Further updated: The military king

30 07 2022

New Mandala has a podcast about Supalak Ganjanakhundee’s excellent new book A Soldier King.

In the podcast, Duncan McCargo of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies discusses the book and the monarchy with Supalak.

A Soldier King: Monarchy and Military in the Thailand of Rama X is available from the publisher, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute for a reasonable SGD 27.71.

Update 1: Prachatai also discusses the book.

Update 2: A reader suggested we add the graphic from the Prachatai story. We agree, it is worth recording and knowing who the dinosaurs are:

Analysis of recent events

15 02 2019

PPT has refrained from mentioning much of what passes for analysis of the events of the past week. One reason for this is that most of it has been highly speculative and bound in rumor.

Some self-styled analysts and quite a few academics have produced speculative accounts. Several managed to come up with different interpretations of the same events. Some have seemingly reproduced other accounts. Some of the more careful have come up with possible scenarios, allowing readers to choose the version that suits their perceptions and biases.

Perhaps that’s why PPT found New Mandala’s “Q&A: Supalak Ganjanakhundee on Thailand’s week of chaos” useful. Supalak is editor of The Nation. We highly recommend reading it, and we only present some highlighted bits and pieces here.

Supalak says that both Thai Raksa Chart and Puea Thai are under threat and the former will be dissolved by the Constitutional Court according to the so-called Royal Command:

The court will probably rule against the law, as the courts often do—the appeal to something outside the law, to make judgements on the law. If we are to make a clear argument, there is no legal status to the royal command.

The “election” campaign will now be dominated by the junta’s party attacking the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties as disloyal:

[Palang] Pracharat will try to create a political discourse against the Thaksin camp, by arguing that he brought the royal family into Thai politics—this is a dirty thing in Thai society. It’s not appropriate to have high society running in dirty politics. Now Pheu Thai is in a very awkward position indeed.

It is noted that Thaksin’s gambit was  not supported by many progressives who believe that there’s no place for royals in democratic politics. Supalak doesn’t rule out a pro-royalist alliance between Palang Pracharat and the Democrat Party.

The comment that “Thaksin underestimated the King” seems self-evident:

the royal command on Friday night was not a law. A royal command can only be applied within the [royal] house, not to people outside the house and particularly not in the political sphere. So it was logical for Thaksin. He might have calculated that this outcome was possible, but he underestimated the King. The other possibility is that the King changed his mind—otherwise Prayuth might not have shown his confidence by jumping into the game.

Later Supalak adds:

The royal command is an interpretation of the law…. The royal command has implied that if you’re born into the royal family, you cannot resign. I think that’s a very ambiguous interpretation to establish the monarchy above the law.

Supalak dismisses analysis that has the king commanding the military and opposed to the junta:

I don’t buy the theory that the King is so strong. I understand that he is trying to build the influence of his faction in the military…. His power is not—well, he could not have consolidated his power already. It will take time to have everything under his control. From my understanding, the military wants to have their own voice…. Now we live in a situation where the monarchy and the military are in tension over who will control who. It will take a few years for a clear picture to emerge….

The King commands loyalty from some factions of the military but people like Prawit and Prayuth want to be like people like Prem—middlemen between the palace and the military. They’re building their own regimes but this might also take time as they each hedge their bets.

In moving forward, Supalak is, in our view, making a good point in observing:

If you combine the idea of network monarchy and the deep state together, we might say that the overall effect is the emergence of some new regime that combines the military, the monarchy and capital. Big capital is always willing to support the monarchy, willing to support the military. Pracharat is the perfect model for combining royalty, the military and capital. The difficulty [in consolidating a model] is the unpredictable character of the King.

On the king’s politics:

… the monarch is not interested in institutionalising its power, working through laws, custom, norms and tradition. We cannot simply say—refer to the constitution for the role of the monarchy. Every constitution in recent history has been designed to enhance, not limit, the role of the monarchy. The trend is towards a direct form of rule. The people surrounding the King are not trying to institutionalise the monarchy.

On the future of free and open discussion:

The trend will not be an opening up [of discussion]. It will be a closing. Look at what the King has done since he took the throne—the message has been that he wants the country to be in order, disciplined. Look at the way he dealt with the constitution. He amended the constitution after the referendum—that’s the standard by which he exercises power. It’s not the rule of law. I really have little hope and will be pessimistic that our country will be ruled by the rule of law…. We are living with fear.

Looking after the family’s interests III

22 04 2016

One of the unfortunate consequences of the junta running down and keeping him in custody for a couple of days has been that attention has been diverted from the ruling family’s nepotism (see here, here and here).

Fortunately, Supalak Ganjanakhundee at The Nation has an op-ed that makes some excellent points.

He begins: “Those Thais who still believe in the junta’s pledge of national reform obviously haven’t been heeding the words of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, his brother Preecha or the draft charter.”

Well, it might depend how one defines “national reform.” Supalak has a middle-class notion of reforming for the better in mind. Well, it might depend how one defines “better.” There’s undoubtedly a group of anti-democrats who appreciate the military dictatorship’s regressive and repressive regime, and they may even consider it “reform.”

But, we get Supalak’s point.

As he puts it: “Prayut, his clan and his crew have embarked on a mission to re-establish a … polity of patron-client bonds and nepotism.” He sees that as a problem with the “deeper structures of culture and society,” essentially unchanged since 1932. We don’t agree, but we do get the point. Culture is not unchanging, and Thai culture has changed substantially over the decades. It is the structures that matter, and these have been sites of struggle. The victors have become the elite and they now defend their decrepit system tooth and nail – or should we say with baht and bullet.

This is why there is some truth in the claim that while “the Thai people have indeed elected governments, … the country has in the main continued to be run by a bureaucracy and a feudal elite.”

It isn’t true, however, that “[p]olitical struggle before the 1973 uprising mostly comprised power plays among the elite.” Think of students, workers and peasant leaders being murdered, the communist rebellion that went on for two decades, separatism in the south over two centuries, the struggle against military dictatorship in 1991-92 and the red shirt rebellions of 2009 and 2010.

But, again, we get Supalak’s point.

He’s right that the “military has been a constant presence in Thai politics throughout modern history. Although the uprisings of 1973 and 1992 directly challenged its power, they did little to shake the foundations of military authoritarianism.” This is a very interesting observation:

The Thai army was established more than a century ago by the monarchy and run by aristocrats familiar with patron-client system. The Army looked modern, but the blue-bloods who took charge of its units, barracks and camps treated it as their personal fighting force – just like old times. Thai commanders have a tradition of employing soldiers and military resources for their personal use. Low-ranking privates, for example, routinely serve their bosses as house boys, cleaning, cutting the grass and washing clothes….

Nepotism is tolerated in the military….

Supalak concludes: “If it has been decided that nepotism and the patron-client system are okay, why maintain the attitude that Thailand needs reform?”

Again, we get the point. However, it is mainly anti-democrats who have been shouting about the need for “reform.” What they mean is that the old system has to be maintained and strengthened.

What he couldn’t say is that the monarchy is the keystone of this old and decrepit system of nepotism and hierarchy.

Panic and coup round-up

11 03 2010
As for yesterday, PPT offers a summary of some of the many news stories doing the rounds, and is by no means comprehensive. Readers should know that all reporting now is heavily biased and many stories are clearly manufactured or reporting manufactured claims. If anyone says they know what is going to happen over the next few days, they are probably not worth listening to. This is a work in progress for the royalist government and their opponents.

Abhisit says don’t panic: As several other commentators have pointed out (see Thai Crisis), it seems truly odd that, after days of stoking fear and panic over the forthcoming red shirt rally in Bangkok, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva suddenly says not to panic (Bangkok Post, 10 March 2010). This after he and ministers have spoken of terrorism, sabotage, grenade and bomb attacks and talked incessantly of violence. Abhisit himself seems in quite a flap.

Kasit’s baggage: The Nation (10 March 2010) reports that Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya spoke to diplomats and was reported to have stated: “Thai people have freedom of expression – but toppling the government in an undemocratic way is against the law and hurts Thai society…”. Of course, Kasit was and is a great supporter of the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy who held a record-breaking, non-stop demonstration, occupied the airports, saw their own car bomber blow himself to pieces and celebrated him, called for political changes even the king rejected as unconstitutional and wanted changes to political arrangements that would do away with many of the basic principles of democratic representation.

Warning the already frightened: As PPT pointed out previously, there are a rash of emails and blog postings that are frantic and frightened. The don’t-panic prime minister and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban have both said the grenade and bomb attacks are possible. Now there are many versions of the 30-40 sites considered possible. One list even states (keeping their spelling) that there will be “snipers around Skytrain and Subway stations” and adds, for good measure that “UDD men are going to burn down Grand Palace to pacve the way to turn Thailand to Republcian regime!” and that they will attack “Siriraj Hospital to Commit Regicide against His majesty.” Add to that the comments about Central World and Central Lardprao being “Main target for looting” and the claim that Chulalongkorn will be stormed and there will be “lots of hostages,” and the picture of stoking fear and possibly attacks on the red shirts is clear.

Journalism and the red shirts: The Nation (11 March 2010) reports that Thai Journalists’ Association president Prasong Lertrattawisut has “admitted that some media outlets were indeed being manipulated and urged the print media to be careful about the tone of its headlines.” He also called “on broadcast media to not vilify those whom they disagree with.” An interesting statement from the TJA which has been heavily pro-yellow shirt in the past and many mainstream journalists remain so.

Take, for example, the yellow shirt supporter Nattaya Chetchotiros in the Bangkok Post (11 March 2010). She is said to be an Assistant News Editor at the Bangkok Post and former President of the Thai Journalists Association, but still comes up with this unsourced (not even the “unnamed source” so prized in the press) comment: “One factor that could be a game changer, however, is growing dissatisfaction among rank-and-file protest leaders who have not been fully reimbursed for the expenses they footed beforehand. Each group has reportedly to spend at least 10 million baht a day for mobilisation. The more than one hundred grass roots leaders have begun to turn against one another and family members of the ‘Grand Master’, such as Payap Shinawatra who is supervising the movement from the Northeast, and Yaowapa Wongsawat and her husband Somchai who are taking care of the North. These relatives of Thaksin have approved the budget for former MPs or people who wish to run in the next election and they reportedly have not paid up in full, asking the protest leaders to make advance payments out of their own pockets. This money factor was also at play during the bloody Songkran riots and which the Thaksin side could not win. As this same factor has come in to play in this impending red march, it remains to be seen if the reds will see victory.” For Nattaya, there can only be money involved and nothing else. This is the standard middle class and elite perspective on the great unwashed who are marching on Bangkok.

Meanwhile, Supalak Ganjanakhundee (The Nation, 11 March 2010) has a bit of a surprise for Nation readers when he claims “The government, with collaboration from the mainstream media, managed to portray itself as an angel and the red-shirt group as former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s evil lackeys – ready to use all violent means to bring their boss back to power. Visions of last April’s bloodshed have been planted in the public mind many times a day to show the red-shirt group is nothing but a bloodthirsty monster.” Exactly. And by doing so, they make violence far more likely.

Supalak even states that it is not just Thais who fall for this propaganda: “Even a foreign diplomat like British Ambassador Quinton Quayle subscribed to such discourse as he rushed to see Pheu Thai Party leader Yongyut Wichaidit on Tuesday, to urge the party with its strong links to the red shirts not to use violence in the weekend demonstrations.”

Stop the red shirts: According to television reports, the efforts to stop red shirts getting to Bangkok have been increased. The television news claims that railway and bus stations are under heavy security. It is also reported that police and provincial officials have been ordered into to villages to have phu yai ban stop red shirts from leaving for Bangkok. It is also reported that the roadblocks are being made tighter between red shirt assembly provinces in nearby provinces and Bangkok. One claim is that the police and military are not going to stop red shirts, but intend to delay them so long that many will turn around and go home. Another claimed possibility is that there may be serious clashes at these roadblocks as red shirts break through. This would mean considerable violence even before the red shirts get to Bangkok proper.

Raising funds, preparing to retreat: The Bangkok Post (11 March 2010) reports that the red shirt rally organizers are raising funds for their rally. In fact, PPT has seen solicitations for some weeks now, and red shirts, despite the regular claims that it is funding by Thaksin Shinawatra that keeps them mobilized, have been selling merchandise and asking for donations for some considerable time. The Post claims the red shirts are short of funds, so their rally may be only 3-5 days. It is claimed that it costs 30 million baht a day to keep a large rally going – so just how much money did it take to keep the People’s Alliance for Democracy rallying for months, and where did that money come from?

The Post says “sources close to the movement” claim that the red shirts are “preparing to retreat to the provinces if its mass rally against the government in Bangkok this weekend falls flat…”. When they retreat, they are said to be aiming to “seize provincial halls.”

A safe place: The Bangkok Post (11 March 2010) reports that the 11th Infantry Regiment “would accommodate VIPs and emergency cabinet meetings…”. It is understood that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will stay at this base for the duration of the rally. Meanwhile, morning television reported that the queen has joined the king at Siriraj hospital and people have been asked to “not bother them.” Is Siriraj a safe house too?

A coup?: Acting government spokesman Panithan Wattanayakorn is reported in the Bangkok Post (11 March 2010) as saying there is “no substance to a report that there would be a military coup before this Sunday…”. He claims the “government has double-checked the story and found that it has no grounds.” PPT wonders how that conversation went?

Apparently this rumor developed “after people saw troops moving out of their barracks to maintain peace and order under the Internal Security Act, which came into force today…”. A spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command said “soldiers early this morning began manning checkpoints in Bangkok and seven nearby provinces.” In fact, troops have been out on the streets and working roadblocks for several days already. ISOC says more troops are being deployed today.

As far as PPT can see at present, a reason for a coup would be to dissolve parliament, but not for an election. Rather, the aim would be to reshuffle government seats and allow a civilian government to stay in place with even stronger military backstopping. Elections would be off the agenda. If there is considerable conflict over the next few days, anything is possible.

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