

Whatever the situation with ThaiHealth’s funding, this represents another attack on the middle class that has emerged from the 1990s. If they junta continues down this path, its tenure is likely to face broader protest.

Go back, way back I

11 10 2015

A few days ago, PPT posted on the appointment of Meechai Ruchupan as chair of the Constitution Drafting Committee. We noted that Meechai has worked on several military and military-backed constitutions in the past. Meechai’s career is as a conservative, royalist servant of various military regimes.

Meechai was involved with the 1991 that allowed General Suchinda Kraprayoon to become premier, leading to the May 1992 massacre.

The only lesson Meechai has drawn from that unfortunate experience is that there is still room for a non-elected premier. Tragically, Meechai reportedly joked about the events of the time joking that he “would first have to study astrology before he could foretell the future” but refusing to rule out an outsider prime minister.

On his own participation in the events of 1992, he says: “I’m not sure whether it was the principle of non-MP premier or the person that was opposed by the people at that time…”.

The conservative elite is fine with refashioning their own roles and history for their own benefit and care nothing for those murdered by the military along the way. By demanding votes and elections, they apparently deserve to be gunned down, time and time again.

The rollback is also reported at the Bangkok Post.  Here, the grinding of gears into reverse is only to the period when the last CDC was at work.

It is reported that the CDC is again “considering introducing a charter clause that requires political parties to present their election campaign platforms for examination to ensure they are fiscally responsible and transparent.”

Of course, as it was a few months ago, this is about so-called populist policies.

CDC spokesman Norachit Sinhaseni babbles that the “idea behind examining policy platforms is to make sure campaign promises made by political parties will not compromise fiscal discipline later on…. The party platforms will also be used as evidence if irregularities surface later…”.

A new and, yes, as usual, unelected body “might be established to do the job…” or existing unelected bodies would be used. Either way, the anti-politician, anti-election paternalism of the anti-democrats is clear.

Norachit “explained” that the “CDC is not trying to block so-called populist policies…”. After all, the Democrat Party tried them and so is the current military dictatorship. He says that it is to “prevent the abuse of populism to win votes.”

If any reader can make sense of this, let us know. It sounds like anti-democrat nonsense to us.

And, just to clear away any doubts about Thailand’s backward trajectory, The Dictator has made it clear: “Don’t rely on the principles of democracy…”.

Old men renewed

7 10 2015

What is that statement by a dead philosopher? George Santayana, reflecting his times and his political conservatism, stated:

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Marx put it this way when referring respectively to Napoleon I and to his nephew Louis Napoleon in The Eighteenth Brumaire:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

In Bangkok, it is arguably a little different as we see a sorry repeat of past farces as tragedy, as if The Dictator and his flunkies have no memory of their own past.

The appointment of Meechai Ruchupan to chair the new 21-member Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) is not a surprise for anyone. This appointment of a loyal servant of the military was predicted as soon as The Dictator got rid of Bowornsak Uwanno and his lot when the military dictatorship became fearful of a referendum and elections.

Meechai has worked on several constitutions, for the military, in the past. The Nation has quite a matter-of-fact account of Meechai’s career as a conservative, royalist servant of various military regimes.

Meechai, who is a member of the junta (NCPO), has faithfully served royalist and military regimes, being a in various legal and political positionsto prime ministers Sanya Dharmasakti, Kukrit Pramoj, Seni Pramoj, Thanin Kraivichien, General Kriangsak Chamanan, General Prem Tinsulanonda, Chatichai Choonhavan and Anand Panyarachun.

Chatichai was ousted by a coup led by General Suchinda Kraprayoon and his National Peace-Keeping Council (NPKC) in 1991 and Meechai slithered into the acting premier’s position before Anand was hoisted into the top job by the military, arguably on royal advice.

In 1991, the military had Meechai appointed the leader of a charter-drafting committee, leading to the 1991 Constitution, which eventually lead to the May 1992 massacre. In drafting that constitution, Meechai simply plagiarized bits of a charter that had been used earlier by a military regime.

This, when the Bangkok Post reports that “[g]ood elements from past constitutions will be collected to include in the new constitution,” it is quite possible that “good” simply means the reproduction of military desires for control. That it is claimed that “a first draft is expected in January which would then be presented to the public for feedback” is no cause for celebration. Meechai has yet to accept the idea of public consultation, With it or not, we expect Meechai to produce royalist rules that suit the current junta; that’s his track record.

The Dictator, General Prayuth has already told Meechai what he wants. Meechai denies this, but the general has stated it as a fact.

Chaturon Chaisaeng is right to point out that “the new CDC is made up of several legal experts, its weakness is that none of its members have had experience in drawing up constitutions that uphold the principles of democracy.”

Prachatai reports that “[p]ro-democracy activists” have already “rallied in front of the parliament to protest against the new batch of constitutional drafters hand-picked by the junta.”

Old men and old ideas

13 09 2015

A couple of days ago we again pointed out that Thailand is a country where very old men remain powerful and influential.

At the Bangkok Post it is reported that aged legal expert Meechai Ruchupan has indeed been invited by The Dictator “to lead a new charter-drafting body that is expected to be formed by next week…”.

Meechai as a rabid royalist ideologue associated with the 2006 military coup and junta and with several anti-democratic movements, including the movement that sought to bring down the Yingluck Shinawatra elected government. He has been fully prepared to defend the lese majeste law, even making stuff up to support the draconian law.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha is said to be “interested in Mr Meechai” because of his experience “at the helm of legislative bodies, both as Senate chairman and chairman of a national legislative assembly…”.

In fact, this experience is telling. According to a brief entry at Wikipedia:

He was the acting Prime Minister of Thailand following a military takeover of the government that took place in February 1991. He served only seventeen days, from May 24, 1992 to June 10, 1992, and was succeeded by Anand Panyarachun. He had been appointed by Royal Command to take over after highly unpopular General Suchinda Kraprayoon resigned under public and state pressure.

Meechai served as President of the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly of Thailand after the coup d’état in 2006. After another coup d’état in 2014, Meechai—as one of two civilians—was appointed as a member of the junta which calls itself the National Council for Peace and Order.

The picture of a royalist who serves the military is clear.

Prayuth thinks this is the right man to again serve the military-monarchy alliance as it represses popular will and seeks to cement its rule.

Others reportedly being sought for the military dictatorship’s “fix” of the political system include royalists and military backers like the conservative Sujit Boonbongkarn, former 2006 junta appointee Kanjanarat Leewiroj, Banthoon Sethasiroj, anti-Thaksin Shinawatra lawyer Banjerd Singkhaneti, who fronted the ultra-royalist and neo-fascist Sayam Prachapiwat, Preecha Watcharaphai, who worked with the 2006 military junta and former unelected senator and anti-Thaksin activist Surachai Liangboonlertchai, who once tried to use the Senate to bring down the elected government.

The picture is pretty clear: conservatives, royalists, yellow shirts, anti-Thaksin activists and military backers.

The pattern is also seen in a recent appointment to the Constitutional Court of yellow-shirted historian, 2014 coup supporter and constitution drafter and supporter of the lese majeste law, Nakarin Mektrairat.

This may all seem like more of the same under the military dictatorship. Yet it is clear that the junta and its supporters and backers have decided that Thailand requires more “reform.” This means a deeply conservative and royalist return to an authoritarian and intolerant past.

If the king can’t say it, Suthep can

1 09 2015

The Bangkok Post reports that anti-democrat leader Suthep Thaugsuban is campaigning for the military dictatorship’s constitution. Yes, there were warnings against this, but a little pushing from Suthep is probably welcomed by the junta (even if they chastise him later).

The Post reports him as saying:

He said that although the document may have some shortcomings, they could be amended in the future as deemed necessary.

“What is more important is that there must be a guarantee for Thailand’s future, for the people to see the light and have a better life,” he said.

According to Mr Suthep, the final draft of the constitution is good enough for the people to support it in the referendum.

Compare this with the king’s 1992 support for the then military-backed government’s constitution:

ความจริงวิธีนี้ถ้าจำได้ เมื่อวันที่ ๔ ธันวาคม ๒๕๓๔ ก็ได้พูดต่อสมาคม ที่มาพบจำนวนหลายพันคน แล้วก็ดูเหมือนว่าพอฟังกัน ฟังกันโดยดี เพราะเหตุผลที่มีอยู่ในนั้น ดูจะแก้ปัญหาได้พอควร ตอนนี้ก็พอย้ำว่าทำไมพูดอย่างนั้น ว่าถ้าจะแก้ก่อนออกก็ได้ หรือออกก่อนแก้ก็ได้ อันนั้นทุกคนก็ทราบดีว่าเรื่องอะไร ก็เป็นเรื่องรัฐธรรมนูญ ซึ่งครั้งนั้น การแก้รัฐธรรมนูญก็ได้ทำมาตลอด มากกว่าฉบับเดิมที่ตั้งเอาไว้ได้แก้ไข แล้วก็ก่อนที่ไปพูดที่ศาลาดุสิดาลัย ก็ได้พบพลเอกสุจินดา ก็ขออนุญาตเล่าให้ฟังว่า พลเอกสุจินดาแล้ว พลเอกสุจินดาก็เห็นด้วยว่า ควรจะประกาศใช้รัฐธรรมนูญนี้ และแก้ไขต่อไปได้ อันนี้ก็เป็นสิ่งที่ทำได้ และตอนหลังนี้ พลเอกสุจินดาก็ได้ยืนยันว่า แก้ไขได้ก็ค่อยๆ แก้เข้าระเบียบให้เป็นที่เรียกว่า ประชาธิปไตย อันนี้ก็ได้พูดมาตั้งหลายเดือนแล้ว ในวิธีการที่จะแก้ไข แล้วข้อสำคัญ ที่ทำไมอยากให้ประกาศใช้รัฐธรรมนูญ แม้จะถือว่ารัฐธรรมนูญนั้นยังไม่ครบถ้วน ก็เพราะเหตุว่ารัฐธรรมนูญนั้น มีคุณภาพพอใช้ได้ ดีกว่าธรรมนูญการปกครองชั่วคราว ที่ใช้มาเกือบปี เพราะเหตุว่ามีบางข้อบางมาตรา ซึ่งเป็นอันตรายแล้ว ก็ไม่ครบถ้วนในการที่จะปกครองประเทศ ฉะนั้นก็นึกว่า ถ้าหากว่าสามารถที่จะปฏิบัติตามที่ได้พูดในวันที่ ๔ ธันวาคมนั้นก็นึกว่า เป็นการกลับไปดูปัญหาเดิม ไม่ใช่ปัญหาของวันนี้

Academic Kevin Hewison commented on this several years ago (downloads a PDF), stating:

Following the 1991 coup, the draft constitution was faxed to the King in Chiangmai, and was returned in the same manner, reportedly with some minor alterations (FEER 14 March 1991). This nonchalant attitude was also reflected in the King’s reaction when the constitution was challenged. He pointed out that while the draft was ‘not … fully adequate’, it should be promulgated because it was ‘reasonable’ (มีคุณภาพพอใช้ได้) and could be ‘gradually amended … in a “democratic” way…’. In other words, the principles embodied in the constitution were not particularly important, but its promulgation was necessary so that instability could be avoided….

Such support for the military’s control of politics is not unusual for the monarch, but this constitution was rejected, led to protests and to the massacre (again) of the military’s opponents.

In for the long haul II

13 11 2014

Some time ago, PPT posted on the military dictatorship being in position for the long haul. Then we were observing that despite claims about “democracy” and an “election” in about 12-15 months, the military dictatorship was likely to maintain control for a very long time.

Wassana Nanuam a senior reporter at the Bangkok Post now seems to agree with us, setting out the path to deep military involvement in Thailand’s post-junta regime.

She focuses on “speculation is growing over a plan by the men in green to form a new political party, or perhaps a nominee party with military backing.”

Previous military regimes that decided not to rule more directly tried this. Some past efforts have failed. In the post 2006 period, the military backed Newin Chidchob’s Bhum Jai Thai Party, and it did poorly in the 2011 election. Before that, when General Suchinda Kraprayoon tried a military party, it resulted in the 1992 rebellion.

She details moves that might politically position the military for the long term. The important considerations seems to be the observation that “[s]ome people in the military believe the Democrat Party will never win the next election, so the military might have to step in, or at least throw its support behind a party to challenge Pheu Thai.”

As a footnote, Wassana’s discussion of the dealings between General Prawit Wongsuwan and Thaksin Shinawatra put a different spin on this part of the story, worth considering.

In terms of transition beyond the military dictatorship, 12 years has often been mentioned as the period required to get back to full electoral democracy. It was 12 years from the coup in 1976 until Prem Tinsulanonda finally stepped aside in 1988.

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