Further updated: Heroin smuggling approved

5 05 2021

In one of its more deranged and highly politicized decisions, the Constitutional Court has ruled that Deputy Agriculture Minister and soon to be boss secretary-general of the ruling Palang Prachart Party Thammanat Prompao who “pleaded guilty to conspiring to import heroin into Australia” can retain his cabinet post.

Like the regime’s leadership, the court decided that spending four years in a “Sydney jail is not a breach of the constitution.”

Convicted heroin smuggler

Section 98 of the constitution states, in part, that one is prohibited from exercising the right to stand for election in an election as a member of the House of Representatives if they have been sentenced by a judgement to imprisonment and imprisoned by a warrant of the Court.

But, the hopelessly biased Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled that while Thammanat “had admitted to his Australian conviction … the … court could not recognise the authority of another state.”

The court stated:

We cannot implement the verdict of foreign courts, and we cannot interpret the verdict of foreign courts as having the same power as our courts…. The verdict of any state only has effect in that state.

The report quotes political commentator Voranai Vanijaka who says the verdict was more “proof there’s no rule of law in Thailand, only the rule of power”. He added:

Over the past year and a half, Deputy Minister Thammanat has become a key power player and deal maker for the [Prime Minister] Prayut [Chan-o-cha] regime…. He’s too valuable. He knows it. The regime knows it. The Thai people know it. The decision is to no one’s surprise.

Sadly, he’s right.

Human Rights Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk said:

This outrageous ruling nonetheless confirmed that he was sentenced [to prison] in Australia, which means his parliamentary testimony denying it is a lie.

With this shocking ruling by the Constitutional Court, now all sorts of criminals convicted in foreign courts could run for a public office in Thailand without a worry. Crimes committed outside of the motherland, no matter how serious they are, don’t count in the Thai realm of justice.

Sadly, he’s right.

Thammanat is now fabulously wealthy. No one has questioned that. It could reasonably be described as unusual wealth.

No wonder so many young Thais are despondent about a country run by military thugs, criminals and mafia figures.

Update 1: Thammanat seems to lead some kind of exalted existence. Prachatai has a story of Samart Jenchaijitwanich, Assistant to the Minister of Justice, who “has submitted his resignation letter to the Minister after Phalang Pracharat Party voted to remove him from all positions in the government and the party.” He was “Director of the Complaint Centre of Phalang Pracharat Party, a government whip, president of an anti-ponzi scheme committee, and member of other Phalang Pracharat Party committees.”

Samart was outed by Sira Jenjaka, a Phalang Pracharat MP, who “revealed that he [Samart] cheated on an English exam by sending a proxy to take the test for him. The test was a part of the requirement for a PhD at Ramkhamhaeng University.”

It was a “Phalang Pracharat investigative committee led by Paiboon Nititawan [that] voted unanimously to remove Samart from all political positions in the government and the party.”

As far as we can determine, Samart has not been charged or convicted of anything.

In comparison, Thammanat, in addition to his conviction for heroin trafficking, has a fake degree and has repeatedly lied to parliament, the media and the people. He also managed to barely escape a murder charge a few years ago. We know that Gen Prawit Wongsuwan loves, promotes and protects Thammanat, but his ability to avoid political damage suggests even more powerful support.

Update 2: The fallout from the Constitutional Court’s bizarre decision continues. Social media is scathing, parodying the decision, damning the court, and slamming the regime. The commentary is equally scathing. As Thai PBS puts it, the decision “has sparked outrage and ridicule and has added to the feeling of hopelessness…”. It cites Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University and an interpreter of Thailand for the English-speaking world: “This is arguably Thailand’s lowest point in its international life.” Titipol Phakdeewanich, a political scientist at Ubol University, said the verdict “continue[d] to undermine the legal system of the country …[and] is not based on facts.”





Updated: Mafia regime

26 04 2021

The monarchy-military regime is a mafia regime. We at PPT may not be very worldly, but we can’t think of another regime that has a convicted heroin trafficker as a deputy minister and as a major powerbroker in a ruling party.

Thammanat

Clipped from Khaosod

A Bangkok Post report alerts us to the centrality of convicted drug trader Thammanat Prompao to the Palang Prachachart Party’s electoral profile and successes. Thammanat has been assigned by Gen Prawit Wongsuwan to destroy coalition partner the Democrat Party’s electoral base in the south of the country.

The party mafia is using state funds to do this by appointing Thammanat “to supervise a national centre for Covid-19 coordination” with “particular attention to the southern provinces of Songkhla, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phuket,” all Democrat Party strongholds..

The Democrat Party leader “said the move may be designed to pave a path for the PPRP to eat into the Democrat stronghold in the future.”

Crooks have big appetites.

Update: Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s Secret Siam also has a post on the regime’s mafia links. This story relates to the regime’s coalition partner, the Bhum Jai Thai Party. Well worth reading.





Corrupt justices, corrupt regime

6 04 2021

Yesterday, PPT posted on a possible corruption case involving “current and former Thailand Supreme Court judges, as well as to the country’s top finance and justice officials…”.

Such a bombshell has received muffled attention and another cover-up might be expected. Even so, as the Bangkok Post reports, the Courts of Justice have felt compelled to provide a comment, although it is of the usual slippery variety, telling the taxpaying public that “they will take action against any judges found to have taken bribes linked to a tax dispute involving a Thai subsidiary of automaker Toyota.”

Well, maybe, for the claims are dismissed: “the office said claims without grounds that judges involved with bribery often happen during legal disputes.” Such claims were described as “bogus.” In other words, like Mafia dons they say “forget about it.”

Helpfully, Suriyan Hongvilai, spokesman of the Office of the Judiciary, “explains” that:

… the case in the focus involves a tax dispute worth about 10 billion baht between Toyota Motor Thailand Co (TMT) and tax authorities over the imports of parts for Prius cars.

He said the Supreme Court’s decision to review the dispute was announced on March 29 and the case is now pending hearings and has yet to be finalised.

He urged the public to investigate and not to rush to conclusions when bribery allegations against judges emerge.

“The Supreme Court has yet to hear and rule on the case. It just agreed to hear it and the granting of the request is line with laws which allow the Supreme Court to hear the case when it sees fit,” he said.

So, the Supreme Court decided to “review the dispute” and announced this on 29 March, the very day that Law 360 published the story “Toyota Probed Possible Bribes To Top Thai Judges.” That was just 10 days after the first media report of the Toyota case. How convenient.

The clarification is in response to foreign media reports.

Thailand’s Mafia dons also appear in a separate Bangkok Post report.

Palang Pracharath Party leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has thrown his and his party’s “support behind former national police chief [Gen] Chakthip Chaijinda for the upcoming Bangkok governor election…”. The junta appointed the sitting governor, also a former top cop, and Gen Prawit expects to be able to maintain that control.

To get the job done, Gen Prawit has reportedly assigned Mafia boss, convicted heroin trafficker, and moneybags, Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thammanat Prompao to arrange the election for the party.

That’s a neat idea: a former felon will assist a former top cop. Cops are used to dealing with “dark influences” in Thailand, often working in partnership for mutual wealth creation.

One of the outcomes of coup and military dictatorship has been the alliance of the twin evils of dark influences and dark power.





Criminal ministers and palace (dark) influence

1 03 2021

Thai PBS recently reported on the jostling going on for cabinet slots after the conviction of the PDRC lot. It reports “intense lobbying and deal-making.” For those old enough to remember, this sounds remarkably like the late 1980s and early 1990s as coalitions moved around and alliances formed to seek political bribes and positions from government and party bosses.

Back then, the ones manipulating the most were locally-based dark influences. Who is it now? It seems it is local dark influences:

The spotlight is now on controversial Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow, whose powerful faction in Palang Pracharath is reportedly jockeying for the vacant Cabinet posts.

Convicted heroin smuggler

After gaining fewest approval votes in last year’s no-confidence debate, Thamanat earned 274 votes this year — coming in second highest among the 10 targeted Cabinet members, matching the score of his party leader Prawit.

With changes in the Cabinet line-up in sight, Thamanat is eyeing the DES minister’s seat — which he tried but failed to secure when the government was first formed, according to a source.

Two other prominent figures in his faction are also pushing to “upgrade their positions”. Deputy Labour Minister Narumon Pinyosinwat is targeting the education portfolio, while Deputy Finance Minister Santi Promphat is seeking to swap seats with the Democrats to become deputy transport minister, the source said.

Thamanat’s faction has become much stronger since last year when his controversial past returned to haunt him. At the 2020 no-confidence debate, opposition MPs grilled him over his drugs-related conviction in Australia in the 1990s.

Now, though, Thamanat commands the loyalty of more than 40 Palang Pracharath MPs and has more allies in the opposition camp. The success of his network-building efforts was illustrated at the recent censure debate by the sizeable support he received

So Thailand now has a convicted heroin trafficker, one involved in all kinds of scams and businesses mostly known for their criminal connections, in a position to squeeze cabinet seats and power from the military-backed regime that is looking more like a gangster regime.

Speaking of gangsters, how’s the police promotion scam looking?

A Bangkok Post editorial shows that concern about police and regime gangsterism is beginning to worry some of those who are usually comfortable with military domination.

It worries that the illicit “fast-track promotion system where people, including the undeserving, avoid having to meet the criteria needed to earn promotion” is causing the police to remain at the top of most illegal ventures so that ill-gotten gains can be channeled around insiders..

This seems to include the palace, where the “promotion of Pol Lt Gen Torsak Sukwimol, head of the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB),” raised eyebrows, even if it was widely known that the king and his minions intervened, as the previous king did as well.

The Post wants Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to come up with a “satisfactory response to the … allegations.” The fact is that he can’t. He sits before the giant cobra, unable to act. All he could do was complain that the leaking of the police documents “should not have happened.”No one in the regime seems ready to stand up to the erratic and grasping king and his palace gang.

It was only a day after that editorial that the Bangkok Post had more on the police promotion scam, seeking to calm things down, claiming things are getting better. Was the newspaper pressured? Who would know? It just seems really very, very odd.

Is the whole country now under the control of gangsters and a mafia?





Updated: Jatuporn’s meltdown

13 01 2021

One of the not very well hidden tasks of the regime, sometimes supported by the mainstream media, has been to nitpick at the protest movement and exacerbate divisions and differences.

That follows a tested junta tactic of trying to divide and conquer former opponents in Puea Thai and among red shirts. This involved buying off red shirt leaders like the detestable Suporn Atthawong, who has been rewarded with legal cases dropped and lucrative positions. Those turncoats have assisted the military junta to transform into the current post-junta regime.

A more activist Jatuporn

Over the past couple of months we have watched United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, leader Jatuporn Promphan say some odd things and, finally, have a meltdown. His story is told by a seemingly gleeful Thai PBS.

Jatuporn’s role as a red shirt protest leader resulted in numerous criminal charges and several arrests, and he eventually served 19 months in jail when a court found him guilty of defaming the reprehensible former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva who led the regime that murdered red shirts. Jatuporn’s defamation was to call Abhisit “a murderer” who “order[ed] the shooting dead of the protesters.”

He was also seen court orders for 100 million baht “in civil rulings stemming from riots and arson attacks by red-shirt protesters.” We won’t go back over the details of these false charges. In addition, he faces charges of “terrorism, illegal phone-tapping, and provoking public disorder, as well as other libel offences.”

Many activists looked differently at Jatuporn when, in July 2020, he “warned student activists not to cross a line, by infringing upon the [m]onarchy…”.  Some took this as a warning that the students should be wary of yet another murderous military attack on protesters. Others, however, wondered why Jatuporn appeared to be defending the monarchy. Many red shirts who joined with the student demonstrators calling for monarchy reform were stunned by Jatuporn’s statements.

In September 2020, his commentary was taken up in an op-ed by the notorious anti-democrat journalist Tulsathit Taptim who used Jatuporn’s “advice” to demonstrators to call for them to back down. Referring to campaigns against royalists, it was stated:

According to Jatuporn, it is all right for dictators to seek to destroy or suppress opposite or different opinions because it’s what they do. But it’s not democratic, he says, if minority or unpopular opinions are condemned, insulted or forced to undergo changes.

Oddly, in 2010 and during the Yingluck Shinawatra government, it was Jatuporn who was accused by yellow shirts of supporting “majoritarianism” – in this case, supporting an elected government.

Two further outbursts by Jatuporn suggest that he has had a political meltdown. He has seen increasing opposition from former comrades, with accusations that he is a “traitor” and “lackey of the military.”

Staggeringly, Jatuporn has called for the UDD “to disband and pass the baton on to the young-generation protesters now battling for democracy. That push drew another barrage of criticism – this time that he was betraying fellow red shirts.” Some wondered aloud about Jatuporn’s motives and asked why, in 2014, the red shirts went off stage with a whimper. Was Jatuporn complicit in demobilizing red shirts? Some disgruntled observers suggested that Jatuporn’s paymaster had changed.

Then, he drew more criticism when he campaigned for the re-election of Chiang Mai’s provincial administrative organisation (PAO) chief, Boonlert Buranupakorn, himself considered a turncoat. Boonlert lost to a Puea Thai candidate who also had Thaksin Shinawatra’s support. Even other red shirt leaders spoke out against Jatuporn.

Just a few days ago, Jatuporn’s meltdown and slide to the other side was illustrated when he filed “a police complaint against some 200 netizens he accused of posting false information and defamatory abuse against him” during the [PAO] election campaign.”

Jatuporn said the “online attacks part of a concerted attempt to destroy his reputation,” something he seems to be doing for himself. Sounding like the regime’s nastiest of lying, cheating politicans, he vowed “many hundred more cases.” He seems to be taking a leaf out of Thammanat Prompao’s playbook.

We can understand that all those legal cases and the threat of more jail must weigh heavily, but it does seem that Jatuporn is doing the regime’s work.

Update: Khaosod has more on the UDD. It concludes with comments by red shirt activist Anurak Jeantawanich, saying “he would oppose any attempt to dissolve the UDD.” He correctly points out that “the large number of Redshirt protesters at anti-government rallies in 2020 prove that the movement is still a force to reckon with, and what the UDD needs is a new leadership with new strategies.” He adds: “Redshirts are against the dissolution of the UDD,” he said, citing an informal online survey that he conducted. “

As for Jatuporn, Anurak states: “I don’t want to use the word fired, but I’d like to ask him to leave.”





Land of (no) compromise III

17 12 2020

Having been in power since the 2014 military coup, the arrogance of the regime is sometimes breathtaking. It feels it has seen off six months of opposition rallies and remained strong and in control. Like its mad monarchist allies, the regime feels that “internal conflicts” and a lack of a “clear goal” mean that the protesters are done and defeated. Just a few more lese majeste charges, and it will all be over.

Clipped from Khaosod

The arrogance of power is such that those who in any normal regime might be considered a liability are feted as great men. Convicted drug trafficker, thug, serial liar, fraudster, fake degree holder, nepotist, misogynist, “dark influence,” and the remarkably unusually wealthy Thammanat Prompao is lauded for his political “skills” of using wealth and “influence” to deliver seats to the regime and to hold his people in line with the regime. All of these “qualifications” make him a favorite of the regime’s highest mafioso don, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan.

For all of the things that should make Thammanat toxic for anything other than a mafia government, he’s was to be given an award by the mafia gang, the Royal Thai Army. Khaosod reports that Thammanat was nominated to receive a Dao Chakra 64 award for impeccable behavior and remarkable virtue; something of a model for the RTA.

This award was to be given on the anniversary of the 63rd Military Preparatory School on 27 January in Nakhon Nayok, at a ceremony to be attended by Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

There now seems to be some backsliding, based on Thammanat’s “record,” but the idea that the RTA could even consider such an award points to both arrogance and a rottenness that underpins the military-monarchy regime.





Updated: Thammanat and his bags of loot

16 11 2020

The story about the nepotism involved in Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s dishing out of a lucrative taxpayer-funded seat to one of convicted drug smuggler Thammanat Prompao’s wives has caused many to shrug their shoulders. “It’s just what they do!” say not a few observers.

We think the indignation should be far louder. After all, Thammanat and both his wives are fabulously wealthy and hardly need more money sucked from the body of the Thai taxpayer. Yes, we know, the king and the leeches of the royal family do the same.

Thai PBS provides some more detail on the great wealth of Thammanat, his registered spouse Arisara Prompow, and his 25 year-old common law spouse Tanaporn Srivirach.

The latter was “[c]rowned Miss Thailand in 2016,” and was “handed a job in the Secretariat of the Prime Minister on November 10.” Tanaporn is reportedly “among a quota of 20 government staff who must be nominated and endorsed by the premier.”

Arisara is reported to be “worth Bt189 million according to the assets declaration Thamanat filed last year when he became an MP.’ Tanaporn was declared to be worth “about Bt63.6 million in assets…”.

And, former inmate now minister, Thamanat “is worth a whopping Bt886 million…”.

An example of a Hermes bag priced in Euros. Sourced from the internet.

That’s a total wealth of almost 1.14 billion baht. We can only guess at how it is that someone who spent four years in prison can be so fabulously wealthy.

Tanaporn’s declared assets included some “42 ultra-expensive designer bags,” including a “Hermès Kelly 28 in black croc worth nearly Bt2 million, a shiny Hermès Constance in alligator leather worth Bt1.4 million, and a Chanel 2017 rocket worth Bt680,000, among others.”

She “also has a taste for luxury cars: her garage reportedly houses a Mercedes-Benz worth Bt5.8 million and a Bt8.9-million Porsche.”

Tanaporn is among a quota of 20 government staff who must be nominated and endorsed by the premier.

As we have said before, it beggars belief that the National Anti-Corruption Commission just accepts asset declarations and never asks how it is that those making the declarations came by their loot.

Update: The Bangkok Post has got around to criticizing Tanaporn’s appointment and the regime’s “response” is lambasted. An editorial states: “It’s not clear how her experience would benefit her new position as an official in the prime minister’s secretariat office.” We suppose that her relevant experience is being the crooked Thammanat’s wife. He’s a big shot and gets what he wants (and says what he wants – his lies).

It is not clear why the Post thinks Thammanat’s heroin trafficking conviction in Australia is “alleged” or why this is described as a “still unresolved scandal.” Nothing is unresolved and “alleged” is wimpish when the Post has seen the official documents from Australian courts. Nor is it apparent to us why the Post decides to portray Thanaporn’s appointment as showing that there is “the possibility that nepotism was at play.” Possibility? Seriously?

Most of the rest of the editorial is on target. Thammanat should have been sacked months ago and investigated for unusual wealth. That hasn’t happened because he’s a crucial enforcer and fixer for the regime.





Lying liar

14 11 2020

Some pundits reckon Donald Trump holds a record for lies. These days, there are plenty of politicians who willingly lie, even when the facts are pretty obvious. But, in Thailand, one politicians lies reach levels of absurdity that they clearly have a more significant meaning than the usual complaints about politicians lying.

Thammanat Prompao lies more absurdly than anyone PPT has come across in more than a decade of posting here. There are plenty of liars, but this guy is the King of Liars. The champion liar. The liar to beat all liars.

There’s the one about him not going to jail in Australia, despite the publication of court documents.

There’s the one about the heroin being flour, despite the publication of court documents.

There are the multiple times he said he was suing hundreds of journalists.

We won’t go on. He’s a joke. But he’s also a minister.

Thammanat’s most recent lie is reported by The Nation. Referring to one of his wives getting a lucrative political position, paid for by the taxpayer, the King of Liars is reported as saying:

… his wife got the position after the former holder resigned to help run a local politician’s election campaign, and that he had no idea she had been offered the job until he saw her name on the list of new staff appointments.

Clearly this is tripe. So why does he do it? Because he can. And because he has impunity. More importantly, his lies demonstrate that he believes the Thai people and taxpayers in particular are idiots.





Updated: Nepotism and Thammanat

11 11 2020

How odd that we recently mentioned convicted heroin smuggler and government minister Thammanat Prompao in a post just a couple of days ago. He’s back in the news, with one of his wives – 30 years his junior a former Miss Thailand – suddenly being allocated a position within the Prime Minister’s Office.

Clipped from Thai Newsroom

Deputy government spokeswoman Traisuree Taisaranakul announced that on Tuesday, “the cabinet approved the appointment of Ms Thanaporn Sriviraj as a government official, with immediate effect.” Traisuree “said Thanaporn has been actively working as her husband’s personal secretary before the proposal was made to the cabinet.”

Clipped from Khaosod

Presumably she thought this claim would remove the awful smell of nepotism and corruption. But that’s difficult with a deputy minister with a heroin trafficking conviction, fake degrees and a gangster reputation, not to mention the murder case he got off.

According to Wikipedia, “Thamanat’s parliamentary declaration of assets in August 2019 listed two wives, seven children, and a net worth of about A$42 million, including a Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Tesla, and Mercedes-Benz along with 12 Hermès and 13 Chanel handbags, luxury watches, and Thai Buddha amulets.” That declaration also listed dozens and dozens of bank accounts.

Funny how the National Anti-Corruption Commission is uninterested in how Thammanat came to be so fabulously wealthy.

Isra News Agency, which has more details on the “interesting” assets declaration, says that Thanaporn drives a Porsche and owns dozens of luxury watches and handbags.

And, how is it that Thammanat is so wealthy? See above and add in gangster lottery contracts and similar shady deals.

So, why does Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s administration do him favors and appear so hopelessly tone deaf? We have the answer here.

Is this appointment going to look a bit like the Thungyai hunting scandal? It should.

Update: Wissanu Krea-ngam seems to enjoy rolling in slime. Once again, he has come out to support the cabinet’s convicted heroin smuggler. Like a mobster’s corrupt lawyer, Wissanu has defended the indefensible:

Wissanu asked reporters “why can’t it be done?” after being questioned about Tuesday’s controversial move. When pressed if the appointment of spouses and family members into government positions was appropriate, Wissanu said it wasn’t illegal.

Of course, others have also defended the cabinet’s “Don” and Palang Pracharath’s northern enforcer. In 2019, several deputy prime ministers and the prime minister supported Boss Thammanat. Back then, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, speaking after a cabinet meeting, “said that he would no longer comment on legal cases against cabinet ministers because they had been clarified by those involved.” Clarified means denying that anything happened in Australia, despite all the legal documents and Thammanat’s four years in prison.

Nepotism is, it seems, legal in Thailand. Just like unusual wealth, murder (if you are rich or in the military), shoveling funds to Sino-Thai conglomerates, etc.





The king and his rightists I

10 11 2020

Yesterday PPT posted on an award to Australian journalists for their reporting on Thailand’s minister Thammanat Prompao, a convicted heroin trafficker.  We felt readers might like to see the latest from one of those journalists. We reproduce it in full, with photos added by PPT:

King of compromise? Thailand’s Vajiralongkorn plays the long game in face of protests

By Michael Ruffles
November 8, 2020

The tyres hit the tarmac of Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport. The prince steps out in his army uniform. It has been a long flight from Perth, where he has been training with the SASR for months since completing four years at Duntroon, but his day is not over yet. The 24-year-old is off to temple on a political errand.

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn meets a saffron-robed figure, a monk who for 10 years was Thailand’s military dictator before being ousted. The sanctuary in the temple is a signal of royal support, and the meeting is a pointed one as political protests grow at the university campus nearby. It does nothing to quell the anger. It is October 2, 1976. Four days later the campus is the site of a massacre that haunts Thailand to this day.

When King Vajiralongkorn flew in to Bangkok from Germany on October 9, 2020, he landed in a similar political storm. For all the social and economic changes over the decades, young protesters are similarly angry at the military’s dominance and thwarted democracy.

It is also personal: the King’s life in Germany, the women in his life and use of taxpayer money are all the target of criticism, satire and outrage. Yellow-clad supporters counter that the nation, religion and monarchy are core to the Thai identity.

Exiled academic and royal critic Pavin Chachavalpongpun says it is as if “somehow politics got stuck”.

“Almost everything, if you just close your eyes it seems like we go back to 1976,” Pavin says from Kyoto. “The source of the problem has remained with the monarchy, and in particular with the same figure [Vajiralongkorn]. And with the kind of tactics, building up vigilante groups, supporting hardcore royalists to come out, using both propaganda and violence to intimidate the pro-democracy movement.

“This is amazing that we have changed very little from that point to now.”

Vajiralongkorn was an important, if perhaps unwitting, figure in 1976. Actors in a student play were accused of staging a mock execution of the then crown prince and on October 6 a coalition of right-wing militia and police launched a pre-dawn assault on Thammasat University. Forty-three were killed, including five who were lynched. No one has been held accountable. The army seized power in the name of defending the monarchy.

In the past month, protest leaders have been arrested multiple times, flash mobs have sprouted across Bangkok and tear-gas and water cannon have been deployed. Riot police have been out in force but unable to stop protest tactics adopted from last year’s demonstrations in Hong Kong. The words “republic of Thailand” have appeared at protest sites and populate segments of Thai social media with alacrity.

The three official aims of the self-styled People’s Party, or Khana Ratsadon, are the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a rewrite of the military-backed constitution and reform of the monarchy. The royal reforms they want include greater transparency and accountability, and to rein in the use of taxpayer funds at a time when Thailand’s tourism-dependent economy has been hammered. The issue of the monarchy is the most contentious and has brought issues that have long been suppressed by harsh laws and media self-censorship to the fore.

The tensest moment came after a Rolls-Royce carrying the King’s youngest son, Prince Dipangkorn, and Queen Suthida strayed into a protest zone on October 14. British foreign correspondent Jonathan Miller described it on Channel 4 as a “major security lapse”. The more suspicious saw it as a ruse to turn public opinion against the young demonstrators.

Through it all, Vajiralongkorn has stayed in the spotlight. He has lived mostly in Germany since 2007 and had the constitution rewritten to make it easier for him to rule from abroad, but has postponed his return to Europe. Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas made pointed comments about Vajiralongkorn being unable to rule from Bavaria, which has complicated matters. “I think the King is wise to not go back now because at least they want the story to fade away,” Pavin says.

Vajiralongkorn has also been greeting supporters. Together with Queen Suthida, his Noble Consort Sineenat and his two daughters, the King has walked among them, posed for selfies and offered moral support. At one such event last Sunday, Channel 4’s Miller stood behind a staunch royalist former monk and scored a scoop. He asked the King what he would say to the protesters.

“I have no comment,” Vajiralongkorn said, waving the question away. “We love them all the same. We love them all the same. We love them all the same.”

Miller asked if there was room for compromise, to which he said “Thailand is the land of compromise” before moving away.

Political commentator Voranai Vanijaka, the editor-in-chief of news website Thisrupt, says the events are designed to rehabilitate the prestige of the monarchy and strengthen the royalist base.

“With the King remaining in Thailand, royalists now have the presence of the King as motivation, something near and dear to fight for,” Voranai says.

“The royal walkabouts are designed to do just that. In recent weeks, we have seen increased activities from royalists, with more royalist celebrities coming out to lead protests and gatherings. This is a push back against the Ratsadon Movement.

“The game is to win public legitimacy, which side has more support, which side can claim millions, which is the greater cause, monarchy or democracy.

“The words by the King are as they are, something he’s supposed to say. Royalists say it’s a shining example of the King’s greatness. Ratsadon makes sarcastic memes and signs.”

Activist Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, who has led the push for reform of the monarchy and faces sedition charges, tweeted in response: “Yes, land of compromise. But protesters are arrested, cracked down on, assaulted. Those criticising the institution are kidnapped. Yes.”

Pavin, an associate professor at Kyoto University whose Royalist Marketplace Facebook group boasts two million members, says Vajiralongkorn and his immediate family have been filmed telling supporters in almost identical terms that they need to fight to correct a misunderstanding of the monarchy.

“Himself, two wives and his two active daughters are totally in sync, this is not coincidental,” Pavin says. “They have to defend the monarchy, that I understand, but if you read closely whatever these people say to the loyal subjects is the same thing. This has been calculated.”

As far as compromise goes, Pavin believes the King “did not mean what he said”. Talk of replacing the Prime Minister has been circling – there is often talk of a coup in Thailand, where there have been a dozen successful putsches in the past century.

Pavin says the fate of the Prime Minister could be a bargaining chip for the King, giving the protesters a victory. But it was more likely the monarchy and military wanted to exhaust protest leaders and outlast the movement.

“This is a tactic that the King has been adopting for some time now. I think eventually they just hope that the persistence on the part of the palace and the government would eventually win, meaning that as long as they can hold on to the status quo then they would emerge as the winner.”