Further updated: Royalist skulduggery v. The People’s skulduckery

26 11 2020

Social media is better than the mainstream media on last evening’s rally at the Siam Commercial Bank HQ. Social media is reporting shots fired, people wounded, infiltration of the protesters by “third hand” elements, probably from the military, and royalist counter-rallies boosted by the king and queen.

Khaosod does report that “[s]hots were fired by unidentified assailants at pro-democracy protesters as they were leaving their rally at the headquarters of Thailand’s oldest bank on Wednesday night, wounding at least two people.” It adds some details:

Eyewitnesses said they heard a loud explosion, followed by 3-4 gunshots, at about 10.15pm, soon after the protest in front of Siam Commercial Bank’s main office concluded. One of the assailants was apprehended while he was trying to run away with others; the rest reportedly managed to flee the scene.

Sombat Thongyoi, one of the volunteer guards who provided security for the protesters, said two people were shot. Both of them were sent to hospital.

“We cannot yet establish whether it was a personal matter or politically motivated,” Sombat said.

Forensic police at the scene said they found traces of bullets; police also said they found a handgun on the man apprehended by the protest guards, though it is unclear as of publication time if it was the same firearm used in the shooting.

Khaosod reports a little on the rally:

The target was switched to the Siam Commercial Bank, a publicly held company in which King Vajiralongkorn is the biggest shareholder. The bank’s headquarters are in a different area of Bangkok, far from the district hosting the Crown Property Bureau and other royal and government offices.

Ducks and some chickens. Clipped from SBS News

An international report has more:

Thousands of Thai democracy activists have rallied in Bangkok to demand the king give up control of his multibillion-dollar fortune, turning their protest movement directly on the once-untouchable monarchy’s vast wealth….

Protest leaders have struck a defiant tone in response, with human rights lawyer Anon Numpha – who is among the 12 summoned for questioning [on lese majeste charges] – telling Wednesday’s protest “the reform of the nation has started whether you believe it or not”.

“Many Thais who had never dared question the monarchy now have started asking question about this king,” he said.

Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, a student leader also called for questioning, told AFP he was not afraid and said the summons under section 112 would simply encourage more people to join the movement.

“Does this mean the monarchy has declared an all-out war with the people – is that right?” he said.

While some of the time the atmosphere of the protest was light-hearted, the speeches were also making important points. Thisrupt reports:

… Ratsadon’s leading activist Anon Nampa stood on a truck in a yellow duck costume. Thousands of people gathered, spilling out onto the other side of the street.

Cries of “ooh” and “ahh” went up now and then. Not because Anon was cursing hell, fire, and brimstone from the truck. Instead, he was educating minds, provoking thoughts, and inspiring changes.

That’s why he’s Thailand’s most dangerous man. It’s no wonder General Prayut Chan-o-cha is bringing back Article 112, the lese majeste law.

There was also the moment when the aged Sulak Srivaraksa, “aided by a walking stick and an assistant, made a surprise appearance.”

In his brief address, Sulak said he would speak on just one issue, the lèse majesté law, or Section 112 of the Criminal Code. He said HM the late King Bhumibol once said that the invocation of Section 112 amounts to an assault on him and its use will undermine the Monarchy.

“Why doesn’t Prayut comply with the late King’s wish?” he asked, adding that HM King Vajiralongkorn has instructed the attorney-general and the president of the Supreme Court, in writing, to stop invoking Section 112.

He accused the prime minister of undermining the Monarchy and bullying HM the King by invoking Section 112 against protest leaders, as he demanded the prime minister’s ouster.

We have few doubts that Sulak is wrong on his interpretation. In his actions, the king has made it clear that the anti-monarchism of the protesters has to be eradicated. His most recent PR outing included another meeting with Warong Dechgitvigrom, leader of Thai Pakdee. At something seemingly belonging to the ultra-royalists and called The Truth, there’s a story about the meeting, quoting the king as whispering in Warong’s ear to say: “Thank you. We must help the people see what is wrong, what is bad, what distorts and what is fake news.”

It is clear that the king believes he can defeat the rising tide of anti-monarchism. His support for the ultra-royalists unleashes their fury. Hence the attempts to stoke conflict at anti-regime demonstrations.

Update 1: The Bangkok Post, which has more or less not reported from the rally at the SCB, has reported on the shooting. It recounts the police story that “shooting heard after the protest at SCB Park ended on Wednesday night involved students from rival vocational schools who worked as guards during the rally…”. Given that vocational students have been involved with yellow shirts, there remains room for some skepticism on the reporting. We’d like to hear from the rally organizers before deciding what happened. We are still waiting to hear more about the previous shootings.

Update 2: Our skepticism in Update 1 is born out in a Thai Enquirer report, where a “leader of several groups of protest guards denied on Thursday and Friday police claims that violence that occurred during the end of Wednesday’s protests was due to infighting by several vocational protest groups.” If this leader is believed, then the next question would be: Why did the police make their announcement? Possible answers are: they are an incompetent bunch of dolts, which they have previously demonstrated. Another could be that someone has paid them off, which has happened many times in the past. And another might be that they have been ordered to make false claims, which is standard practice and was seen several times in the past when red shirts were framed.





With 3 updates: Protesting against the regime

17 08 2020

The very large and festive rally at the Democracy Monument, led by the Free People group – previously the Free Youth group – stuck to their three demands. According to the usually under-estimating Bangkok Post, “at least 10,000 protesters rallied at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok on Sunday…”.

The rally emphasized the illegitimacy of a regime born of a military coup and repeatedly “called on the government to stop harassing individuals who are exercising their rights in accordance with democratic principles and set up a charter-drafting body to come up with a new constitution based on the will of the people.”

Clipped from nrc.nl

There were also calls for the “government to dissolve parliament to allow the people to exert their right to elect their own representatives…”.

There was little of the previous rally’s demands for the monarchy to be reformed. That seemed to reflect the panic that set in among the older generation who repeatedly warned and/or threatened 6 October-style clashes and massacre.

This generation mistakes its conservatism for “wisdom” and, as ever in status-conscious, royalist Thailand, feels it knows better than the students. They fail to understand that they are now the people of the past and that a new generation does things differently.

Of course, we are generalizing. There are some who have supported the students, including academics, some politicians, public figures and even the perennial conservative monarchist.

Before the rally, a ragtag clutch of ultra-royalists showed up to “protect” the monarchy. The limpness of this “protest” suggests that the fears of the older generation are, for the moment, overblown. At the same time, it is clear that the ultra-royalists are not yet being egged on by the regime and the military and have limited funding from the usual suspects among the tycoons and military intelligence.

For the moment, the regime seems set on using the law as a means to repress, with the Criminal Court having “issued warrants for the arrests of 15 key members of the Free People movement, in connection with the protest held at the Democracy Monument on July 18th, 2020.”

In addition to those already grabbed and charged (and bailed) –  university student Parit Chiwarak, human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa and activist Panupong Jadnok, 12 others are being traced. They are:

Ms. Chuthatip Sirikhan, Ms. Lalana Suriyo, Nawat Liangwattanayam, Tadthep Ruangprapaikitseri, Karnnithi Limcharoen, Natthavuth Somboonsap, Chatupat Boonpattharaksa, Ms. Chirathita Thammarak, Korakot Saengyangpant, Mrs. Suwanna Tarnlek, Thanayuth na Ayudhya and Baramee Chairat.

For more on the rally, see here, here, and here.

Update 1: For a flavor of the variety of issues at the rally, including a call for Patani’s “self-determination,” see here.

Update 2: For an example of the aged paternalism of Thailand’s elite and their handmaidens in the media, see the op ed by Veera Prateepchaikul. While he gives the impression of reasonableness, the op ed is critical of the students, demeans them and implicitly calls for action against them. Like so many others of the yellow shirt ilk, Veera is unable to conceive of the students thinking for themselves. He states: “[q]uestions have been raised about the origin of the 10-point list of demands as critics doubt students were capable of crafting such a list or possessed sufficient knowledge of the history of the monarchy.” What a pile of buffalo manure. The intent is to label the students republican pawns and to point the accusing figure at progressive politicians. No wonder the students want to overturn this gerontology.

Update 3: The geriatric rightists will be up in arms again now that high school students have come up with another act of defiance. It is reported that three-fingered anti-junta salutes went up in “multiple schools across the country on Monday” as the students “turned the daily flag-raising ceremony into an act of solidarity with the ongoing anti-government protests.” Some teachers apparently were so aghast that they assaulted students. That could mean dozens more schools seeing similar acts of defiance tomorrow. This goes along with the campaign by university students to refuse to receive their degrees from royals.





Monarchy and (more) repression

16 06 2020

With repression being deepened, the prime minister who seized power in the 2014 military coup and who remains in power through military might, his junta’s constitution and rigged elections, has issued a stern warning about anti-monarchism.

Of course, it is no coincidence that this warning comes after the enforced disappearance of Wanchalaerm Satsaksit, the piling on of lese majeste-like computer crimes charges for young social media figure “Niranam_” and ongoing protests in Europe against the king.

With a minion when the king was once in Thailand

As in the past, the regime imagines a plot and a movement led by some unnamed anonymous puppet-master.

Gen Prayuth lamented that what he thinks are “violations” of the lese majeste law “had increased since its use ceased 2-3 years ago.” He reportedly said the king “has … instructed me personally over the past two to three years to refrain from the use of the Law…”. While we already knew this from the king-supporting Sulak Sivaraksa, this is, we think, the first time an official has acknowledged this instruction.

(As an aside, we want to emphasize that under the previous king, royalists defended him on lese majeste by saying he was powerless to do anything about the law. Vajiralongkorn showed what a pile of buffalo manure that excuse was.)

The unelected PM saw anti-monarchism as doubly troubling as he believed that the king, by not using Article 112, had shown “mercy,” and this was being “abused.”

Gen Prayuth called for “unity” by which he means that royalists must defend the monarchy: “Everyone who loves the nation, religion, and monarchy must come together.” Oddly, he warned about the danger of “violent revolutions.” And, Reflecting a broader royalist concern, he worried that “anti-monarchists may use the upcoming anniversary [24 June] of the 1932 democratic revolution to defame the monarchy.”

And he warned that people should “disregard any messages that aim to harbor hatred in the society.” He means anti-monarchism. He added a pointed remark that PPT thinks is a threat:

Those who are operating from abroad should think about what they should or shouldn’t do, where else could if they faced problems in that country? I feel pity as they are Thai citizens.

In what appears as a coordinated warning, the Watchman, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan said “security officials” – that usually means the military – were already “investigating those involved” in this alleged anti-monarchist plot.

He was warning: “Once we get the list of names, we’ll prosecute them” using lese majeste-like laws including computer crimes and sedition.

Prayuth seemed to want Article 112 back, complaining that “[t]here were no such problems when Section 112 was in use,” which is actually buffalo manure. When the junta came to power, it repeatedly claimed republican plotting and used the lese majeste law more than any other regime, ever.

He went on to pile on lies and threats:

As a Thai, you must not believe distorted information or news from hatemongers because it’s not true. You must look behind [their motive] and see what they really want. … Why would you become their tool?

Targeting the young, he “urged people not to disseminate such information or click to read it, referring to social media.” It is easy to see why the regime has targeted “Niranam_”. They are making an example of him as a way to (they hope) silence others.

There’s also a hint that the regime is coming under pressure from royalists and perhaps even the palace itself to do something about the protests in Europe and criticism from exiles:

Regarding exiled people in neighbouring countries and Europe, he said the government had already sent letters asking those countries to send them back to Thailand if they caused trouble. “But when they don’t send them back, what do you expect the government to do?”

It seems clear that enforced disappearance and torture and murder is one outcome of displeasure with these dissidents.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

One response to these warnings has been social media disdain for the regime and the generals. Another response came from former Future Forward MP Pannika Wanich who called for the lese majeste law to be abolished: “they should get rid of this section of the criminal code as the MPs of the Move Forward Party have been saying in Parliament…”. For good measure, she also called for the Computer Crimes Act be amended.





Sulak and the king

18 11 2019

The Isaan Record has an interesting interview with Sulak Sivaraksa. Always a conservative royalist, Sulak was once seen as an opponent of lese majeste.

As things developed in the heat of anti-Thaksinism, Sulak flip-flopped between opposing lese majeste in some cases, including his own, but not in others, like those facing Thaksin Shinawatra.

Most recently, the media has given Sulak some credit for getting the current king to stop allowing the use of lese majeste for “protecting” the monarchy.

In this interview, Sulak is quite shocking in his praise of the erratic and absolutist King Vajiralongkorn. Of course, unlike his disdain for the king’s father, Sulak hasn’t yet found a personal reason for denouncing the current monarch. Perhaps murders of dissidents don’t count for Sulak these days.

For all of this posterior polishing of Vajiralongkorn, Sulak does have one useful insight on the monarchy and says some useful things to say about the military and its current political regime.

The one insight is in this statement:

I told His Majesty that I was being unfairly targeted, that the charge of lèse-majesté was just a pretext for silencing me, and he believed me. He instructed the royal secretariat to have the court case dropped immediately. [The king]… is very decisive. If he is going to do something, he doesn’t wait around to do it. I am very grateful indeed. 

Under King Bhumibol, the buffalo manure that came from royalists was that the king had no say in how lese majeste was used. Sulak and Vajiralongkorn have demonstrated that this was always a ridiculous claim.





What next?

5 05 2019

AP reports that its pundits reckon that after more than two years on the throne, “[w]hat Vajiralongkorn … will do with the power and influence the venerated status confers is still not clear.”

We don’t agree. It seems pretty clear that this king is a politically interventionist rightist, legalistic when it suits him, craving a return to pre-1932 absolutism, greedy and unpredictable. Perhaps it is the last characteristic that befuddles the pundits.

They do note his “assertiveness” but we are confused when they say he has a “seemingly hands off approach in other matters…”. The report says this has something to do with his long stints in Germany, but perhaps they have forgotten his demanded change to the constitution that gives him hands-on influence wherever he is.

The argument that he “suddenly announced his fourth marriage, to a former flight attendant who is a commander of his security detail, and appointed her Queen…” suggests a “fresh commitment to his royal duties” is nonsense. He’s been at his “royal duties” – as he sees them – since well before his father’s death. He’s been regularly intervening in the work of the junta. Even a humble office worker the report quotes knows this.

In any case, marrying just before coronation is exactly what his father did.

“Vajiralongkorn is likely to remain burdened by old gossip about his personal life that has dogged him” for decades. But the propaganda is gradually erasing this. And, the king doesn’t care any more. He’s powerful and can do whatever he wants.

The report quotes the usually critical academic Paul Chambers results in the odd claim that the hands-on Vajiralongkorn’s style is “more hands off” is a bizarre claim with the report going on to contradict this silliness saying “he has brought more of Thailand’s administration directly under the palace.” How’s that for hands off!!

It quotes old royalist and conservative Sulak Sivaraksa who is closer to the mark: “The new king is a very decisive man, and he’s a very daring man, unlike his father…”. Sulak loathed Vajiralongkorn’s father for he ‘suffered fools (gladly)’ around him…”.

His “decisive” new king is intolerant, erratic, headstrong and dangerous. Think of all the people he’s had jailed on bogus charges in recent years. He’s often done this, as academic Michael Montesano notes,”bespeak an interest in gaining or exerting greater control over certain institutions,” and he uses his power to grasp what he wants. Think of all the buildings and land he’s been accumulating.

As the report notes, the “powers he acquired centralize royal authority in his hands and make explicit his right to intervene in government affairs, especially in times of political crisis.”

He’s also been publicly interventionist in politics, even directing how people should vote in the recent election.

Vajiralongkorn also seems to have the support of the royal family – despite previous claims of splits and the problem he had with his big and equally balmy sister recently.

At the coronation, Princess Sirindhorn “represented the Royal Family … in offering their best wishes to … the King” and declared “every member of the Royal Family was determined to uphold the truth and promised loyalty to the King.” That’s to be expected as they all benefit from the monarchy and its wealth.

In other words, Chambers’ hands-off king is a facile myth.

Vajiralongkorn has also brought the palace’s billions under his personal control, rolling back these arrangements many decades.

The article reckons that “Vajiralongkorn’s greatest challenge is likely to be sorting out the palace’s relationship with the military.” He’s already moving on that, and the shape of the appointed senate is likely to be a pointer. He’s already secured an Army commander who will polish his posterior. Once he sees off Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, his relationship to the military will be highly personalized and interventionist. He believes he’s a soldier and that other soldiers must obey him.

Even Chambers and Montesano agree that the balance of power has and is shifting to the king and his palace.

Another academic once referred to a kingdom of fear and favor. That holds more now than when the claim was made. Watch as he grasps more for himself, in terms of political power, wealth and status.





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.