Sulak, the king and lese majeste

24 11 2018

A story from an Australian newspaper provides yet more detail on the king and lese majeste via Sulak Sivaraksa. It is kind of looking like Sulak is a palace messenger.

The report notes that despite multiple lese majeste charges brought against him (all under the previous king), Sulak “remained a monarchist.” As a monarchist, “[h]e believes the lese-majeste law, Article 112, should be abolished for the sake of keeping the royal family strong.”

Sulak “speaks highly of the new king … who he says is not only responsible for his freedom but for no new lese-majeste charges being laid against anyone in a year.” He claims that on lese majeste, Vajiralongkorn “… is impatient, he said ‘no more’…”.

Academic Patrick Jory argues that the frequency of use has to do with “… political crisis, particularly one in which the monarchy is involved…”. He also suggests that “the coming election and Vajiralongkorn’s coronation, on a date yet to be set, have both played a part in the year-long moratorium on new charges.”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk says: “While there has been a sharp drop in lese-majeste prosecutions, Thai authorities have switched to using other laws, such as the Computer-Related Crime Act and sedition law, to prosecute critics of the monarchy…”.

As well as praising the king, Sulak refers to Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, as “mediocre” and “the worst of the dictators we’ve had,” but “competent.” Worst, mediocre and competent is a wide range of descriptions and he also describes Gen Sarit Thanarat as “the worst.”

Mixing all that up, Sulak then declares: “Prayuth’s afraid of me. He’s a hypocrite. He used this case to silence me. Every dictator hated me. Suchinda [Kraprayoon, whose brief tenure in 1992 was marked by a massacre] was very bright compared with Prayut. He tried to kill me.”

No of this makes sounds particularly compos mentis, his comments on Vajiralongkorn need to be seriously considered as he is one of the few who has spoken about him.

Sulak is described as “circumspect about what the king is like in person,” but admits that “[h]e has a bad public image…”. He continues:

He’s shy, but he’s very knowledgeable. He’s very concerned with the survival of the monarchy, and very concerned about whether this country could be really democratic.

I think the king is wise. He wants the monarchy to be more open and more transparent. He has gained a lot of confidence [since he assumed power].

That’s all very scary.

On the future of lese majeste, Jory says “the new king is very unpopular, particularly compared to his father, and with “too many skeletons” in the monarchy’s closet he does not expect the lese-majeste law to be reformed any time soon.”

Jory says the “monarchy has lots and lots of enemies. This issue in the medium term won’t go away,” meaning that lese majeste will be maintained. “He is not expecting much to change with the election expected in February.”





On the lese majeste regime

17 10 2018

Shawn Crispin at Asia Times has a longish piece on lese majeste. He’s making a point about a seeming change to the lese majeste regime that has been noted by several analysts for several weeks, but still has some points worth considering.

He focuses on the controversial dropping of Sulak Sirivaksa’s Article 112 case when he “appealed to monarch [King] … Vajiralongkorn for a royal reprieve.”

Sulak “claims the case was stopped after King Vajiralongkorn advised Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha on the situation.”

Readers should note that this claim runs contrary to the palace’s long-held propaganda claim that the monarchy does not interfere in lese majeste cases. (There were several instances where the previous king and his palace did intervene, but the propaganda has been otherwise.)

Sulak is quoted as stating: “If the case went to the military tribunal, they were bound to put me in jail without any law, because the law doesn’t mean anything to them…”. Sulak is partly correct in this guess, but, then, no lese majeste case has ever stuck for him.

He says The Dictator was uninterested until the king intervened: “… when the King told him to drop the case, obviously it was royal advice that worked.”

Crispin suggests that the huge lese majeste “clampdown has come against the backdrop of what was once seen as an uncertain royal succession…”, ignoring the fact that the rise in the use of lese majeste predates the 2014 coup. PPT sees the use of Article 112 as a part of political efforts to rid Thailand of republicanism and to defeat the red shirts.

How Crispin concludes that the “military top brass [is]… now seemingly poised to relinquish power at democracy-restoring polls early next year…” is beyond our comprehension. However, he is right to see “signs that the fearsome law will be used less frequently, if at all, under the new reign,” although he does not note that the crown prince-cum-king was fearsome himself in the use of lese majeste against persons he saw as personal enemies. This included deaths in custody.

Sulak is then cited on his discussions with the king. He “says King Vajiralongkorn recognized the law’s past abuse for political purposes in a recent personal audience he had with the King where he offered his royally sought advice on myriad issues.”

Presumably Sulak has been given royal permission to say these things; that is, he is the king’s messenger. He does this by adhering to palace propaganda about the dead king: “I told the King his father said that clearly – it’s on record – that anybody that makes the case of lese majeste harms him personally and undermines the monarchy…”.

He then says that in his own case, “you can say publicly the king wrote personally to the Supreme Court and Attorney General, and since then there have been no new cases under [Article] 112.”

Sulak, adding to the new royalist discourse on the new monarchy, says that the recent dropping of 112 charges “are indicative of the new King’s ‘mercy’.” As with all royalist discourse, this involves untruths: “[King Bhumibol] regarded himself as a constitutional monarch, so he would not interfere,” but of course he did.  Sulak says of the previous king: “He used an indirect way, the Siamese way, he talked to the judges, he talked to the public prosecutor, but then many ignored his advice.” Of course, this is nonsense.

Interestingly, Sulak claims: “it is clear now that future cases will only be accepted for investigation and prosecution with the royal household’s consent. That, he says, marks a change from father to son.”

That is good news, perhaps. There remain about 60 cases of lese majeste still under the purview of prosecutors and the judiciary. But is is not such good news to have it confirmed that Vajiralongkorn is a determined interventionist, likely to ignore law, parliament and judiciary. Sulak states: “… the present King, unlike his father, he not only advises, he instructs…”.

As Crispin notes:

King Vajiralongkorn has moved with an alacrity and purpose in consolidating his reign that few diplomatic and other observers anticipated or foresaw upon his acceptance of the throne in late 2016. That’s entailed a recentralization of royal power….

Sulak seems to revel in his new role as royal spokesman. But beware the royalist who speaks for royal power.





Boosting and boostering for the monarch

5 09 2018

Many observers, us included, were struck by the cult of personality that was constructed around King Bhumibol. A rather colorless, unemotional and intellectually dull man surrounded by sycophants, he was manufactured into something that royalists describe as “earned moral authority as a unifying and rallying symbol for the country.”

Many of those same royalists express the view that this “barami” attached to the man and not the position of the monarch. In making this point, they ignore how the adulation of the now dead king was carefully manufactured and was indeed attached to the position. To ignore this is to misunderstand what royalist restorationists have been doing since 1932: recreating a monarchy that transcends any constitution and reduces constitutional constraints on the monarchy’s political and economic power.

In fact, the new king has done much to further that project, being rather more energetic on these matters than his father had been in the last years of the previous reign.

Meanwhile, the military junta has been aggressive in subserviently supporting the king’s political and economic moves and in promoting him in ways that have been both repressive and bombastically propagandistic.

PPT has commented on the propaganda several times, here, here, here and here.

Reuters has a report that exemplifies the efforts being made to build a revised cult of personality for the king. It has a story about what it euphemistically calls “volunteers” who are pictured “cleaning up a clogged Bangkok waterway … wearing yellow foulards and blue hats, [who] are part of a volunteer program started by … Vajiralongkorn…”.

It is reported that 4 million have “volunteered.”

Clipped from the linked Reuters story

The blue and yellow is the new uniform for royalist Thailand.

Reuters states that the “Volunteer Spirit” scheme, “officially began in 2017, [and] has created a new army of civilians who have pledged allegiance to the king and are boosting the image of Vajiralongkorn ahead of his formal coronation at year-end.”

We haven’t seen any announcement about coronation, but The Dictator has long stated that the junta’s rigged election can only be held after coronation.

It is observed that “the deep relationship between the monarchy and the military helped facilitate a smooth royal transition following his death in October 2016.” In fact, that “smoothing” began well before succession.

It also cites unnamed “some observers” who believe that the king “may be seeking to distance himself from the military, which has been in power in Thailand since a 2014 coup.”

Really? Anything is possible, but there’s no evidence for this rumor, and why a military-trained king would want to do this is an open question. We recall an early attempt to promote the king as a kind of democrat. At the time we thought that a rather wild guess. If anything, that sort or guess looks even weaker today.

The author then was David Streckfuss. He’s also cited in the Reuters report, and his view seems unchanged by events since his earlier piece. Referring to the “volunteers,” he states:

If the monarchy is … to distinguish itself from the military and attempt to bring Thailand into a democratic constitutional monarchy, then we might look at this effort by the new monarch as creating an alternative power base….

Again, we see no evidence for this. Indeed, this effort has, as far as we are aware, full junta support. Every member of the junta has the new uniform in the cupboard.

As the report notes: “Vajiralongkorn however is thought to have a good working relationship with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha…”.

But, then, the king is erratic and idiosyncratic, known for becoming enraged by perceived sleights to his “dignity.” The junta bosses have to be on their toes in privileging the king. As far as we have seen, he has been satisfied in getting all that he wants. But in all of the secrecy associated with the palace, there are plenty of rumors and guesses.

As far as we can tell, the “volunteers” are in line with previous efforts to promote monarch and monarchy and reinforce and transition the cult of personality to the new guy.

The report seems to confirm this, but goes back to the absolute monarchy, citing Sulak Sivaraksa. Sulak, who disliked the now deceased king, has an affection for the new one not least because he credits Vajiralongkorn for getting him off a lese majeste charge. He compares Vajiralongkorn to Vajiravudh’s paramilitary force founded in 1911, the Wild Tigers. Sulak doesn’t mention it, but Vajiravudh nearly bankrupted the country and set the scene for 1932.

Boostering for the king, Sulak gets drippy with syrup, saying the king “wants the monarchy to serve the people, to protect the people, to do well for the people…”. He reckons the “volunteers are able to do things that the government might otherwise not be able to, because of their royal backing…. If the government asked them they wouldn’t do it…”. In a final bit of posterior polishing, Sulak declares: “The volunteer program is one of the great successes of the new king.”

The “volunteers” are trained in much the same way as other “volunteer” corps raised by the previous king:

Volunteers have to register with the palace and go through an initiation process that involves lining up and bowing in front of the king’s portrait before being given their yellow and blue uniforms – colors associated with former King Bhumibol and Queen Mother Sirikit, Vajiralongkorn’s mother.

Once they put on their new uniforms, the volunteers do a military-style salute to the king’s portrait and, in a completely new tradition [sic.], they must line up and salute the king’s portrait every time before starting a community activity.

It is all a bit North Korean, but not all that different from the palace propaganda for Bhumibol. Just a little more militaristic, reflecting the new guy’s training and mindset.





Lese majeste catch-ups

18 02 2018

Natthika Worathaiwit was one of The Facebook 8 who were arrested by the military dictatorship because of a satirical Facebook community page that poked fun at The Dictator. They were charged with sedition and computer crimes on 28 April 2016. Tow of them, Harit Mahaton and Natthika were charged with lese majeste.

Initially all were refused bail. When six of the eight were bailed, a military court refused bail for Natthika and Harit. The two firmly maintained their innocence. After more than two months in prison, on 8 July 2016, the two were released on bail. A month later, a military prosecutor indicted the two anti-junta critics on lese majeste and computer crimes.

Little more was heard about the case until in January 2018 Natthika revealed that she had decided to flee Thailand to seek asylum in the U.S. She remains critical of the military dictatorship. Prachatai has an interview with her in the U.S.

Prachatai also reports on a case with a curious twist. Back in March 2016, it was reported that that nine persons are to be charged with lese majeste over the Tob Jote/ตอบโจทย์ television show in 2013. ThaiPBS aired the program on the monarchy and lese majeste law on 11-14 March and 18 March 2013. The series featured historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul who later went into exile, conservative royalist Sulak Sivaraksa, the execrable Surakiart Sathirathai and retired ultra-monarchist Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn. The show hosted by Pinyo Trisuriyathamma. All are mentioned in the new set of charges, with four others.

Later, in July 2014, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) imposed a 50,000 baht fine on ThaiPBS for broadcasting political discussions about the monarchy. The NBTC declared that the broadcasts violated “Article 37 of the NBTC Act. The Commission accused the station of publishing content that instigated conflict, damaged peace and order, or damaged the good morality of the people.”

Royalists and the junta could not abide by notions that Thais could have a reasonable discussion of the monarchy or be allowed to think for themselves about the monarchy.

On 15 February 2018, the Administrative Court invalidated the fine. In doing so, it ruled that the NBTC showed bias (which is standard operating procedure for this bunch of junta minions). That bias got a name:  Lt Gen Peerapong Manakit, one of the NBTC members. According to the report, the “court ruled that bias on the part of … [Peerapong] who proposed the punishment, led to an unfair trial. The court ordered the Commission to refund the fine to Thai PBS…. However, the verdict does not rule whether the show’s content was legal or not.”

It is an interesting ruling. If Peerapong’s name rings a bell, it could be because he is another of those military hogs who can’t keep out of the trough, as reported in The Nation:

… there was a public outcry after an Office of the Auditor-General investigation revealed Peerapong Manakit had topped the list of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission members who had made the most overseas “study” trips last year…. He spent about one-third of his time (129 days) on 20 overseas trips at a cost of Bt12.03 million…. Peerapong has reportedly appointed his wife Janya Sawangjit as his adviser, effective October 1. Her salary is Bt120,000 a month…. It is not clear if NBTC commissioners can take their advisers on overseas trips.

Of course, nothing happened about this nepotism and he remains a commissioner, with a bunch of other military and royal-connected men.





Sulak, lese majeste and double standards

26 01 2018

Two prominent intellectuals, both aged, have been in the news of late. The different paths of their cases say something more about the double standards operating in the justice system.

The first is Sulak Sivaraksa, and we have posted on his case, here and here. Sulak has recently been reported as “explaining” his actions on his most recent lese majeste case and how the charge came to be dropped.

He has written that he “had no other choice but to petition the King to encourage the junta to end a prosecution against him for lèse majesté.” He refers to something he calls “royal grace” being involved. What he seems to mean is that the king told the junta “to end the lawsuit…”. This is not the first time that the palace has been involved in dropping charges against Sulak. The publicity his cases have generated are damaging for the throne although, as a reader who was involved tells us, the palace liked to let it be known that it was lenient because Sulak was a little mad.

The junta initially ignored or rejected pleas, many of them international, leaving Sulak “no choice but to ask Rama X for help.”

Sulak, who has previously taken a partisan approach to the law, claiming that the law should be used against those who do not have the interests of the monarchy at heart, this time “urged the junta to release those convicted under Article 112 during the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s reign.” But not the new king’s reign? Odd, as we thought he had supported Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa.

On the day he was acquitted, Sulak told media that, “I believe the barami (glory) of the King protected me. The King did so many things behind the scenes. In my case, if not for [the King’s] barami, I would not be freed, because the Prime Minister is a jerk and is someone who never thinks of doing anything courageous. He is scared. If not for royal barami, my case would never end.”

Bottom line: he got off. We would like to see other lese majeste victims treated in this manner.

The second is Charnvit Kasetsiri, a former rector of Thammasat University and a long-term junta critic. Police have issued a summons for “sharing a fake news report about a purse of Prayut[h Chan-ocha]’s wife.”

On 23 January, police from the Technology Crime Suppression Division summoned Charnvit Kasetsiri to report to police today. As the report explains, “Charnvit was accused of disseminating forged computer data likely to cause damage to a third party, a violation the Computer Crimes Act. If found guilty, he will face up to five years in jail, a fine of up to 100,00 baht, or both.”

The accusation involves a social media discussion that saw Naraporn Chan-ocha accused of carrying a two-million-bath Hermes handbag, “while it is, in fact, a product of Thailand’s Royal Folk Arts And Crafts Centre and costs no more than 10,000 baht.”

Bottom line: The junta can lie its pants off (think election dates) but sharing a post (later corrected) about The Dictator’s wife is a crime.

We think the charges against Charnvit should be dropped too. Will they be dropped or is this just another effort to silence critics (of the “wrong” kind)?

The justice system now operates with double standards at the core of its feudal-like operations.





More on Sulak’s case

22 01 2018

A couple of readers mention information they think we should have made clearer in our post on Sulak Sivaraksa again foiling a lese majeste charge.

In our post, we observed:

Sulak is also a self-declared conservative and monarchist. Perhaps that’s why he chose to have this reported: “Sulak said he credited the mercy of King Rama X for the case being dropped.”

One reader points out that an AP report said more:

Sulak, a veteran academic and proclaimed royalist, said he had petitioned Thailand’s new king, Vajiralongkorn, for help in dropping the charges against him.

“I contacted many people for help but no one dared to. So I petitioned the king. If it weren’t for His Majesty’s grace, this case would not have been dropped,” he said.

That is an important addition.

Another reader says we should have been more forthcoming on Sulak’s royalism:

Sulak Sivaraksa has a dilemma in the contradictions between his continuing platitudes on the ills of Western capitalism, neo-liberalism and consumerism on the one hand, and on the other hand his inability to come to terms with supporting (whenever this appeared in recent history) a people’s elected government and endogenous grassroots democracy. He fails to perceive of how society can develop, and in his lay preaching offers his followers only nostalgic platitudes on an “ideal Dhammic society”; one that seemingly cannot coexist with the amoral power of today’s global market forces. He recalls the time of Siam’s founding royal father King Ramkhamhaeng: “a perfect [*though in fact unequal and exploitative] society guided by Dhamma”. He unashamedly went on stage supporting the right-wing yellow shirts against an elected government and in praising the “positive elements” of the core leaders of PAD which successfully twice sabotaged an elected government. He explained in a talk on “How to Achieve Our Democracy” a couple of months after 2006 coup: “I will not offer any view on the recent coup d’etat. I will not criticize those who are in power now and will not discuss about the government of the present prime minister (General Surayud Chulanont) and his ‘parliament’. I think many individuals in power now are good. At least, they have good intentions and want to make changes to benefit the people as a whole…” (Sulak 2008).

Sulak (“Non-violence is not simply the absence of physical violence,” The Nation, March 1, 2006), it seems, is stuck on a negative propagandized image of ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who he compared ignobly to “a dog” on the PAD stage . He was silent when the state massacred unarmed protesters in Bangkok, though in one recorded interview said that this incident was, quote, well, rather “unfortunate” (sic). Even today Sulak has refused to criticize the repression and violence against innocent pro-democracy protesters or activists– as he had earlier cheered the military and ultra-royalists when they came to power in the guise of conditional “peacemakers” on 19 September 2006.





When the military is on top XII

19 01 2018

It is some time since our last post with this title. There’s a general air in the press and on social media that the political tide may be turning.

For example, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak says he can see “civil society noises, together with political parties, are now on rise and may build into a crescendo of opposition to the military government.” Others are pleased to see the detestable Abhisit Vejjaiva “damning” the military government with language that is advisory in tone on General Prawit Wongsuwan’s large collection of luxury watches. On social media, many have lauded the dropping of yet another lese majeste case against Sulak Sivaraksa.

While there is some cause for cheer, it might be noted that much of this criticism is coming from yellow shirts and anti-democrats, many of whom were strong supporters of the 2014 military coup. This suggests that that coalition of anti-democrats is unraveling as the junta seeks to embed its rule. The unanswered question is what they propose as an alternative to the junta. Do these critics propose using the junta’s rules and having a military-dominated administration post-“election” – a Thai-style democracy – but where that dominance is not as total as it is now. That is, a simple refusal to allow General Prayuth Chan-ocha to hang on as head of a selectorate regime? Nothing much that any of these “opponents” have proposed since 2005 has looked much like an open political system.

What we can also see, and this also deserves attention from those cheering these developments, is that the junta continues to crackdown on other opponents.  One case involves the National Anti-Corruption Commission, criticized on Prawit, but widely supported by anti-democrats in an action to “determine whether … 40 [elected and pro-Thaksin Shinawatra] politicians submitted the [amnesty] bill with ‘illegal’ intent” back in 2013. If found “guilty,” they would all be banned from the junta’s “election,” decimating the already weakened Puea Thai Party.

Even when criticizing Prawit’s horology obsession, some critics are tolerated and others not. For example, Abhisit and yellow-hued “activists” can criticize, but what about Akechai Hongkangwarn? He’s identified as an opponent, so when he was critical, “four police officers … turned up at [his]… home … to serve a summons.” The “charge” seems to be “posting obscene images online…”. An obscenely expensive watch perhaps?

Then there’s the warning to critics of the junta that there call for The Dictator’s use of Article 44 for to not be made into law. Maj Gen Piyapong Klinpan “who is also the commander of the 11th Military Circle, said the NCPO [junta] is monitoring the situation. He said the NCPO did not ban the gathering on Monday since it was held in an education institute where academics were present to share knowledge. The NCPO merely followed up the event and tried to make sure those present would not violate any laws.” In other words, watch out, you’re being watched. It’s a threat.

Amazingly, Maj Gen Piyapong then “explained” these political double standards:

Commenting about political activist Srisuwan Janya, who has criticised the regime, Maj Gen Piyapong said there is no need to invite the activist for talks as he still has done nothing wrong, but the junta will keep tabs on his movements. “Currently, there is still no movement which is a cause for concern,” Maj Gen Piyapong said.

And, finally, if you happen to be one of those unfortunates – a citizen in the way of military “progress” – you get threatened with guns. At the embattled Mahakan community, where a historical site is being demolished, Bangkok Metropolitan administrators called out the military to threaten the community. The deployment of troops was by the Internal Security Operations Command.