Wealth haven

14 05 2020

The Bangkok Post reports that tone-deaf multi-billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont “urging the government to relax lockdown measures and welcome foreign travellers as soon as possible, and turn the country into a ‘safe haven’ for wealthy visitors.”

Now a member of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s billionaire advisory group known as Team Thailand, and previously a shadowy figure of influence behind several royalist regimes (and, once, of Thaksin Shinawatra’s government), Dhanin is speaking up on the economy, fearing that the extended lockdown is killing the economy. He’s right, but his perspective is that of huge wealth and massive privilege.

He is reported to have stated:

“We can’t wait until a vaccine is developed and produced in sufficient quantity to roll out to the entire population,” Mr Dhanin said. “The economy won’t survive that long.”

He said the tourism sector accounted for 16-17% percent of GDP and should be revived due to improvements in the virus situation.

Mr Dhanin proposed the government attract high-spending tourists from across the world by highlighting Thailand’s success in containing the spread of Covid-19.

So his proposal is to wind up tourism but for the wealthy, like him. Presumably he would also be one of the first to get any vaccine if it is safe and when available.

His perspective is that the poor majority in Thailand are there to be exploited by him, his companies and his tycoon buddies. We can imagine a “haven” for wealthy tourists, built on a service sector of low wages, low skills and great profits for companies like his.

Dhanin, clipped from Forbes

In fact, Thailand is already a wealth haven for Dhanin and all the other billionaires and multi-millionaires. Their wealth is built on their capacity to exploit the wealth created by Thai workers, enforced by a (military) state that works in their interests. The bags of money his companies drag into to fling at royals is part of their insurance policy on maintaining a wealth haven.”

A tourism “safe haven” for the wealthy includes “five-star hotels and resorts; we also have five-star hospitals and the best doctors…”, most of them owned by fellow billionaires. He wants a safe haven to make even more money.” Dhanin adds: “If we can make rich people feel confident that staying in Thailand is safer than their own countries then they will come.”

Dhanin and his billionaire buddies will also feel safe, so long as they maintain the protective shell of the military, prevent the king from too self-inflicted backlashes and keep the military-backed regime dawdling along. Dhanin’s pitch seems designed to nudge the regime along. We are waiting for the response. Will Gen Prayuth want to be publicly seen as a billionaire’s puppet?

 





Royalty and rewards

5 05 2020

Being a loyal minion of the palace brings rewards and for some rather grand rewards. At the top of the pile of slithering posterior polishers are privy councilors. Under the previous king, the old princes he initially appointed, their task was to build the monarchy politically and economically. Later, and especially when dedicated crawling former prime minister Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, the major task was ensuring that all that the government did had royal approval. This was seen in Prem’s control of military promotion for decades.

The now dead King Bhumibol was especially keen to develop links and clients in the judiciary. He appointed several legal experts and former judges to the Privy Council, some of who, in the 1970s, he managed to hoist into positions as unelected prime ministers.

The solidly royalist judiciary has been especially useful for the monarchy and the military as it battled Thaksin Shinawatra and his successor who dominated electoral politics. The judiciary has been politically biased, bringing case after case against parties and people seen as enemies of the ruling class.

Now Bhumibol’s son seems to be following in his father’s footsteps. He has issued orders that have essentially told the Constitutional Court how it should operate. And, no doubt, he has smiled on the dissolution of parties he (and the military leadership) sees as anti-monarchy.

This is a long introduction to Vajiralongkorn’s appointment of former President of the Constitutional Court Nurak Mapraneet to the Privy Council.

According to the Bangkok Post, Nurak “previously held many important positions in the judiciary including presiding judge of the Chaiya Provincial Court, presiding judge of the Phuket Provincial Court, deputy chief of the Office of Chief Justices Region 6, chief justice of the Court of Appeal Region 8 and chief of the youth and family cases section at the Court of Appeal Region 7.” As a reliable ally of the military, “[a]fter the Sept 19, 2006 coup, … Nurak was made a member of the Constitutional Drafting Council and later appointed to the Constitutional Court.” He became president of the Constitutional Court on 21 May 2014 and retired on 31 March 2020.

Most recently, Nurak completed his assigned task and as president of the court, oversaw the dissolution of the Future Forward Party and banned its executive from politics for a decade.

As the first linked report has it:

During his tenure as president, Nurak was responsible for dissolving six political parties, including the Future Forward Party in February, the Thai Rak Thai party and the Thai Raksachat Party…. He also voted to remove two prime ministers (Samak Sonntorawej and Yingluck Shinawatra)….

The rewards for royal groveling are now going to flow, so long as Nurak doesn’t annoy the erratic king.





Further updated: “The Threat” II

19 01 2020

Like some mid-20th Century Hollywood B-grade movie, The Threat emerges from the (authoritarian) political sludge to try to undermine and crush Thailand’s monarch and the monarchy. Yes, even when almost all the supporting actors are military and the regime is military-dominated and military-backed, The Threat is always there, eating away at authoritarian monarchism.

The Threat is most usually from those who oppose the military and its never-ending efforts to control politics. Under the current regime, where the military is in the hands of ultra-royalists and, in fact, where the king has a firmer hand on the military than at any time since 1932, “threats” are most often associated with Thaksin Shinawatra because of his electoral popularity in the first two decades of this century.

Royalist rightist Rientong

Anyone who attended the recent rally for the regime at Lumpini Park would have noticed the placards linking the Future Forward Party and its leaders to Thaksin. Also noticeable was the claim that FFP represented a threat to the monarchy and, ipso facto, the nation. These demonstrators for the regime and those who organized them consider FFP’s popularity and the urge for democratization to be a threat to the monarchy. We have no doubt that, scared witless by the red shirt rising of a few years ago and associated anti-monarchism, the palace and the royalists in government worry endlessly about how to turn the tide, especially among the younger generation.

Opposing The Threat involves not just all kinds of electoral cheating, constitution rigging and shoveling increased power to the king, but bellicose ultra-rightist thugs and expensive, taxpayer-funded displays of military power and loyalty to the king and throne.

On the rightists, the Bangkok Post has an unusual electronic headline (right) that seems to indicate that the recently unleashed royalist attack dog Maj Gen Rientong Nan-nah was thinking he might be king. It turns out he was just thinking of following the regime and its opponents and organizing a run/walk not for the regime per se, but “a run to ‘save the king’…”. Yes, so great is The Threat from FFP, a party in opposition, that the barking Major General feels the need to “save the king.” He’s been told to reign that idea in for a while. But watch his space. Once unleashed rightist royalists become murderous thugs.

All of this agitation plays into the bizarrely concocted Illuminati “case” against FFP at the regime’s Constitutional Court. Somehow we don’t think that this “case” will be the end of FFP – even the hopelessly biased Constitutional Court and its mentors could not be this ridiculous, maybe, perhaps. Betting seems to be that the Court will dissolve FFP in another case, where the Court will miraculously define a loan as a donation to a political party. In the end, the plan is to do away with Thailand’s third most popular party.

For the displays, even in his so far short reign, King Vajiralongkorn has had plenty, and he’s not even in the country all that much. He’s also had the Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong doing his bidding and a bit of his own in also barking about The Threat. He’s sees FFP as a bunch of Commie rats.

Clipped from Khaosod

An AP report on the most recent (waste of taxpayer money) display of defending the king from The Threat came when the king, queen and the most senior of his children (from wife #1) Princess Bajrakitiyabha “presided over an oath-taking ceremony Saturday at an army base where almost 7,000 soldiers and police paraded to mark Armed Forces Day.”

The report notes that “Vajiralongkorn’s presence at the ceremony was unusual, as Thai monarchs have rarely, if ever, attended the occasion, even though the royal palace and the military are closely linked.” The regime – and presumably the palace – linked the parade to the king’s coronation last May.

As ever, the military brass groveled and frog-marched to show their willingness to face The Threat, declaring: “I pledge my life to honor and sustain the greatness of the king. I pledge my loyalty to Your Majesty and will serve and guard Your Majesty till the end of my life…”.

The monarchy, military and regime are making clear their intention to destroy upstarts who comprise the contemporary “threat.” The broader ruling class – which should be worried about this concentration of power – is probably willing to go along with it so long as the regime that maintains the ruling class’s wealth is maintained.

Update 1: Leaked documents appearing at Somsak Jeamteerasakul’s Facebook page suggest that the taxpayer has been hit with a bill of at least 340 million baht for the Army’s display for defending the king.

Update 2: For an example of how “The Threat” causes great fear among regime supporters, try former Bangkok Post Editor Veera Prateepchaikul’s most recent op-ed. Veera’s a hack, but writes op-ed’s essentially for the broad yellow group that supports the military-backed regime. He’s been running a campaign against FFP since they did so well in last year’s election, and he’s obviously very frightened that, should FFP do well and not be dissolved, electoral democracy might make a comeback. Veera and his ilk fear that.





A new Privy Council president

5 01 2020

Following the cremation of former president of the Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, the king has announced the appointment of Gen Surayud Chulanont.

For many, this might seem unremarkable. As a former Army commander, Surayud was appointed to the Privy Council by King Bhumibol in November 2003. As the councilor closest to Prem, his rise to president might have been expected.

Surayud has been a controversial figure. In the Army, Surayud rose through the ranks as an aide to General Prem. He’s been involved in controversial and bloody military actions. In a still largely unexplained involvement in the 1992 murder of civilian protesters, Surayud commanded troops but, unbelievably, “he denied giving his men the order to shoot protesters.” He later commanded troops that killed all 10 Burmese who took hostages at a hospital in 2000.

It was under Democrat Party prime minister Chuan Leepai that Surayud was promoted to army boss, obviously with the strong support of Gen Prem. When kicked upstairs to be supreme commander by Thaksin Shinawatra, it was clear that Thaksin did not trust the general. Soon after, Surayud retired from the army and was immediately appointed to the privy council.

With Surayud and Prem said to have “played a key role in the promotion of General Sonthi [Boonyaratglin] to the position of army commander,” it was the latter who led the coup that overthrew Thaksin. Surayud was accused of being one of the royalist coup plotters. Surayud was soon plucked from the privy council to be comes the royalist prime minister appointed by the military junta.

For much more on Surayud, look at PPT’s posts since 2009.

That history of being close to Prem, close to the palace and anti-Thaksin might make Surayud the perfect choice for president of the privy council. The question is whether the privy council counts for much under Vajiralongkorn.





Royalist fibbing

5 12 2019

Someone at the Bangkok Post came up with a completely nonsensical online introduction to a typical laudatory Bhumibol story.

As shown in the clip from the Post online page, it claims:

 All Thais attended the activities held to mark the birthday of late King Bhumibol on his birthday that was designated as Father’s Day for the country.

The story itself does not claim that every single Thai attended a state-organized ceremony, but is full of royalist blarney.

For example, it is reported:

A highlight of the day was at Sanam Luang, where Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha led cabinet members and their spouses to hold religious ceremonies. He later presided over an exhibition to promote Father’s Day and the work of the monarch.

We can’t imagine that The Dictator, his wife and a bunch of second-rate and some corrupt ministers was a “highlight” for any sensible person. It is just another waste of taxpayer money for the aggrandizing of a wealthy monarchy and state-military ideology.

It goes on to say that:

Gen Prayut praised the late king for his tireless efforts to solve people’s problems — from inadequate health care to poverty.

This is rubbish, but a part of royalist hagiography. The monarchy’s attention to health was ineffective for the nation as a whole. It was Thaksin Shinawatra’s introduction of universal health care that made a difference. As for poverty, the dead king was keen that the poor be “happy” with their lot. He repeatedly opposed all notions of social welfare.





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.





Fear, the monarchy and democracy

17 11 2019

We feel the Asia Times interview with Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of the Future Forward Party is worth reading in full. We were most interested in the comments – or lack of them – on the monarchy. That’s the fear that resurgent absolutism had created:

Asia Times: Your party has already made waves in challenging military power. What was the thinking behind your party’s voting against an emergency decree to move elite military units into the King’s royal guard?

Thanathorn: I refuse to answer this question. My official answer would be our secretary general Piyabutr (Saengkanokkul) has already answered this in parliament. That is our official answer (related to the decree’s lack of transparency).

Asia Times: Some construed that as a direct challenge to royal power. Was that the intent?

Thanathorn: I refuse to answer this question.

Asia Times: Why do Prayut[h Chan-ocha]’s ruling Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP) members consistently try to portray you and your party as anti-monarchy?

Thanathorn: Because we have no corruption cases, we have never been in government before. I think that’s the easiest way to demonize someone in Thailand.

Basically, tyranny anywhere in the world you need to create an imaginary enemy. It was Thaksin [Shinawatra] before, an imaginary enemy of the nation.

So now I have become an imaginary enemy of the state. And the easiest way to build that momentum is to brand the person you want to demonize as anti-monarchy.

Thanathorn is clearly right in his comments on the monarchy and democracy. We fear, though, that democracy is the last thing the grasping king wants:

Asia Times: Is there an inherent conflict between an emphasis on unity and loyalty, and the push, pull and contest of democratic politics?

Thanathorn: Let me put it this way: Everywhere in the world where monarchy still exists, a sustainable and strong monarchy happens to be in a democracy.

However, if there is no democracy and there is a monarchy, the institution creates stress, enormous stress in that society.

So I think the long-term prosperity of the monarchy as an institution goes together with democracy. Unless and until you build a strong democracy, monarchy as an institution will not be sustainable.