Thaksin, monarchy and the pardon (again)

18 11 2011

Predictably, there is a huge ruckus in the mainstream media and amongst the royalist bloggers and social media activists regarding the still strange story of a “closed door” cabinet meeting that has apparently come up with a draft royal decree that might allow Thaksin Shinawatra to be included in the king’s birthday list of thousands usually released following a pardon, along with about 26,000 others in jail and facing jail.

The story originates from Democrat Party parliamentarian Sirichoke Sopha and is now a rallying call, arguably bigger than alleged mismanagement of floods, for the anti-Thaksin, anti-Red Shirt, anti-Puea Thai Party and pro-royalist opposition.

As important background, PPT urges its readers to consult Bangkok Pundit’s account of the history and process of mass pardons associated with birthday and anniversaries associated with the monarch. Pundit points out that the pardon issue is not exactly new, mentioning earlier posts on discussions of the topic. Interestingly, Pundit observes that: “Last year’s Royal Decree for Royal Pardons [under the Democrat Party-led government] had a provision that it applied to those aged over 60 and have a period of imprisonment not exceeding three years…”.

In addition, vociferous and dogged anti-Thaksin activist Kaewsan Atibhodhi is quoted as having noted that the requirement to have served one-third of a sentence was also removed by that government. Kaewsan stated: “Especially regulations that may be to the advantage of Thaksin is the regulation that those aged over 60 and who have less than 3 years of their sentence for the 2007 pardon there was condition that must have served one-third of sentence, but in 2010 the government removed his condition so for 2011 the Yingluck government has the freedom to choose either the 2007 pardon regulations or the 2010 pardon regulations as they prefer…”.

In short, the current government has indeed chosen the 2010 regulations. Presumably Kaewsan and other activists didn’t jump up and down when the Democrat Party made these changes because they knew that Thaksin would be specifically excluded. Now, however, they have gone ballistic.

In the current struggle, the initial claims by the Democrat Party, taken up by the media, focused on the “secret” nature of the cabinet meeting. But aren’t all cabinet meetings behind closed doors? Apparently not. One Bangkok Post opinion seems to imply they are not: “Unlike the approval of similar decrees by previous governments, this draft to seek a royal pardon for convicts on His Majesty the King’s 84th birthday this Dec 5, was approved in a meeting behind closed doors.” Funny, we don’t recall the Abhisit Vejjajiva government being “transparent” in its decision-making in the cabinet. This is perhaps now a triviality associated with this reporting, but every media endlessly parrots it. None seem to mention the legal changes made by the Democrat Party.

Reading the newspapers now has a decidedly retro feel to it, with all of the anti-Thaksin groups suddenly roused from their focus on alleged floods mismanagement, law suits and rehabilitating the Army. For example, the Bangkok Post has a story that cites the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) that explains “it will meet soon to decide what action to take against the proposed pardon.” Most analysts had written PAD off, but as PPT has argued, this is premature. PAD’s boss, Sondhi Limthongkul is also cited, and is reported to have “deplored the pardon plan which he said has piled pressure on the monarchy.” Sondhi claimed “the Pheu Thai Party was blatantly trying to destroy the rule of law…”. Calling this “despicable,” Sondhi declared that PAD would “not sit idly by.”

Meanwhile, the report states that more than “20,000 people signed up to a Facebook account opened by well-known television news anchor Kanok Ratwongsakul … to voice opposition to the decree.” Kanok is one of the anti-Thaksin and anti-Red Shirt mainstays of the mainstream media and closely associated with the anti-Thaksin Nation Group (see here and here). As can be seen in its annual report (a large PDF), both he and his wife held important positions at the NBC of the Nation Group.

Kaewsan is also reported. He said his “Siam Samakkhi group also protested against the royal decree proposal.” He (now) claims that the “royal decree was unconstitutional because it ran counter to the court’s ruling.” He shouts: “How dare you exercise the limited power of the executive to overpower the judiciary for the interest of one man.” That argument will have political clout, but Kaewsan neglects that the decree is a draft that has yet to be approved – as a first step – by the Council of State who look at issues of constitutionality.

Ignoring that step in the legal process, Kaewsan “called for the whole cabinet to be impeached, saying if it stayed, it would amend the constitution to free Thaksin from many other corruption cases. He also recommended Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra be impeached and said that as the prime minister, she could not deny responsibility for the planned decree.”

Kaewsan’s call was supported by yellow shirt, hard-core royalist and appointed senator Somchai Sawaengkarn who joined with the Siam Samakkhi Group (again). Somchai has been behind lese majeste allegations against several political opponents, including Thaksin. Somchai was supported by yellow-shirted Bangkok Senator Rosana Tositrakul who has a long record of opposing the current administration and its supporters. She was vociferous in not wanting an election in 2011, fearing a loss for the royalist party.

Also roused is Tul Sitthisomwong, a long-time PAD activist who is repeatedly identified in the media as “leader of the multi-coloured shirts.” The Nation reports that Tul has already “lodged a complaint with the Council of State against the draft decree. He said opponents of the decree would hold a rally at Lumpini Park today to air their opposition to pardoning Thaksin.”

Rounding out the reconstitution of royalist and anti-Thaksin oppositions, business and academics are reacting. The Bangkok Post claims: “Business leaders are uncomfortable with the cabinet’s approval of draft royal decree for a royal pardon that could include Thaksin Shinawatra, saying it could add political risk at a time when businesses are already suffering from floods.” It seems that capitalists fear more political instability.

Predictably, the Bangkok Post reports that a “large group of academics has joined the growing chorus opposed to the Pheu Thai-led government’s proposed royal decree to pardon jailed convicts on the King’s birthday.” Apparently “large” is less than 90 academics nationwide. Their attempt to be novel on this issue is to claim that the release of “convicted drug and corruption offenders … would further widen the wedge in society, undermine national security and create chaos.” Of course, their spokesperson is from the royalist political science faculty at Chulalongkorn University, which has been remarkably yellow. They even predict “nationwide chaos next year…”.

Of course, the Democrat Party joined these calls, claiming the draft decree “would undermine the justice system and divide society further.” PPT always finds such claims about social division and rule of law laughable when they come from this party, which perpetuated and enhanced “division” as the tool of royalists and in defending the rules and laws of the military junta. Abhisit “confirmed that his party would fight the proposal to the end as it would bring about national disunity.” What he means is that Thaksin remains the devil incarnate and the “national unity” expressed in votes can be ignored. And, he’d so love to have some outside force lift him back to the position he knows he deserves as premier.

The Democrat Party is already looking at impeachment on this case, along with the alleged flood mismanagement where, as reported at The Nation, it has already “lodged an impeachment motion against Justice Minister Pracha Promnok…” and six other Puea Thai Party parliamentarians, several of them red shirts.

So just as the floods have seen a rehabilitation of the military, the pardon issue promises a reconstitution of the yellow-shirted alliances of 2005-06. And, the legal challenges to yet another elected government begin.

Nowhere is this rounding up of anti-Thaksin elements clearer than in the call by PAD for yellow “civil society” to “wake up” and for royal action. Suwat Aphaiphak, PAD’s long-time lawyer saidd “PAD is likely to turn to the National Anti-Corruption Commission for help, as the royal decree is against several NACC laws. Any opposition to the draft from the NACC will provide enough grounds for the Privy Council not to forward the amnesty decree to His Majesty for endorsement.”

Suwat’s call to the Privy Council was supported by “Preecha Suwannathat, former law dean of Thammasat University and an ex-Democrat MP,” who “said the proposed changes would violate the law” and said “he hoped the Privy Council would exercise good judgement when vetting the draft decree if the government insisted on proposing it to the King.”

Interestingly, Suwat claimed that street demonstrations would not be the way forward as “nobody can match the power of the red shirts who are looking forward to the return of Thaksin.” So, as the lessons of recent years have been digested, the action will shift to judicial areas, where the royalists have considerable support.

Another take on this issue is from the red shirt sympathetic who are scratching their heads as to why the Thaksin issue is raised now. PPT has already posted Ji Ungpakorn’s challenge, much of which we agree with. Somsak Jeamteerasakul has said “the government should exercise laws for the public interest instead of that of an individual. He said many pro-Thaksin red shirt protesters had not been treated fairly. It was not right for the government to draft the decree to help Thaksin…”.

In what now can only be a footnote to the rapidly gathering political action is the question of “why now?” The mainstream media has been saying it is because the government’s popularity is declining, it must act now on Thaksin. PPT doesn’t buy this line. Of course, the government has to have a draft amnesty decree in place by the time of the king’s birthday and this important anniversary. It may have been delayed by the floods, but we are still left to ponder why it is that the Puea Thai government has decided to be deliberately provocative when it knows that this action will re-galvanize its opponents.

Royalism protected and promoted

12 08 2009

Prachatai has two stories of note on royal and royalist topics.

The first (11 August 2009: “Manager distributes complaint form for filing charges against red-shirt leaders”) reports on Sondhi Limthongkul’s ManagerASTV and the People’s Alliance for Democracy running a campaign against the “royal pardon” petition for Thaksin Shinawatra. PAD lawyer Suwat Aphaiphak claims the petition is a “violation of the Criminal Code, subject to many years in jail on charges of assisting a culprit and contempt of court.” The Manager website has a copy of a document that can be downloaded in order to bring charges against the “bad reds.” Suwat believes that the petition is “a political ploy to pressure the King.” Of course, there is no mention of the PAD attempt to pressure the king back in 2006, also by petition and also political. Suwat stated that he was “preparing to file charges against the red-shirt leaders…”.

The second Prachatai story (12 August 2009: “Government sponsors epic movie ‘Naresuan’ to urge Thais to worship the monarchy”) refers to the heavy publicity Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has recently had in announcing that the government would sponsor ‘Naresuan’, an epic movie about the ancient Ayutthayan king who saved the kingdom from Burma four hundred years ago.”

This is a second part of a nationalist exercise begun by the royalist director Chatrichalerm Yukol who carries the princely moniker of “Mom Chao.” He was also responsible for the boringly long ‘Suriyothai’ in 2001 (see below).

Abhisit claimed “that the legend of King Naresuan was meaningful in Thai history and to the Thai people.” He said the “movie is in honor of Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her birthday on Aug 12, and to promote and worship the great king for his bravery, endurance, sacrifice, patriotism and military genius which have contributed to Thai sovereignty up to today, as well as to raise the awareness among Thais to unite and love the country.”

Abhisit seems to have lost his ideological way and is reverting to the standard royalist ploys of hyper-nationalism tied to royalist myths about the past. Abhisit seems set on banging the royalist-nationalist drum, having the Ministry of Culture “give support to the production.” Sounding more royalist than ever before, Abhisit apparently wanted this support to translate into “Thais worship[ing] the monarchy which has contributed so much to the benefit of the Thai people.”

The Minister of Culture Teera Slukpetch explained that the cash to support yet another royal scheme would be from Abhisit’s so far ineffectual “Strong Thai Project.” And how much support? The Minister was going to consult Sirikit’s princely relative Chatrichalerm on this and then seek Cabinet approval.

One might hope that someone in Cabinet would have sufficient courage and/or intelligence to see this as another plot to subsidize royal ideas of little merit, but probably not, and more taxpayers’ money will go down this very large rat hole. Of course, being the wealthiest royal family in the world makes them deserving of even more support than they already get (and no one dares say how much that is).

The Suriyothai venture is worthy of some comment, and the Wikipedia entry has some interesting details. The director says that the “film was originally the idea of Queen Sirikit” and film was “financed by Queen Sirikit.” This support may have cost the queen as much as US$20 million. In addition, Sirikit’s backing, the Army and Navy were called on to provide several thousand film extras. At the time, it was rumored that the film was the most expensive Thai film ever made, but because of the queen’s involvement, no accurate figure is ever possible.

Perhaps that’s why the government is being brought in to fund this new movie

A media report claims that “Some of the queen’s contributions may be less fortuitous. Discerning filmgoers will not be surprised to learn, for example, that M.L. Piyapas Bhirombhakdi, who plays the title role, is not an actress. In fact she is Queen Sirikit’s royal dresser, or lady in waiting, handpicked for the part by her majesty.”

The rumors on why the queen got involved in this movie say that the queen sees herself as a reincarnation of Suriyothai. Paul Handley in The King Never Smiles (2006, p. 385) is more polite, but the underlying rumor remains.

While some might point out to Abhisit and his Democrat Party that there are contradictions involved in promoting sufficiency economy ideas while pouring cash into the vanity movie projects of some of the wealthiest royals on the planet. That would be a misconception, however. In fact, all of this goes together into rebuilding the shaken foundations of the Thai monarchy as the ideological core of nationalist-royalism.

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