Punishment and pleasure

27 09 2020

Ever since the 2006 military coup, various rightist regimes have sought to lock up Thai Rak Thai/Puea Thai politician Watana Muangsook. Several failed attempts have accompanied numerous charges and several short stints in prison, a police cell or a re-education camp.

A couple of days ago the Bangkok Post reported that the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions has now “found him guilty over his role in irregularities in a low-cost housing project.” He was found guilty on “11 counts of corruption, which carry up to 99 years in prison.” In Thailand, that means 50 years as it is the legally maximum jail time.

Watana and Yingluck

The article is pretty opaque on exactly what he did that the court considered illegal, but “abusing power and demanding kickbacks” are mentioned for the time Watana was minister. “Abusing power” seems to mean anything the court wants it to mean. Demanding kickbacks is clearer, but no details are provided.

Several others considered close to Thaksin Shinawatra were also sentenced to jail time and fines. Anti-Thaksinism would seem to be a motivating factor as the original investigation after the 2006 coup, “initiated by the now-defunct Assets Scrutiny Committee…”. That seems to have gone nowhere for some time. It was later taken up by the post-2014 coup “National Anti-Corruption Commission which forwarded its findings to the Office of the Attorney-General in Nov 2016 after deciding to implicate [prosecute?] Watana for alleged violations of the Criminal Code.”

Watana made bail and he can appeal.

At about the same time, the Bangkok Post editorialized that the junta’s Election Commission (EC) decision “to clear 31 political parties of illegal borrowings could cause further confusion regarding the organic law on political parties.” It pointed out the double standards involved when compared to the Constitutional Court’s dissolution of the Future Forward Party on similar charges.

The editorial says the “logic for this [decision] appears fuzzy when looked into in detail.” But “fuzzy” is the EC’s usual mode of operation and any notion of law and logic goes out the window.  The Post reckons the whole deal smells of rotting fish. The editorial has more, and the EC has responded, also reported by the Bangkok Post but it doesn’t satisfy the logic test.

As far as we can see, the vendetta continues, even if the Thaksin clan seems to be engaging in considerable royal posterior polishing as it seeks more control over Puea Thai.





The king and his antics II

11 09 2020

Thailand’s king and his antics in Europe have attracted plenty of unfavorable comment, The most recent is from The Statesman. While we think that most of PPT’s readers will know all of the facts and antics recounted, we consider the article by Francis Pike, with our added illustrations, worth reproducing in full:

The depraved rule of Thailand’s Caligula king
Protestors are risking it all to take on the monarchy

Fu Fu

The Roman emperor Caligula was renowned for his extravagance, capricious cruelty, sexual deviancy and temper bordering on insanity. Most famously, before he was assassinated, he planned to appoint his favourite horse as a consul. This is probably a legend. But King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who ascended the Thai throne in 2016, adopted Caligula’s playbook for real. In 2009 the then crown prince promoted his pet miniature poodle Foo Foo to the post of air chief marshal, in which capacity he served until his death in 2015, aged 17. Foo Foo’s cremation was preceded by four days of formal Buddhist mourning.

The poodle first came to the attention of the general public when a video was released showing him eating cake from the hand of Vajiralongkorn’s third wife, Princess Srirasmi, while she cavorted in a G-string at the dog’s lavish birthday party. At a 2009 gala dinner in honour of Vajiralongkorn, Foo Foo was kitted out head to paw in black-tie dress and, according to a WikiLeaks-revealed account by US ambassador, Ralph Boyce, ‘jumped onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses, including my own’.

When on parade the new king wears crisp, snowy-white, gold-braided, Ruritanian military uniforms or elaborate Thai regalia that make him look like a Buddhist temple in human form. In downtime his dress code can at best be described as kinky: trainers and low-hung jeans paired with the skimpiest of crop tops. His back and arms are festooned with possibly fake tattoos.

Vajiralongkorn is famously lecherous. Indeed, in his youth, Thai aristocrats would pack off their daughters to Europe to get them out of his clutches. Happily for Bangkok’s elite, the crown prince’s tastes, after his divorce from his first wife, an aristocratic relative of his mother, were consistently low-rent. His second wife was an aspiring actress, albeit of the soft-porn variety.

Prince, and kids in earlier times

The marriage did not last. After Vajiralongkorn put posters all over the palace accusing her of adultery, she fled to London and later to the US with her children — apart from a daughter who was kidnapped and brought back to Bangkok. The daughter was elevated to the rank of princess, but her mother and brothers had their diplomatic passports and royal titles revoked by the crown prince. The Thai public was left horrified by his treatment of his family.

Another marriage followed in 2001, to the aforementioned Srirasmi, though it was not publicly announced until 2005 when the crown prince, by then in his early fifties, declared it was time to settle down. How-ever, in 2014 he stripped his wife of her royal titles because of her relatives’ corruption. Srirasmi’s parents were jailed for two and a half years each for lèse-majesté.

Sineenat

Five years later, on 1 May last year, and just three days before his official coronation, Vajiralongkorn married for the fourth time, to Suthida Tidjai, a former Thai Airways hostess, giving her the title of Queen Consort. The Thai people were dumbfounded when just two months later, the new king named his mistress, Major General Sineenat Wongvajira-pakdi, as his Royal Noble Consort; it was the first time this form of address had been used for more than 100 years. The new relationship lasted three months. On 21 October, Sineenat was stripped of all her titles and disappeared from public view, supposedly for being disrespectful to the queen.

The king’s extravagance is no less remarkable than his private life. A monarchy that was impoverished in the postwar period had, by some estimates, increased its wealth to between $40 billion and $60 billion by last year. Most of the wealth resides in land; ownership of some four square miles of central Bangkok makes the Thai monarchy the world’s wealthiest by a large margin. Overseas holdings include a major stake in the Kempinski hotel group.* Indeed, for years Vajiralongkorn has spent months on end at the Munich Kempinski with his harem and servants. In addition, he owns a mansion on Lake Starnberg to the southwest of Munich. In spite of his huge allowances as crown prince, affording him ownership of two Boeing 737s, it is thought that he had to resort to begging funds from the then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to cover his gambling debts.

Why do King Vajiralongkorn’s private shenanigans matter? Royal families throughout Europe have long weathered sexual and financial scandals. Juan Carlos may have had to step down as king and go into exile, but the Spanish monarchy has survived. So too has the Belgian monarchy after the former King Albert II admitted to a love child. There is no suggestion that Prince Andrew, cherubic by comparison with King Vajiralongkorn, will bring down the British royals because of the Epstein imbroglio. But the key difference is that, unlike Thailand, all those are constitutional monarchies.

Bhumibol and Ananda

In Thailand the monarchy is integral to the country’s real power structures. This was a 70-year legacy of Vajiralongkorn’s father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Bhumibol’s reign started under a cloud following the killing of his 20-year-old predecessor, King Ananda Mahidol, by a single shot to the head with a Colt .45 pistol. After a questionable trial two servants were executed for the murder, though it is widely suspected that the king was accidently shot by Bhumibol, his brother. For the first decade of his rule King Bhumibol was entirely powerless and lived under the rule of the quasi-dictator Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram, who, during the second world war, had allied Thailand with the Axis powers.

Bhumibol, Sirikit, Prem

But gradually, as Thailand inched towards a democracy, Bhumibol won the adoration of the Thai people thanks to his moderating influence and good works, such as paying for medical facilities for the poor. His political power increased. In 1952 he bravely refused to preside over ceremonies for Phibunsongkhram’s new militaristic constitution.** However, Bhumibol’s finest moment came in 1981 when he faced down the ‘April Fools’ Day’ coup d’état by fleeing Bangkok and raising the Thai royal standard at the military base at Khorat, where General Prem emerged as the new military strongman. There followed what is now known as the ‘Network Monarchy’ era, a coalition of military interests and those of the financial and industrial elite based in Bangkok. As a former American deputy-president at Thailand’s Bank of Asia noted: ‘Thai politics has been about dividing up the pie among the elite.’ At the centre of the web stood the Thai monarchy. Elected democratic institutions remained largely an adornment to this oligarchic structure.

In 2001 a business chancer and mobile phone billionaire, Thaksin Shinawatra, later the owner of Manchester City FC, swept to power with his Thai Rak Thai party promising a populist agenda including reform of health and education. Much to the chagrin of the ‘Network Monarchy’, Thaksin won a sweeping electoral victory again in 2005. Bhumibol, who loathed Thaksin, gave tacit support to the coup that first removed him and then sent him into exile two years later. Until his death in 2016, Bhumibol thwarted, either by military or judicial coup, the democratic will of the Thai people, who since 2001 have consistently voted into power Thaksin-backed parties and their proxy leaders. Bhumibol’s historic reputation, albeit tarnished by his thwarting of the democratic will, became an important pillar of resistance to Thaksin’s outsiders. After Bhumibol’s death in 2016, the critical power of the monarchy was left in the hands of his dissolute playboy son.

Will King Vajiralongkorn redeem his dire youthful reputation and do a ‘Prince Hal’, moving to the path of royal righteousness? The signs so far are not good. Just over a week ago, the Royal Noble Consort Sineenat suddenly re-emerged with no information other than an inventive Royal Gazette announcement that ‘It will be regarded that she was never stripped of the royal consort title, military ranks and royal decorations’.

More important than this saga of extra-judicial fiat, the king intervened in the drafting of a new constitution by the military junta in 2017 to grant himself new powers over the appointment of regents. In addition, the new constitution asserted the king’s rights to ‘manage’ during any constitutional crisis. Given that Thailand has had 17 military coups since 1932, this is not trivial. Two crack regiments have also been put under his direct control. As the political exile and professor at Kyoto University Pavin Chachavalpongpun has noted, the king ‘is basically running the country now, though he’s not doing that like his father did through moral authority. He’s using fear to solidify his position and to take command.’

It is therefore interesting that in the past month, demonstrations of up to 10,000 people have called for the powers of the king to be curtailed. Protestors have defied Thailand’s draconian lèse-majesté laws — which can incur up to 15 years’ imprisonment — to chant ‘Down with feudalism’. It remains to be seen whether the protests are a straw in the wind of future political instability. The new king’s attempt to transition from a monarch with influence within the ‘Network Monarchy’ to a monarch who rules is fraught with danger. But at least Vajiralongkorn is unlikely to come to Caligula’s sticky end; the king has a ready-made home for an exile in his beloved Bavaria.

*For discussions that reflect changes in ownership, see here and here.

**The refusal to attend was a fit of pique and self-interest.





With several updates: Royalists, recycling and ratbag rightists

31 08 2020

Watching the ultra-royalist Thai Pakdee group “rally” on Sunday was reminiscent of some of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee events. There was some yellow, some whistles, old head and arm bands, and the white, flag-themed t-shirts all seemed recycled from Suthep Thaugsuban’s efforts to overthrow an elected government and/or provide the political space for a military coup.

Thai PBS reports that mostly aged royalists rallied in support of the absent monarch and the junta’s constitution and to demand strong legal measures against student and pro-democracy activists. It was a full bag of rightist demands, recycled from earlier movements going back to the People’s Alliance for Democracy and the military-backed rightists of earlier decades.

Former Democrat Party member, former Action Coalition for Thailand member, and long-term yellow shirt Warong Dechgitvigrom led the rally, and denied he planned and “confrontation” with rallying students and other pro-democracy groups. He did not say that his assigned task is to rally support from the right and royalists and to provide a potential base for further military-backed intervention, should that be deemed necessary by the powers that watch over him and his ilk.

Like his predecessors, Warong blamed all of Thailand’s “troubles” on “politicians,” accusing them of “plunging Thailand into deeper political divide, separating the old and new generations.”

His claim was that his ragtag ratbags had:

come together to protect the [m]onarchy, to retain the Thai identity, to do away with all forms of monopoly, to attain career equality for all Thai people, through the application of technology, and to enhance national prosperity via a sufficiency economy.

He also called for the “Education Minister and all university rectors” repress the student-based activism by not allowing space for rallies and to stop “lecturers, who may harbor anti-[m]onarchy leanings, from ‘brainwashing’ their students.” In this, he is recycling rightism from the 1970s.

In addition, Thai Pakdee planned to recycle rightist demands on the Japanese Embassy to stop Pavin Chachavalpongpun criticizing the monarchy.

The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship’s Jatuporn Promphan, who has sounded rather royalist of late, said Thai Pakdee had “an extreme right-wing agenda, similar to a combination of the former Nawaphol, Red Guard and Village Scout groups.” We are not sure how Red Guards get into the mix, but his reference to Thai rightist heritage is apt.

The recycling of rightists and their rhetoric is dangerous, often leading to the unexplained/uninvestigated bashing of regime critics, probably by rightists working with the authorities.

It is dangerous also for regime and monarchy critics who live in exile. Rightist rhetoric gives cover and justification for the several enforced disappearances in Laos and Cambodia. These are very likely black ops by the Thai military operating on orders from the regime and the palace.

These acts of violence have been meant as “warnings” to anti-regime and anti-monarchists, to instill fear and to silence them.

Getting away with abduction, torture and murder in “brother authoritarian” regimes is relatively easily arranged, often a quid pro quo for similar operations by those regimes in Thailand.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

But it seems that this is not enough. The regime’s panic about anti-monarchy exiles in Japan, the USA and Europe is heightened, probably provoked by recent activism targeting the king in Germany.

The Nation reports on recent efforts to threaten those overseas based critics. Jom Petpradap, a “journalist living in exile in the United States has accused the Thai government of making veiled threats to his life and safety.” He has received a “package sent to him from Thailand [that] contained threatening materials” that made it clear that he is under surveillance and being followed.

Other exiles and outspoken monarchy critic Andrew MacGregor Marshall have reported similar packages and/or stalking.

Rightists in Thailand are also recycling Alt-Right inspired propaganda.

Thisrupt has a limited report on this development, noting that these conspiracy-based “revelations” of “plots” against the right’s Thailand mirror efforts in the 1970s to link student movements to international communism and efforts to overthrow the monarchy.

Something called “Thailand Vision” has been claiming a “plot,” backed by the USA – claimed to be promoting a “color revolution” in Thailand – and funded by Thai and international billionaires and capitalists. Like racists and rightists elsewhere, George Soros is identified as one of the culprit. Soros is remembered by Thai rightists as a culprit in the 1997 economic crisis. But his real “crime” is support for liberal causes.

In an elaborate concoction, Thailand Vision actually recycles claims made in earlier years by a self-exiled American, yellow-shirted conspiracy theorist who has been writing for one of Russia’s propaganda outfit, the New Eastern Outlook, which provides links to a range of alternative media sites, some of them anti-Semitic, others climate change deniers and many libertarian. Some of the co-authors have links to the extreme right in the U.S., including Lyndon LeRouche. and with connections to Alex Jones and much of the anti-imperialist alt-right.

In earlier times, it was Thaksin Shinawatra who was the “culprit” in motivating the international liberal/globalist conspiracy to bring down the monarchy. Now it is Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and international capitalists “behind” NGOs and international “co-conspirators” like the German newspaper Bild (for its tabloid journalism n the king in Germany), Business Insider, PixelHELPER, Freedom House, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and even Netflix!

In Thailand, “co-conspirators” include almost all of the NGOs and other organizations that are not rightist and sufficiently royalist, including the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, Thai Volunteer Service, Asian Network for Free Elections Foundation (ANFREL), Union for Civil Liberty, Prachatai, 101.world and The Isaan Record.

This might all sound bizarre, but in the recent past, such conspiracy nonsense has gained traction among former leftist yellow shirts like the late Kraisak Choonhavan and the regime/junta.

Recycling propaganda is about promoting notions of “threat” and mobilizing rightist reaction.

Update 1: We missed a Khaosod story about the ultras on Sunday. As well as one rally speaker – the youngest – seeming to incite violence and, later, calling for military dictatorship, coupled with a “Down with Democracy” screech, “speakers dish[ed] out conspiracy theories that implicate the governments of the United States and other Western countries in the ongoing anti-government protests.” Celebrity Hatai Muangboonsri said onstage: “Western powers want us to be divided. They encouraged a mindset that hates the pillars of our country…”. The reaction from the US Embassy was predictable. There’s also a strain of pro-China agitation from the ultras, who have mostly opposed Hong Kong democracy protesters.

Update 2: Two stories at The Nation deserve some attention. The first is about a street sweeper attacked outside the Thai Pakdee rally at the Thai-Japanese Stadium in Din Daeng. He was allegedly beaten up “because he was wearing a red shirt.” The story states: “It is assumed that the guard of Thai Pakdee royalist group may have assumed that Sukhon [the man beaten] had worn red to show he was associated with the anti-coup red-shirt movement.” The second story is a most unconvincing “denial” by Warong. Yellow social media is denigrating the cleaner as a “red buffalo” who got what he deserved as a Thaksin supporter. Fascism is on the march.

Update 3: In another story at The Nation, Student Union of Thailand spokesperson Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul insisted that the only people “behind” the student protests were the students themselves. She was logical in pointing out that the use of social media to raise political awareness among students and the young generation means that the students have a lot of supporters: “It wakes up many people. There are a lot of people who think like us.” She added: “It is human nature that if we know that many people share our views, then we have the courage to speak out … our fear is lessened…”. She added that she doesn’t even know all of the groups who associate themselves with Free People. Unlike Russian-paid trolls and yellow-shirted dolts, she’s brave, smart and appears (rather too) innocent.

Update 4: We added a link to Update 1 and corrected a point there.

Update 5: The Nation reports that Warong has “denied that the 15-year-old who posted a message on Facebook Live encouraging dictatorship was a member of his group.” He declared:  “he is not our member. I don’t know. Go ask him. He’s just a kid”.

Clipped from Khaosod

As the above picture shows, Warong is dissembling. He’s shown pulling a Thai Pakdee shirt over the lad’s yellow shirt. He’s applauded and lauded. Warong is trying to mislead people because he doesn’t want Thai Pakdee portrayed as it really is: an undemocratic, pro-military, pro monarchy mob that promotes the dictatorship.





Amnesty? Why now? I

16 07 2020

Why an amnesty proposal now? And why from ardent yellow shirt Kamnoon Sidhisamarn?

He and those of his ilk vehemently opposed proposals for amnesty under the Yingluck Shinawatra regime and even before that, including one by Nitirat. They used it as “evidence” of Thaksin’s control of the Puea Thai government. The proposal put forward by Puea Thai was flawed, not least because it provided the military and yellow-shirts an opportunity to mobilize and eventually bring another elected government. Even some red shirts opposed it.

It smells fishy to us.

Kamnoon is now a junta-appointed senator and was speaking of the junta’s 20-year national strategy when he argued that “an amnesty law for crimes associated with protest would return harmony to the country following political rallies since 2005 that had split Thais into two political camps and caused a widening division in society.” He added: “It was high time that the government imposed a law absolving protesters who were not criminals by nature…”.

We assume that excludes Thaksin and political prisoners, but this remains unclear. Or is a grand bargain being struck? Maybe readers know more than us? Comments are open.





Demonstrating double standards

2 07 2020

Double standards have been a defining feature of the judiciary and the so-called independent agencies since the 2006 military coup. Confidence in the judiciary has declined and the “independent” agencies are a laughable.

Even so, they continue to coordinate on double standards. The reports of the last day or so shout DOUBLE STANDARDS!

The Constitutional Court ruled on 1 July that the ruling party’s Bangkok MP Sira Jenjaka had not abused his authority when in August 2019 he jetted off to Phuket to involve himself in case there and “attacked a police officer … for not providing him with an escort.” The loudmouthed Bangkok MP shouted at the hapless policeman, describing himself as a big shot who should have police escorts. The Palang Pracharath Party hack now plans to sue the 57 MPs who brought the complaint. It remains unclear why a Bangkok MP was involved in local affairs in Phuket.

Then there’s everyone’s favorite convicted criminal and deputy minister, Thammanat Prompao, also of the Palang Pracharath Party.  The Constitutional Court also rejected a petition against him. The Court had been asked “to rule on the eligibility of Thamanat … holding a seat in parliament due to his wife’s business dealings with The Port Authority of Thailand (PAT).” This wife, one of two, “holds shares in Klongtoey Market (2551) Co Ltd, and the company entered into a land lease contract with the … PAT.” He was claimed to be in breach of Article 184 of the constitution. While that article is straightforward and applies to spouses, “the court said it found the contract with PAT is not monopolistic. Therefore, there is no reason for Mr Thamanat to lose his status as an MP.” We have no idea why a monopoly matters in this case, except for the Court is slippery interpretation.

We suppose that ruling royalist party MPs getting off is par for the course these days and that the cases might sort of slip by as “normal” these days.

But then there is other news that makes it all reprehensible.

It is reported that:

Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has found that former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra abused her power, in violation of Section 157 of the Criminal Code, for her illegal removal, nine years ago, of Thawil Pliensri, from his post as secretary-general of the National Security Council and subsequent reassignment to the PM’s Office as an advisor.

NACC deputy secretary-general, Niwatchai Kasemmongkol, said today (Wednesday) that the NACC’s investigative panel found that  Thawil’s abrupt transfer was carried out with undue haste, taking just four days for the entire process to be completed.

Readers will recall that Yingluck was unanimously found at fault by the Constitutional Court and dismissed from office for the transfer of a top security officer, Thawil Pliensri, as National Security Council secretary-general in 2011.

That, following the 2014 coup, the junta summarily transferred hundreds of officials counts for nothing. It’s okay when the royalist thugs do it under conditions where only their “law” matters via retrospective edicts and so on.

Now the NACC “wants to bring another case against former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions.” The NACC “will ask that Ying­luck be indicted for malfeasance and abuse of power.”

These royalist minions to the junta/post-junta are a nasty lot, but this action seems oddly vindictive. Why are they doing it? It is our guess that the regime’s bosses (again) see Thaksin Shinawatra as “stirring up trouble,” so they hit the family again.

 





Updated: More political prisoners

28 06 2020

Along with every other media outlet, Khaosod reports that, on Friday, the Supreme Court upheld rulings by lower courts against five leaders of a July 2007 protest that marched from Sanam Luang to the taxpayer-funded residence of the then president of the king’s Privy Council, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda. The rally accused Prem of fomenting the 2006 military coup.

Nattawut Saikua, Veerakarn (then Veera) Musikapong, Weng Tojirakarn, Nopparut Worachitwuthikul, and Wiputhalaeng Pattanaphumthai were sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for “illegal assembly and using violence to resist police orders.”

Fellow UDD leader Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn observed that these men are political prisoners. The five were immediately taken from the court to prison.

While the reports refer to the five as red shirts, it needs to be noted that the wearing of the color hadn’t taken off at this time and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship-led rally and march had most people wearing yellow shirts, which was a display of “loyalty” following the 2006 60th anniversary of Bhumibol’s reign.

Another UDD leader, Jatuporn Promphan, reflected on the double standards in the judicial system: “I once said to them that on our way of fighting, it’s either death or imprisonment…. Over the past decade, we took turns getting in and out of the prison.” Jatuporn is “also due to stand trial on the same offense…”.

The double standards refer to the efforts by several royalist regimes supported by the pliant judiciary to lock up red shirts and UDD leaders while those from the royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy and People’s Democratic Reform Committee who also occupied parts of Bangkok and several state properties for extended periods, with considerable violence, get off quite lightly.

Few of the reports said much about the rally at Gen Prem’s free lodgings, so PPT went back and looked at reports from the time.

Asia Sentinel had a perceptive report. It began by observing:

On Sunday night, UDD leaders caught police unaware by marching with thousands of supporters to the house of Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda, a former army chief and prime minister who is held in high respect by much of the Thai public due to his proximity to the king.

King, queen, Prem and military coup leaders

The protesters accused Prem, who was in the compound at the time, of acting as the puppet master behind the coup last September that ousted Premier Thaksin Shinawatra. They called on Prem to resign.

The UDD set up a makeshift stage in front of Prem’s house on Sunday afternoon and made speeches for five hours or so, according to witnesses and news reports. But in the evening, after the protesters vowed to permanently camp outside the residence, riot police attempted to break up the gathering and arrest the leaders, prompting demonstrators to hail rocks, chairs, sticks, water bottles and pieces of broken flower pots at the police, who eventually retreated.

Most reports put the UDD crowd at 5,000 to 10,000, with some counting up to 20,000. The police eventually mobilized about 2,000 officers. The police:

made two more attempts to arrest the protest leaders, charging at  demonstrators with clubs, pepper spray and tear gas. Each time the demonstrators fought back with fists, rocks, sticks, bottles and anything else they could find.

Weng said the protesters withdrew when threatened with the army, saying, “We didn’t want anybody killed from this event.”

The police claimed that 200 of their officers and about 70 protesters were injured. Six protesters were arrested and charged with “causing chaos, obstructing the work of authorities, and damage to state property…. Police were also seeking arrest warrants for eight or so other UDD leaders…”.

The report wonders about the police action, saying:

It’s unclear why authorities attempted to break up the protest this time as many similar
protests had occurred earlier without incident. Some observers said the army may have been spooked by UDD statements that the group would camp out in front of Prem’s house — an unacceptable scenario for generals who swear allegiance to the royal advisor.

It also notes Prem’s coup role:

Although Prem is supposed to be non-political as a privy councilor, coup opponents blast the 86-year-old for a series of speeches he gave a year ago in which he donned full military garb and said soldiers should be loyal to the king instead of the government. Many observers said the speeches set the stage for the coup.

The Irrawaddy (July 23, 2007) carried a report that royalists declared Thaksin behind the UDD. The then president of the Constitution Drafting Committee Prasong Soonsiri, cheered the arrests, saying: “He [Thaksin] is probably responsible for supporting the clash, and he won’t stop there…”. This was a widely held view among the military-installed regime led by former Privy Councillor Gen Surayud Chulanont.

Shortly after the event, the Union for Civil Liberty issued a statement:

Declaration concerning the avoidance of violence during a conflict of opinion

During a protest by the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DADD) at the home of Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda in the Thewes district of Bangkok, there occurred violent clashes between police and demonstrators. Alleging the part played by General Prem in organizing the military coup of 19th September 2006, protestors called for his resignation. As a result of the clashes which took place in the late evening of Sunday 22nd July, according to news media, 106 persons were injured.

The Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) maintains that the holding of non-violent protest to make known a political viewpoint is a civil right and a fundamental component of the democratic system. It is the duty of government to assure that the right of citizens to exercise this right is respected at all times, whether their action is against or in support of government, or to express other political opinion.

It is a matter of great regret that the protest on 22nd July last could not enjoy such a right to free expression due to the action of the police in blocking the protest march to the residence of General Prem in the Thewes district. The action angered some participants in the protest leading to the use of force and many casualties both among the protestors and the police.

To avoid the recurrence of such violence, perhaps on an even larger scale, the Union for Civil Liberty submits the following proposals:

1. Appoint a committee of persons acceptable to the public to investigate the events which occurred on the evening of the 22nd July for presentation to the Government and to the public.

2. Take court action against those who have acted illegally, whether the police or the protestors, in order that justice be done and human rights be protected.

Statement issued on 23rd July 2007
Union for Civil Liberty

So, for seeking to exercise their freedom of expression, these men are jailed. The regime that went after them was a junta-appointed administration that was vehemently royalist and anti-Thaksin. The double standards are as clear as they ever were.

Update: For another take on double standards, especially in comparing red shirts and yellow shirts, read this op-ed.





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.