Criticism = sedition

11 12 2017

Criticism = sedition if the critic is considered an “opponent,” meaning a red shirt, a Thaksinista or a member of the Puea Thai Party.

A few days ago we posted on Peau Thai Party one-time deputy spokeswoman Sunisa Lertpakawat making some basic criticisms of the military regime which were not all that different from criticisms in the mainstream media.

This led the prickly junta to file charges against her. It has singled out “opponents” in the past for special “legal” attention, including the crude use of lese majeste against Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa as one among several thousand who shared an accurate news story on King Vajiralongkorn.

The junta has now filed a sedition case against her and several more.

The Nation reports that she will report to the police to acknowledge “six charges … for allegedly committing sedition and violating the Computer Crime bill by uploading false information to her Facebook page.

The Dictator and his junta are a gaggle of spineless cowards, unwilling to accept criticism from political opponents. Indeed, in a sign of deepening repression, they are turning on allies in a campaign that cannot go well for Thailand.





Military and monarchy as Siamese twins

10 12 2017

The Asia Times has another long commentary on Thailand’s political predicament by Shawn Crispin. There’s some interesting bits and pieces.

For one thing, it is stated that in “the lead-up to the cremation of … King Bhumibol …, authorities rounded up 42 suspects at check points around the royal ceremony…”. Further,

Rights groups and diplomats monitoring the arrests say the detained suspects likely face prosecution on national security-related charges for threatening the ceremony, including under the penal code’s harsh lese majeste provision that shields the royal family from defamation, insult and threat.

It is interesting that Crispin credits The Dictator “for steering a smooth succession from Bhumibol to Vajiralongkorn, a delicate transition many feared could spark instability.” To be honest, we think the “delicate transition” was a bit of a beat up.

The next royal big deal, he says, is “Vajiralongkorn’s formal coronation, now seen as astrologically auspicious to be held in March…”.

Crispin asks “how stable is the transition from royal old to new, and how serious is the threat posed by anti-monarchists supposedly lurking in the shadows?”

He notes that Vajiralongkorn “has set a tone for his reign in moves that diplomats and analysts say shows his intent to shake-up royal institutions in terms of personnel, protocol and operations.”

That’s somewhat bland for what he’s doing, which is erasing all notion of popular sovereignty in favor of a monarchy that is independent of all checks and balances introduced after 1932.

Crispin says that the “Royal Household Bureau has also openly targeted those found to have abused their palace positions or association for personal gain.”

That’s somewhat bland for what somewhat bland for what’s happened. Rather, the new king has been purging the palace and appointing his trusted allies.

One interesting observation is that “[c]hampions of the new reign say the housecleaning is overdue and that ill-deeds grew in the latter years of Bhumibol’s reign when he was hospitalized for ill-health.”

That’s what might be expected, but it is one of the first statements of the fact that the new reign is embedding in a manner that is essentially neo-feudal and that shifts political and economic power to the palace.

The notion that the new palace will “challenge the big business families that have long leveraged royal connections to corner sectors of the economy, a commercial domination that has grown since the 2014 coup” seems to come out of nowhere, but it is known that the king maintains relations with several Sino-Thai tycoons.

It isn’t clear to us that Vajiralongkorn taking “full control of the Crown Property Bureau …[and] the board of the palace’s Royal Project Foundation,” seems like him establishing his dominance and lining his pockets rather than a challenge to the big tycoons.

Crispin is correct to note that the military junta has “unquestioningly” done the palace’s bidding, but adds a note:

Thailand’s military and monarchy have long had a symbiotic relationship, with the former sworn to the protection of the latter, but the new emerging balance between the two powerful institutions is still being determined under Vajiralongkorn’s young new reign.

Both General Prayuth Chan-ocha and the king are self-centered and erratic, leading to concerns that the two may clash.

Crispin is also on the money when he notes that the king is asserting authority of Bangkok-based military units, He refers to the “absorption of military combat units, including the First Region Command’s First Infantry Division, a top-fighting force, into the king’s personal guard.”

That division “was recently moved from the military’s main command in Bangkok to Vajiralongkorn’s secondary Tawee Wattana palace on the capital’s outskirts, with certain soldiers transferred upcountry.”

On the transition to an “elected” government, Crispin observes the junta’s reluctance and suggests that “anti-monarchy elements remain bent on undermining the royal institution…” may be a “reason” for further “election” delays. at a still uncertain juncture of the succession.

He reckons that there are 1,000 lese majeste complaints “still under police investigation…”. That’s a whole lot of anti-monarchists and a whole lot of justification for ongoing military repression.

For the moment, the junta and the king remain joined as Siamese twins in neo-feudal repression.





More secret palace deals

9 12 2017

In a secret consideration, the junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly (NLA) has approved “adjustments to the law that manages the safety and security of … the [k]ing and members of the [r]oyal [f]amily.”

After the event, it is reported that the NLA “voted unanimously to approve an amendment to the 2014 Law of Royal Safety in line with the 2017 Constitution, as well as a new law concerning the Royal household.”

The amendment to the 2014 law reportedly “authorises the Principal Private Secretary to … the [k]ing to provide security services to the monarchy rather than a committee chaired by Chief of Aide de Camp General to … the [k]ing, as stipulated in the old law…”.

The previous committee “included military commanders and other relevant officials…”. Whether there will be a new committee is apparently up to the Principal Private Secretary. That person:

… will also be in charge of security and safety services for … the [k]ing and members of the [r]oyal [f]amily whenever they travel abroad…. The old law commissioned the Aide de Camp Department [of the military] and the Foreign Ministry to take care of their safety. Under the new law, the Principal Private Secretary … will plan and command safety measures for … the [k]ing….

The 2014 Law on Royal Safety also “authorised the prime minister to be involved in the approval of safety plans for … the [k]ing and members of the [r]oyal [f]amily.” That role is now gone.

It is reported that the “amendment will be promulgated in the Royal Gazette later,” and that the “content of the new amendment was not available to the public during the NLA debate.”

This is another move consolidating palace affairs in the king’s hands and a process of removing all vestiges of civilian control of the monarchy and palace that were put in place in 1932 and after.

Earlier, the NLA had approved the transfer of the Royal Household Bureau, Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary, Royal Aide-De-Camp Department, Office of Royal Court Security Police and Royal Security Command, formerly under control of the Ministry of Defense, the Prime Minister’s Office and the police, to the king.

He’s continuing the process of making the monarchy independent of any notion of civilian and parliamentary control. The previous justification for the move was that issues related to the king and his family could not be served by the state bureaucracy.

Not that long ago, the arrangements for control of the fabulously wealthy Crown Property Bureau were passed to the king in another secret set of dealings.





Minting the new king

7 12 2017

For an unspecified reason, the Thai Treasury Department has threatened social media users, demanding that they “not to share footage of the new coins being minted to replace those currently in circulation.”

Apparently, the design of the Rama X coins, set to replace the Rama IX versions, “is supposed to be a state secret and has yet to be approved for release by the cabinet…”. Odd, as most countries do show planned designs well ahead of circulation.

But this is neo-feudal Thailand, where astrology, the king’s whims and black magic and the secrecy of the military dictatorship, along with the fears associated with offending an erratic and obsessive–compulsive king, make such simple things a matter of state and secrecy. Presumably, sharing the video could constitute lese majeste!

The new design was shown ever so briefly in a video about a French mint that makes the coins.

 





The king’s speech

6 12 2017

Several days ago Khaosod provided an unofficial translation of the speech made by the king when “18 new [sic.]members were granted an audience with [the]… the [k]ing to swear their oaths, as the law requires.”

Given that we seldom get a speech reported from Vajiralongkorn it is worth considering.

The new cabinet also convened “a traditional group photo in front of Government House” which has led to debate and criticism of Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan for wearing a watch worth more than four times his annual salary. Generals are often obsessed by expensive watches.

But back to what Khaosod called the king’s “most high-profile public address thus far in his reign, which he used to urge the new cabinet to work for the nation’s three highest institutions: nation, religion and monarchy.”

His support for the junta was clear:

I’d like to use this opportunity to bless you with strength of mind and body, and the wisdom to perform the duties for which you have sworn your oath. In short, they are: national security, happiness and safety of the people, and reputation and culture of our country, which has a long history and culture, along with the three sacred institutions that have always protected the nation.

He sounded a bit like his father with encouragement for the dictatorship:

In your work, naturally you will encounter problems, difficulties and mistakes. This is what has always been throughout history. But if you use your wisdom, alongside spirits and good dedication, you will know how to overcome any difficulty, mistakes and obstacles that may happen. Because happiness of the public and security of the nation and the people are important to Thailand.

His obsessive–compulsive need for order was on display:

There are many ways to work, it’s important to have dedication and resolve to serve the people, the country and the highest institutions of the nation. The people want to be happy. The people want to have confidence and security, and they are willing to walk in the right direction. Therefore, the cabinet has a duty to steer, safeguard and protect our nation.

The link between palace and the military thugs remains important to both.





Updated: The impacts of lese majeste

25 11 2017

Somehow we missed an article by journalist Delphine Thouvenot who writes for AFP. “Trading Softly in Thailand” is interesting because it is an attempt to cut through the palace propaganda and show the impacts of the lese majeste law. It is worth reading in full, but here are some interesting bits:

In many ways, I should have been moved when some 300,000 people poured out on the streets of Bangkok in October for the days-long funeral of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol….

But as a foreign journalist, I was well aware of the other side of the monarchy, which is protected by one of the strictest lese-majeste laws in the world. People have landed in prison for posting an unflattering BBC portrait of a new king on Facebook, or posting comments deemed insulting to the late king’s dog (seriously)….

On the funeral: “All other coverage vanished from newspapers and television.”

When I first got to Thailand, I, like most Westerners, was also fascinated by the ceremonial rituals of the land….

But after four years of living here, the initial fascination had worn off….

I did not see anyone questioning whether the year-long mourning period, or its cost or impact, was justified….

Well, we had some comments, but back to the story:

Because of the lese-majeste, news outlets like AFP have to tread carefully about what they write about the royals. So reporting in Thailand has been tricky at times….

A few days before the funeral, I went to interview Sulak Sivaraksa…. He is a rare intellectual who dares to speak out, but still with extreme caution. The only thing that he accepts to have on the record is that, if past kings are also protected by lese-majeste laws, historians won’t be able to do their jobs….

Ahead of the cremation, I tried to find analysts to speak about the significance of the event. I got one refusal after another. Finally one, David Streckfuss, based in Thailand, agreed. He dictated his quotes to me word by word, changing them here and there to make sure the formulation was not too daring. Normally I would have found this nitpicking ridiculous. But here, I could understand his caution.

One of the things he told me is that other monarchies, like the one in Britain, could evolve because they were open to criticism from civil society. There is nothing like that in Thailand. On the contrary, the Thais are always careful what they say about the royals — there have been instances of people being denounced by a brother, a taxi driver, a neighbor….

Britain’s Daily Mail has been blocked in Thailand for years, after publishing embarrassing material about the new king….

The royal palace is a well-oiled [propaganda] machine. There are no news leaks here. Messages are transmitted in circuitous ways….

That’s not entirely true as there are leaks (think of the naked Srirasmi video), but the general point is true. And, under King Vajiralongkorn, expect efforts to prevent leaks as he attempts to control his image ever more carefully.

To understand what’s going on in Thailand, you need to become adept at reading nearly subliminal signals at times. For example, on the day of the cremation, I see a woman get down from the new king’s Rolls Royce. She is dressed in red, like the new king, and is a familiar face at official ceremonies, but newspapers never write her name or title. (Like they never write about sons who were products of the new king’s second marriage and who currently live in the US.)

A video colleague who had come from Hong Kong to help with coverage asks who the woman is, so that he could put it in the script accompanying his video. Thai colleagues get uncomfortable and tell him to forget it. We all know who she is, but we can’t write her name without official confirmation.

So I call the palace spokeswoman to ask this young woman’s title. After a long pause, she directs me to the office of the new king…. which never answers the phone. The identity of the mystery woman will remain for our clients just that… a mystery.

Of course, there was more than one consort-concubine involved.

Needless to say, neither I nor any of my colleagues have interviewed the new king. I made a request to do so last year, when he was still a crown prince. I was told to go directly to his palace, Ambarasathan, to deposit my written request by hand. I’ll never forget the guards at the palace, all wearing a pin with a portrait of the prince as a baby on their uniforms. I never did get that interview, but the trip was worth it just to see those pins. To me they spoke volumes about the personality of the next king who will head this nation.

We are left to assume that Delphine Thouvenot has left Thailand. Otherwise there would be trouble. There would be trouble because of revealing nothing other than the secrecy of the palace and its machinations.

Update: A reader pointed us to an Australian radio report as an example of the pathetic approach still taken by some reporters based in Bangkok and for who the initial fascination has not worn off. The bit on Thailand must please the palace propagandists.





Military orders, bizarre futures

20 11 2017

Anyone who has watched American movies will be familiar with the “high and tight,” which is a military version of the crew cut and short back and sides. As Wikipedia explains, it “is a very short hairstyle most commonly worn by men in the armed forces of the United States. It is also popular with law enforcement officers and other public safety personnel.” Regulations demand certain styles.

The Thai military and police have tended to follow this “model,” with new recruits often getting a tight buzz cut that looks like the haircut demanded of male school students.

For some reason, those in high positions in Thailand seem to think that a regimental hair cut imposes discipline. It is also part of the hierarchy of control.

It is also a throwback to feudal haircuts.

So who wants a feudal restoration and feudal discipline? The king, of course.

Khaosod reports that the army and the police have been ordered “all soldiers to wear the same haircut as members of … the King’s personal bodyguards.” The style is the “904 cut,” which “involves shaving the sides and back of the head, leaving just a smack of hair on the top.”

The police have received similar orders.

The leadership of the military and the police have mumbled that this new style is about establishing order and discipline.

For a king who believes in extreme discipline, such orders would not seem out of place. At the same time, in having these orders observed, he is establishing a degree of control over almost half a million soldiers and police.

But there’s more: “The new regulations coincided with the introduction of a novel form of salute imposed upon the army by King Vajiralongkorn. Soldiers are now required to heave out their chests and jerk their heads after performing a typical hand salute.”

This is a quite bizarre, as can be seen in a Khaosod video. As far as we can tell, this is an “innovation.”

Bizarre discipline, feudal haircuts and imposing discipline from the palace. The king is remarkably interventionist, and if supported by the military junta in getting his way, Thailand is in for a rocky ride at the hands of a bizarre king.