Updated: On that oath

15 08 2019

The oath taken by the military-backed government’s new ministers – many recycled from the military junta’s government – goes on.

The oath is sworn before the king, and as everyone knows, the junta’s own constitution states:

Section 161. Before taking office, a Minister must make a solemn declaration before the King in the following words: “I, (name of the declarer), do solemnly declare that I will be loyal to the King and will faithfully perform my duties in the interests of the country and of the people. I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect.”

When this regime’s ministers were sworn in, the last sentence was omitted.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

No one is prepared to say why. Normally talkative ministers like Wissanu Krea-ngam have avoided talking about it. Opposition politicians and serial complainers have rightly stated that this is a serious breach of the constitution. Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has mumbled that this omission was “unintentional.” He refuses to resign and says that he will wait to see what the Ombudsman says about not declaring an intention to uphold the constitution.

Puea Thai Party MP Cholnan Srikaew told the Bangkok Post: “We don’t think it was a case of carelessness. Rather, it may have been [the prime minister’s] intention to evade significant phrases in the oath…”.

Based on the silence, evasion and embarrassment, we think that Gen Prayuth may have been told what he was to say at the palace. When the oath was first raised, Gen Prayuth “insisted … the oath was in compliance with the charter and, most importantly, in line with … the King’s advice that the government stay committed to serving the country and the people.” Add to this Wissanu’s first remonstrance, we think it is a pretty fair guess that the PM and ministers followed royal command:

Wissanu on Thursday said he would rather not answer the questions when asked by reporters whether the incomplete oath would affect the cabinet or whether the prime minister must seek a royal pardon. “One day you’ll know why we shouldn’t talk about it,” he said.

When a reporter asked him to explain for “knowledge’s sake”, Mr Wissanu said: “This is not ‘knowledge’ but something no one should stick his nose into.”

This means the agitation on the oath is not just a political issue but an issue regarding taking a stance regarding the further rolling back of Thailand’s political history and 80+ years of practice.

Update: The Bangkok Post, now calling the oath neo-feudal edit a “slip,” reports that “Chief Ombudsman Wittawat Ratchatanan said a review of the petition will take about two weeks and that the Ombudsman’s office will rule on the legitimacy of the oath on Aug 27.” Recent cases handled by this office have involved coffee shops, prices at airport restaurants and airport luggage. Ombudsman Wittawat is an Army General and Royal Guard with no experience outside the Army until he became Ombudsman in 2012. He has served with all of the former junta members and the last time he was asked about investigating anything to do with Gen Prayuth, he ran a mile. So there is no reason to think that this general will find against another general who is his boss, no matter how clear the constitution. (It would be good to be proven wrong on this assessment.)





Rolling back 1932 one piece of property at a time IV

1 08 2019

We have posted much about King Vajiralongkorn’s property acquisitions. An example was in April last year. This post is about a Khaosod story on the Vimanmek Mansion, which is a royal property. The story, however, hints at the bigger plans for the area around the so-calledRoyal Plaza.

Vimanmek Mansion was once a royal villa and palace. It was located in the Dusit Palace area, near the defunct Dusit Zoo, acquired by the king. It was a 72 room villa, first celebrated and used on 27 March 1901. It was a palace for five years. By 1932, it was being used “as a storage place of the Bureau of the Royal Household.” It was restored in 1982 and was open to visitors until 2016.

Following reports that it was “gone,” Khaosod reporters went to the area. They were told that the villa had been taken apart to allow work on foundations, with palace officials saying the “historic teakwood mansion will be fully rebuilt after repair works are completed…”. The work is said to be budgeted at 81 million baht. That seems altogether too low (see below). But, who is paying?

The story continues:

But here’s the bad news for anyone wishing to admire the mansion’s spectacular Thai-Western architecture once again – Vimanmek will not welcome visitors after the renovation efforts are over.

It won’t be reopened to the public. It’ll be closed off permanently,” an official at the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary, which manages the property, said by phone. “We don’t know when the renovation will be completed.”…

Royal Guards armed with rifles stood at attention, facing the construction site while workers labored….

Documents published online by Bangkok’s Department of Public Works and Town Planning earmarked a one-million baht fund for daily “accommodation and transportation” for the laborers, since they are not allowed to live on the palace compound.

The report includes mention of new ponds and an underground tunnel.

It seems highly likely that the “royal precinct” that has been created in recent years is set to be made into something grand and “fitting” for the world’s wealthiest monarch.





With 3 updates: Constructing the monarch

29 07 2019

As we have pointed out previously, when succession came in 2016, there were some commentators who had been predicting a crisis and an unraveling of the monarchy. Part of the “crisis” had to do with King Vajiralongkorn’s vengeful, thuggish and nasty persona, well known in Thailand. Those characteristics, along with his lust for women and loot, defined his life as crown prince. He was also known to think of himself a military man and imposed “military discipline” on those around him.

Self-crowned

There was no crisis, and King Vajiralongkorn has established his reign and palace in a series of moves that were marked by a legalism that saw him establish clear personal ownership of royal wealth, clear out those he distrusted or felt insufficiently supine, and establish greater constitutional powers for the throne.

Many international commentators regularly make the trite observation that the current king does not have the same esteem as his long-serving father. This is obvious, but this seems a way of pointing to the king’s checkered past and odd personality.

But, as this year’s king’s birthday demonstrates, the palace propaganda machine is hard at work, concocting an image for the still new king. For all of his personal foibles and the great fear associated with his erratic and narcissistic behavior, for the palace propaganda machine, nothing much has changed and it uses familiar and tried and true methods.

For example, he is now “our father,” just as his father was, continuing the paternalism that marks monarchy and which is, when required, used politically.

Yesterday, the newspapers were drenched in palace propaganda. In propaganda, that which is false and concocted can become “truth” if repeated often enough. And there’s plenty of that in the invention of Vajiralongkorn’s image. We won’t go through it all as there simply too much.

One example is the creation of the king as “sportsman.” Of course, this links to his father’s image, based on his making and sailing in tiny yachts for a time in the 1960s. Vajiralongkorn, who once played some football with minions and who, late in life, took up cycling. That, as far as the propagandists are concerned, makes the king “majestic in sports.” This concocted story will be repeated year after year and people will come to accept it and perhaps believe it.

The other thing to note in the current flood of propaganda that constructs the monarch is the king as military man. His father took on this persona in the 1960s and 1970s, but he was not military trained. The new king is, and is proud of this.

The propagandists say the king has “specialises in military affairs, thanks to his illustrious military background.” They mangle politics with claims that “Thailand is a democratic country with the King as the head of state and for a large part of the nation’s history, the head of the armed forces as well.”

The politics of this – in a country dominated by military politicians – is emphasized:

Thai soldiers hold His Majesty in high regard and are ready to give up their lives for his cause because there is no higher honour for a Thai soldier than to serve the country, people and the King.

We may be forgetful, but we do not recall these claims being made for his father. In an era of military and military-backed government, an armed forces drawn ever closer to the king means a more interventionist king. It also means that the military and bureaucracy are those at the top of the political heap and are ever more closely intertwined with the throne.

We have previously posted on the Jit Arsa 904 “volunteers” that have been created as a force for the king and to burnish and propagandize his image. A couple of the “tributes” to the king play up this group. Such activities have multiple winners, with the king seen as a great man and the “volunteers” getting reflected merit. But, another of the stories reveals – we don’t recall this in past reporting – that the Jit Arsa scheme is a military operation. It states:

The Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) serves as the coordinator of the project. It has set up a regional coordination centre in each of the four regions: the Central Plains, Northeast, North and South.

Given ISOC’s political role, taking over from the junta, and its history of political destabilization, surveillance, repression and murder for various military regimes and for the military itself, the overt linking to the throne is cause for considerable concern.

Update 1: As if there hadn’t been a succession, the king’s birthday message reflected his father’s mantra of “prosperity” flowing from doing one’s “duty.” The king was only addressing the already prosperous – “royal family members as well as senior officials led by the parliament president, prime minister and the Supreme Court president” – but the message is carefully relayed to the hoi polloi. The report also recounts that the king further elevated his first daughter, changing her royal title from the relatively undistinguished Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendiradebyavati to the breathtaking Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendiradebyavati Krom Luang Ratchasarinee Siripatchara Maha Watchara Ratchathida. Tucked into the end of the report is the news that the king also “granted Maj Gen Thanpuying Sineenart Wongvajirapakdi the title of Chao Khun Phra Sineenart Pilaskalayanee.” That’s his favored consort.

Update 2: The regime gave the king a very expensive birthday present. Reuters reports that the king “will be exempt from tax on some of his land property…”. It wasn’t that long ago that there was some fanfare when the Crown Property Bureau lost its tax-free status as its assets came under the king’s direct ownership. However, a new announcement now says “some of the king’s lands and establishments will now be exempt from tax…”.

Lands and establishments that are “used in state affairs, royal affairs, or used by agencies under the king” will be exempt as will properties “used in other affairs by the king or members of the royal family, for public interests, or used as religious places. Royal properties that “do not fit the above descriptions” will also be tax exempt for those “… parts that are used for non-profit purposes…”. Millions and perhaps billions will be kept in the royal pocket.

Update 3: Some time ago the then crown prince let it be known that he wanted to be a more “traditional” king. Since Vajiralongkorn has been king he’s been realizing that ambition, grabbing land and making royal wealth more obviously his, wringing increased powers from the junta and gaining command over thousands of troops and police. Now he’s gone a step further. When we mentioned above that he gave a title to his favorite consort, this act was more significant than we thought.

Khaosod reports that the title bestowed is “Royal Noble Consort,” making Sineenat the first official consort taken by a king since King Chulalongkorn Vajiravudh. That the event was televised, with the king anointing her while seated with the queen tells Thais that neo-feudalism is upon them.

Sineenat also received a bunch of royal decorations: “The Most Illustrious Order of Chula Chom Klao, 1st Class; The Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant, Special Class; The Most Noble Order of the Crown of Thailand, Special Class; and Rattanaporn Medal, First Class.”





From military junta to military-backed government

20 07 2019

Recently, King Vajiralongkorn returned to Thailand to swear-in the “new” cabinet. Beside his new wife, the king resembled his father in mumbling “that it was normal that, in the process of doing a job, there will be problems, and that it was normal that they must be solved at the core so the administration of the country can proceed smoothly.” Exactly like his father, the king urged the ministers “to perform their duties for the happiness of the people and the security of the country, as they had pledged to do during the swearing-in ceremony.”

Interestingly, Thai PBS chose to interpret this oft-repeated soliloquy as the king having “offered moral support to Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha and his cabinet ministers…”.

With a fractious and grasping coalition Gen Prayuth is going to have to have plenty in his sack of slush funds for keeping his men and women together in government.

What kind of government is this “new” administration? Opponents like Pithaya Pookaman say it is just no longer a junta but a military-backed regime. Others see it as a facade and “a purportedly civilian government…”. One of the most obvious signs of the junta wolf having donned sheep’s clothing is the fact that junta figures continue to dominate cabinet and all the key ministries. The other ministries are the trough that the coalition parties will slosh around in.

Even so, Prayuth has plenty of challenges, including having mafia-like figures in his cabinet.

Likely to be one of the easiest to see off is likely to be the Constitutional Court’s consideration of “the Opposition’s petition, claiming that General Prayut is unqualified to be prime minister in accordance with Section 170 (paragraph 3) and Section 82 of the Constitution.” Based on its previous politicized decisions, we don’t expect the Court to move against Gen Prayuth.

The other case the Constitutional Court has taken on can potentially strengthen Gen Prayuth and his government. It decided “to accept for consideration a petition accusing the Future Forward party, its leader, secretary-general and the executive committee of engaging in activities deemed a threat to the country’s constitutional monarchy.”

Interestingly, the Court was split 5-4 on accepting the case. But, if proven for the Court, Future Forward could be dissolved. Worse charges of lese majeste and sedition could easily follow, seeing politicians being locked up.

Clipped from Khaosod

Getting rid of yet another political party defined as opponents of the ruling class and the military-monarchy twinning may result in instability, but it seems pretty clear that Gen Prayuth can rely on the support of those with war weapons. Indeed, in recent days, the military and police have announced full support for the “new” government. Expect political repression to continue.

If all else fails – the deals, the loot and the repression – expect a military coup. If Gen Prayuth retains support among the ruling class and in the palace, a coup would support him. If he loses their confidence that he can protect and promote the interests of ruling class and palace, then a coup against him might see Gen Apirat Kongsompong put in the premier’s chair.





Still using monarchy

16 07 2019

As is to be expected, anti-democrats and ultra-royalists continue to make use of monarchy for their own political purposes and benefit.

Conservatives have for some time been warned off using lese majeste, the current king apparently believing that it does him damage and that it has not been effective in silencing all critics – murders and enforced disappearances have worked a treat.

But the conservatives have found other means of using the monarchy against political opponents. Khaosod reports that serial complainer Srisuwan Janya, “filed the royal defamation complaint against Future Forward Party’s Pannika Wanich in June,” but that is not all it seems. In fact, the complaint is not lese majeste but a complaint to the National Anti-Corruption Commission. He wants “Pannika removed from office, on allegations that Pannika mocked the late King Bhumibol in a 2010 graduation photo.”

The newspaper reports that the NACC, which seldom seriously investigated complaints against the military junta, seems to be actively pursuing the case.

Monarchy remains a useful tool for anti-democrats and ultra-royalists in defeating political opponent.





Rich royals seldom in Thailand

16 07 2019

We suppose that if one has all the loot in the world – well, perhaps just a paltry $50-60 billion – one can choose to live wherever one wants and maybe in more than one place.

It is known that King Vajiralongkorn has resided in Europe for quite a few years, with a preference for the area around Munich and with a recent penchant for Switzerland. He appears to enjoy biking, strawberry picking, buying antiques, hiking, skiing, mountains, fast and expensive cars and so on. Very European. Very expensive.

It seems the king’s second daughter shares her father’s love of Europe and for spending money. Society magazine Thailand Tatler devotes lots of space to Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana with its latest story on her most recent residence in Paris. It breathlessly writes of her “elegant surroundings of her Bougival residence, the accomplished designer, sportswoman and patron of the arts tells Thailand Tatler about her passions for fashion, horses and high culture.”

Clipped from Thailand Tatler

All very expensive.

The Tatler describes her as an “archetypal young person with ambition, drive, a zest for life and the determination to do something positive with it.” Positive seems to mean living in a mansion in Paris and living like, well, a princess of yore. Despite living the life of a wealthy royal she is said to “work hard.” Unfortunately, the article neglects to say what work she actually does apart from a bit of “fashion design” or bobbling along on expensive horses, which sounds rather unlike real work. The story is of a princess spending a fortune doing what she thinks is fun. The “training” in horsey stuff must cost a princess’s ransom.

What the story does do is recycle all the guff that has previously appeared in making her “princess narrative” that dedicated royalists soak up.

The article concludes that “[r]oyal duties and work notwithstanding, she is also a globetrotter. ‘Greece and the South of France are at the top of my favourite destinations list,’ she smiles. And I love Paris, so I visit all three quite often’.” It must be great to have all that loot and to spend it with gay abandon in places other than Thailand. What fun. What are the plebs doing?





Updated: Open-mouthed disbelief II

11 07 2019

Not long after our post on mafia-like figure and new deputy minister from the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party, Thammanat Prompao, the Bangkok Post has published perhaps the best-ever self-incriminating interview in recent memory. It carries the seemingly ironic e-headline “I’m innocent.”

Apparently responding to the AFP story from 1998 that’s being widely circulated – and more – Capt Thammanat digs a very deep hole. Whether it is used to bury his political career (again) remains to be seen, with the junta-anointed lookalike government needing every soldier, anti-democrat and mafia figure it can lay its grimy hands on. And, the junta’s legal eagle Wissanu Krea-ngam – a member of the “new” cabinet that includes Thammanat and several other dodgy figures – has stated that “said Capt. Thammanat Prompao’s eligibility for a seat in the cabinet is not in question because he is not being prosecuted by the Thai judiciary.”

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

Thammanat has “dismissed reports about his past criminal record, claiming he was innocent and the opposition was trying to discredit him.” He does a pretty good job of discrediting himself.

As we posted, Thammanat is accused of having been “convicted and jailed in Australia in a case involving heroin…”. He is also “linked to a [rape and] murder case of an academic whose body was dumped in Si Sa Ket in 1998, but later acquitted. His involvement in the latter case led to the removal of his military rank but it was reinstated later.”

Thammanat spoke about his time in Australia, claiming that his jail sentence there was all “a misunderstanding about his case in Australia 30 years ago, when he was a second lieutenant.”

He denied being at all involved in the “import, produce or deal[ing] heroin.” He claims he was “on vacation in Sydney…”, and was “unfortunate to have been in the same place at the same time as some drug offenders.” According to Thammanat, Australian police were not so convinced and he was jailed, with “another Thai,” for “knowing about and failing to report knowledge of drug dealing to police…”. He claims this to be a “petty offence,” which is not entirely accurate. He also says he denied the charge, but he was convicted.

What is then even more odd in his “story” is that he claims that, having arrived in Australia “on vacation,” he then lived and worked in Sydney “for four years.” However, he was “deported to Thailand because of a policy by the then Sydney mayor, who didn’t welcome Asians who formed groups and had no permanent residence.” That he was deported suggests thta there is more to the story than he lets on. The claim that it was due to the policy of a “mayor” is ridiculous nonsense. In Australia mayors have no authority over immigration, which is a task for the Australian Federal government. Thammanat “insisted he was not deported to serve time for a drug sentence as claimed by some reports.”

We may assume that Thammanat is confused or is obfuscating.

But he also has the “get-out-of-jail-free card” that has long been available to rogues and other criminals: He puffed out his royalist chest and declared: “I’ve never violated constitutional laws and I was cleared by a royal pardon absolving guilt granted by His Majesty the King in 2017.”

Case closed, he hopes. Somehow we doubt it.

There’s a long, long list of mafia-like allegations that will haunt the “new” government for as long as Thammanat is with it:

… Thammanat also owned one of the five largest companies that received quotas to sell government lottery. He reportedly gave it up after a talk with army Gen Apirat Kongsompong, who chairs the Government Lottery Board.

So what happened there? Who benefited from this relinquishing of a valuable, mafia-like racket?

Just last year, “police also found him to be one of the recipients of the shares of DNA, a company involved in a 797-million-baht bitcoin fraud.” Where did that loot go? Who benefited? We can’t wait to see his assets declaration.

Update: Remarkably, the Bangkok Post now has two stories posted under virtually the same e-headline, “I’m innocent” and “I am innocent.” The former we used and quoted above. The latter is by reporters Wassana Nanuam and Aekarach Sattaburuth. The latter is gentle, even supine. It tells a story that seems meant to be a little more supportive to Thammanat, but adds more details that damn him and suggest he’s struggling to get his story straight.