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.

Updated: Shuffling the same military deck

26 11 2017

Readers may recall the columns of speculation about The Dictator’s cabinet reshuffle. There were all kinds of motives attributed to The Dictator. Pundits claimed he was trying to increase the dictatorship’s popularity, he was trying to boost the economic ministries, and/or he was civilianizing his military dictatorship in preparation for “elections.”

As far as we can tell, this was all wasted energy. What The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, did was maintain the dominance of the military. As we have said many times before, this is looking like a regime that is settling in for the long term.

The interesting thing in all of this for us was the position of the monarchy. In the past, cabinet reshuffles were announced by prime ministers and the composition of proposed cabinets was widely reported, with the king merely signing off. Of course, there may have been discussions with the king beforehand, but it was the executive’s political ground.

In our memory – correct us if we are wrong – it was only recently that the names involved in the reshuffle were withheld until after the king had signed off. As far as we can tell, there was plenty of discussion and even official announcements of the reshuffle list before the king signed off even under General Surayud Chulanont (see Bangkok Post, 3 October 2007). Again, and given Surayud’s previous Privy Council position, discussions may well have taken place with the palace and General Prem Tinsulanonda. Even so, the executive maintained its position.

Even under Abhisit Vejjajiva, put in place by the military in 2008, saw huge public debate over his cabinet but seemed to retain executive dominance (see Bangkok Post, 21 December 2008).

We have a feeling-cum-memory of the capitulation of the executive to the palace came under the military dictatorship. This means that it was all secret until approved by the king, giving even more political and constitutional power to the palace. Are we wrong?

Update: On the cabinet reshuffle, Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey has a view that it “can be seen as a very positive step for the gradual transition of Thailand towards a more democratic society…”. Seriously? He gives plenty of reasons for not believing him.

Palace punishment

4 03 2017

PPT has posted on the travails of former top cop and top aide to King Vajiralongkorn, Police General Jumpol Manmai.

jumpol-shavedAs has been something of a pattern when the prince-cum-king tires of people or he believes they have done him down in some way, Jumpol was first rumored to be in trouble, then legal cases were mentioned, followed by his disappearance. When he reappeared, like others, his head was shaved and he refused to apply for bail and entered guilty pleas on the legal accusation.

The Nation has a series of photos of what is a public humiliation of the former confidante to the king. Accounts on social media and The Nation report speak of dozens of photographers and reporters fighting for a piece of the new public face of the now officially disgraced Jumpol.

SuriyanThose reporters know that Jumpol is lucky to reappear – others, like Suriyan Sujaritpalawong have died.

Oddly, a later report in The Nation manages to mangle events, actually writing that “Jumpol surrendered to the Crime Suppression Division to face the charges…”.

The reporters also know that land encroachment charges seem rather “light” if Jumpol is really to be disgraced as others usually face lese majeste charges.

After all, not that long ago, former appointed premier, coup plotter and Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont was seen to have engaged in forest encroachment and nothing legal seemed to happen to him. He was still able to remain on the Privy Council as he apparently retained the support of General Prem Tinsulanonda and the palace. At the time, Surayud was seen as a leading light in the anti-Thaksin-cum-yellow shirt machinations against Thaksin Shinawatra and his parties and supporters.

Another reason for huge interest in the Jumpol case is that he is widely considered to have provided a link between Thaksin and the prince-now-king. The evidence for this is seen in some Wikileaks speculation and because Jumpol was treated as a Thaksin man by the former Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, despite his links to the then prince.

The police state they “have yet to charge him with violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, which involves lese majeste,” so it seems that this step is likely.

After his initial appearance, the military used one of their aircraft to take Jumpol to Nakorn Ratchasima for several legal matters associated with land encroachment.

One further step in the palace punishment process is to also charge family members as “accomplices.” These people may have committed real crimes, but their position close to a now “failed” royal relationship also places them at risk and they also get disgraced.

In this quite feudal and narcissistic approach to “relationships” has now seen Jumpol’s wife appear to be charged. Unusually, the police banned reporters from taking photographs of her.

She is described as having “turned herself in to police yesterday to face the same [forest encroachment] charges. She is reported to have “denied some of the charges against her, but allegedly made partial admissions during the police interrogation.” She was released on bail.

It is also reported that:

three other defendants had been released on bail after police investigators concluded that they were unlikely to flee. They were identified as Region 5 Police deputy commissioner Pol Maj-General Pongdej Prommijit, his wife Chanasit Pisitwanit, and her relative Manop Plodkhoksoong.

We suspect there’s a lot more to play out in this case.

Brotherly love

30 12 2016

The 2014 military coup was intended to make up for the failures of of the 2006 putsch. In many ways, that 2006 intervention was General Prem Tinsulanonda’s coup. He was deeply involved in planning it, ensured military “backbone” for the royalist coup and arranged for his Privy Council colleague, General Surayud Chulanont, to become prime minister in a royalist and military backed government.

Yet the 2006 coup was a failure because the coup masters misunderstood the nature of the electoral support for Thaksin Shinawatra. The old men who claimed Thailand as their realm and who opposed popular sovereignty mistakenly believed Thaksin was reviled throughout the land and not just in their royalist cabals and yellow shirted strongholds in Bangkok and parts of the south.

The lessons taken from the failure of Prem’s coup was that, in 2014, a far deeper and more extensive military repression was required in order to, as the yellow-shirted ideologues put it, uproot the Thaksin regime. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, General Pravit Wongsuwan and their junta-cum-government of military brass has been the ruthless military dictatorship that Prem and other palace-related monarchists wanted and needed.

This is why the grand old political meddler is so enthralled and enamored of General Prayuth. He sees a true “son” at work for the military brotherhood and for the palace. When the junta comes calling at Prem’s taxpaper-funded mansion, he’s so very happy.

As the Bangkok Post reports the most recent mutual posterior polish, General Prem was effusive in his praise.


Prem told the well-wishers who came to pay their respects to the palace’s chief political player that “he was aware of the government’s hard work.” He praised the dictatorship: “The government [he means junta] is exhausted and the prime minister, even more so.” Prem expressed his full support for the junta.

General Prem showered praise on General Prayuth, saying the “more exhausted” Prayuth is, “the greater success there is because the prime minister is committed to bringing happiness back to the nation…”. Prem expressed his full support for The Dictator, declaring: “I’m glad the prime minister and everyone here is dedicated to the country’s cause. We may be tired but we are not despondent…”.

He seems to view his palace and the junta as a team, running the country as only they can, with vigor and determination translated as repression and political regression.

He also “urged Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and the armed forces leaders to do their best to help Gen Prayut,” and drew on palace propaganda for support, mythologizing the dead king: “If one feels on the verge of losing steam, he only needs to look up at the picture of the late King who had endured hard work for 70 years. That is far more than what any of us has gone through…”. Nonsense for sure, but it is the linking of monarchy and military that’s critical for the new reign and for wiping out the vestiges of popular electoralism.

Naturally enough, General Prayuth took to polishing Prem’s aged butt, praising Prem’s “experience, ability and loyalty to the royal institution [he means monarchy]…”. So happy are the two together that Prem took Prayuth off for a “private meeting … that lasted about 15 minutes.”

Later, Prayuth explained that the old general “inquired about his work plans for the next year.” We assume his plans for political regression, deepening surveillance and a sham election were all ticked off by the palace’s man.

In the embrace of the dictatorship

16 12 2016

Political commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak is one of those who makes a living “translating” Thailand’s politics to foreigners. He does this from a safe position as the head of a Chulalongkorn University institute that has long been supportive of the status quo.

His latest op-ed at the Bangkok Post is far more than an effort to “translate” and more an attempt to rewrite history. He does this in a form that will be appealing to the great and the good who are “liberal royalists.” (On Thitinan’s royalist credentials, see his pathetic ode to the dead king.)

We won’t address every line of Thitinan’s attempted “new history” of the past decade or so, but select some examples.

Although we don’t read all of his op-eds, his first position seems like a new one for him. He “explains” the 2014 military coup as if he is a successionist.

In view of the royal transition that has transpired, Thailand’s interim period since its military coup in May 2014 has now entered a new phase. When the military seized power back then, the Thai public largely put up with what became a military dictatorship…. This rough bargain, whereby the military stepped in to be the midwife of the royal transition, has passed.

In fact, no homogeneous “public” exists in Thailand. Indeed, at the time of the coup, the public was deeply divided. So there was a minority – people like Thitinan, mostly in the comfortable Bangkok middle class of shophouses, apartments and suburban enclaves – who liked the idea of a military dictatorship. Indeed, many of them called for it and demonstrated in support of anti-democracy and military intervention. Most others saw repression and threats and fell into line out of fear and because the junta left no space for opposition.

The notion that there was some kind of “bargain” that allowed the coup as necessary for succession is not just lacking in firm evidence but provides a justification for the coup that is both unwarranted and ignores the military’s history as coup makers. Other writers have suggested that this coup is “different,” but this again seems like a measure of whitewashing the military’s penchant for power.

If we look back to Thitinan writing after the coup, there’s nothing of this. Back then, he drew a distinction between the 2014 coup and Sarit’s regime. Now he says the “Thailand’s putsch in 2014 deviated from familiar coup models in the contemporary period.” That’s because the 1991 and 2006 coups led to “a technocratic caretaker cabinet, led by a civilian at the helm,” and a return to electoral politics.

Thitinan is enamored of “technocrats,” but his claim about handing over to civilian leaders is not entirely true, with the 2006 generals handing over to a government led by General Surayud Chulanont, recently retired from the military and plucked from the Privy Council.

Thitinan, safe in his university institute, reckons the current dictatorship “was suppressive and authoritarian, detaining hundreds of dissenters and regime critics but the generals invariably released them. But the men in green have not killed people.”

He conveniently forgets the military’s role and the role of the junta leaders in murdering dozens in 2010. That was a “message” that opponents have taken seriously, but not, apparently, Thitinan. We can also mention the deaths of activists, deaths in custody and “disappearances,” because Thitinan doesn’t.

Thitinan also reckons the junta is good because it has kept “violence low, [and]… have kept corruption to a minimum.” Perhaps he can explain why almost all the generals who have declared wealth far in excess of what can be legitmately received in their positions in the military? He also seems to forget that, usually, the corruption of military regimes is not found or detailed until after they have been ditched (think Sarit, Thanom and Prapas).

Thitinan then dismisses opposition to the junta as “rumblings and chatters among critics and detractors calling for democracy at the expense of dictatorship. But these have been patchy and contained rather than large-scale and explosive.”

He views the constitutional “referendum” as an endorsement of the junta. He does not consider the threats, the intimidation, the prevention of the expression of alternative views. Indeed, that intimidation continues with court cases ongoing. All this is whitewashed through his silence.

The death of the king becomes a truly remarkable justification for a military dictatorship:

All of this was premised on a once-in-a-lifetime royal transition after the late King Bhumibol’s remarkable 70-year reign. When the day came on Oct 13, few doubted why it had to be Gen Prayut who made the announcement to a grieving nation. At that moment, in the Thai system, it had to be a military man who spoke for the Thai people and the entire nation. No civilian leader from any side of the Thai divide could have had the required gravitas, firm and determined, tinged with grief and sorrow.

This is bizarre, but it also displays the “acceptance” that the monarchy and military are linked as the Siamese twins of authoritarianism. It’s a system that seems to suit Thitinan and one he sees as some kind of feudal social contract.

But now that succesion has been “managed” by a dictatorship, he says it “is time to recalibrate and prepare for a return to popular rule by placing more civilian technocrats in government in the upcoming cabinet reshuffle.” He suggests this as a way to renovate the dictatorship. This faux “civilianization”:

… would boost government performance and lend more international legitimacy. A broad section of the international community has been critical of Thailand’s coup period but there are many sympathetic ears abroad as well. They knew Thailand has been going through a rare transition, and were willing to suspend judgement and wait. Civilianising the cabinet would show progress to Thailand’s friends abroad and pre-empt greater domestic scrutiny going forward. Some at home are beginning to ask why the generals are still so entrenched and dominant in power when the royal transition is behind us.

Bring in the technocrats! But let the junta “maintain control over security-related ministries, such as defence and interior.” There’s no notion of electoral democracy in this. Its anti-democratic to the core. Thitinan probably sees himself as one of those well-placed to move into one of those anti-democratic technocratic positions. After all, his predecessors have been well-rewarded by the forces of authoritarianism.

Promoting political allies II

15 09 2016

A few days ago, PPT posted on the rise of the new Army boss General Chalermchai Sittisart.

It seems the Bangkok Post’s military correspondent essentially agrees with us. Wassana Nanuam reckons that The Dictator’s promotion of Chalermchai was a “bold move [that] has surprised many.”

As we said, there should be no surprise as The Dictator is selecting a man “well-suited with what he called ‘the current situation’.” She means well-suited to managing the military junta’s continued control of politics, “election” or not.

Chalermchai is not from the Burapha Phayak clique, having never “served in the 21st Infantry Regiment (Queen’s Guard) nor the 2nd Infantry Division where Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon grew into their military careers.”

But Chalermchai is well “qualified” for repressing the junta’s opponents. The new boss “is from the ‘red beret’ Special Warfare Command (SWC) where he had served in intelligence and secret services throughout his career.” He served on the Thailand-Cambodia border during the Khmer Rouge era meaning he probably made a reasonable amount of money.

He also served under another red beret, General Surayud Chulanont, now a privy councilor. The report says he “formed a close bond with Gen Surayud.” That bond and links to the queen have been critical for Chalermchai’s rise.

Gen Chalermchai’s is not due for retirement until September 2018 meaning Gen Prayuth can expect “stability within the army…”. The report states that “[s]uch stability is important for Gen Prayut if he becomes a non-elected prime minister of an elected government.”

Chalermchai’s appointment is also a sign that Prayuth “wants to maintain close ties with Gen Surayud and strengthen relations with the Si Sao Thewes clique of Privy Council president [General] Prem Tinsulanonda.”

Updated: Promoting political allies I

10 09 2016

Military watchers in several media outlets seem to think that the selection of the next Army boss was “out of the box” because the choice was not from the dominant faction.

The Bangkok Post reported General Chalermchai Sitthisart’s appointment as causing friction between General Prayuth Chan-ocha and his elder, General Prawit Wongsuwan. Prawit is said to have wanted another officer.

The Post reckons The Dictator “went for an army chief from outside of the ‘Tiger of the East’ ranks to quash the growing assumption of a leadership monopoly which could sow seeds of distrust and stoke conflict within the army.”

The argument was that “unity in the force has never been more important at a time when the country is transitioning back to democratic rule…”.

That’s where we got lost. No such transition is likely. What drives The Dictator and his junta is making sure that they control Thailand’s faux democracy after an “election.”

Unity means loyalty and a deep determination to defeat the Thaksin Shinawatra “regime.”

This is why the other key appointment is Lt Gen Apirat Kongsompong as commander of the 1st Region Army. Apirat has shown a merciless hatred of the red shirts. He will shoot to kill if required.

That kind of loyalty is critical to the junta’s political ambitions into the future.

Another report at Reuters was a little odd. It states:

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Friday endorsed a new army chief in an annual reshuffle, an appointment from outside the faction that has dominated the army for several years, surprising some experts.

We don’t think the king could do anything like this while hooked up to myriad life support systems. How are such “endorsements” occurring? Who is signing? No regent has been appointed so the assumption is that the king is able and understands what’s happening. That seems unlikely.

Update: The Bangkok Post has more on General Chalermchai’s appointment. It identifies him as a member of the “red beret” special army combat unit. It states that he is “known to enjoy the support of Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda and privy councillor and former prime minister Gen Surayud Chulanont, who is also a red beret.”