King, junta and politics

21 03 2017

We are not sure if we have ever quoted from StrategyPage previously, but a recent article on their webpage caught some attention.

Their story, titled “Thailand: Actions Have Long Term Consequences,” is the one we mention here. We have no way of judging the veracity of some of its claims when it comes to palace and king, but felt some of them worth quoting.

As is the custom in Thailand, compromise is in the works between the new king, the military government and the democratic majority. Once the new king took the throne at the end of 2016 he apparently made a deal with the military government that would, in theory, benefit both of them in the long run. First, the king wants to be freed from constitutional and parliamentary restrictions that were part of the 1930s deal that turned the absolute monarchy into a constitutional one. The military government is in the process of changing the constitution and that presents a rare opportunity to give the king more power. The generals need the backing of the king because they justified their 2014 coup by insisting they were doing it to protect the monarchy. Last year the military got their new constitution approved in a referendum and the king must approve it by May and apparently will do so as long as his requests are agreed to.

Where’s the “democratic majority in that you might ask. This is the StrategyPage answer:

Meanwhile the king is apparently also trying to negotiate a peace deal with the pro-democracy groups which have demonstrated that they still have the majority of voters with them. In late 2015 pro-democracy leader (and former prime minister) Thaksin Shinawatra called on his followers (the “red shirts”) to “play dead” for the moment and wait for the military government to allow elections. The military has agreed to elections in 2018 but only if some fundamental changes were made in the constitution. The king’s representatives have apparently been seeking a compromise deal that would allow Thaksin Shinawatra and other exiled democracy leaders to come home and abide by the new rules.

If there is any truth in this – it may just be an old story rehashed – then recent events have interesting potential meanings: think Jumpol Manmai as one once said to be close to Thaksin; think of Suthep Thaugsuban’s testy reappearance and emphasis on “democracy under the king”; and then think of the military’s manic obsession with red shirt and firebrand Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee. There’s more:

Since 2014 the troops have been ordered to arrest anyone who appeared to be leading resistance to the coup, but the anti-coup sentiments were so widespread that trying to decapitate the opposition by taking most leaders out of action did not work. The opposition had plenty of competent replacements for lost leaders and those leaders did not call for a civil war.

We do not get that sense of the red shirt opposition and certainly not from the Puea Thai Party. We actually think the military goons have succeeded in cowing much of the opposition, often through nasty but carefully planned example, i.e. capturing leaders and making their life a public misery so as to frighten others.

StrategyPage continues:

The king and the generals recognize that most Thais are fed up with the coups…. The royals have learned to keep their heads down, even though the military has always been staunchly royalist. The army and the king now seek to change this deadlock with “reforms” in the existing constitution.

We don’t think this is all true. The royals’ heads are always visible, scheming, wheedling, getting wealthy and allowing their status to be used against “threats.” Do they recognize that Thais are fed up with coups? Probably, but they can still pull them off whenever they feel the need to.

While the red shirts have lots of popular support, most Thais are more interested in economic issues and the army has not been able to deal with that because of widespread opposition to military rule in Thailand and abroad. The economic problems cannot be ignored…. So the army is paying attention to economic problems and is not doing so well at it.

That’s an understatement! The economy is looking awful and the junta is at a loss as to what to do. Its infrastructure projects are a mess of verbiage and little action. But StrategyPage has an upside (if you buy the “deal” notion):

The new 2017 compromise will restore elections with the king and armed forces believing they now have more power when the country is run by an elected government. The democrats note that long-term the kings and dictators lose. Most royalists recognize that if the king becomes too unpopular the monarchy could be abolished…. Actions have consequences.

Read in total, the article is highly contradictory, but the notion of the “deal” pops up often enough for this page to get a run.





Reporting palace re-ordering

20 03 2017

The palace-based machinations that have seen dozens of officials sacked, ousted, jailed and promoted has been watched internationally for sign of how the king can be considered going forward, as a problem, a threat or something else.

The Straits Times reports that “[m]ore than 30 notices related to Thailand’s palace staff were made public on the Royal Gazette website last week, providing a rare window into the preferences of newly installed King…”.

These notices seem to have been hastily produced to allow the king to escape overseas to Germany for some rest from the hectic tasks of … well, we don’t know. He certainly hasn’t been pushing his pen across the signature line on the much delayed military constitution. Nor do we know officially why he is in Germany although this should be public given that he remains king and has not appointed a regent.

The notices issued were for “various dates and signed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, also suggest that a shake-up has been taking place among palace staff.” The report continues:

One notice said that King Vajiralongkorn stripped an army major-colonel of his rank last month for “improper manner and behaviour” and “disputing royal observation”. In the same notice, the offending major-colonel [PPT doesn’t know this rank] was also described as “arrogant”, “negligent”, “insubordinate” and “lazy”.

Another commander was similarly stripped of her rank last month because she “did not improve herself, lacked enthusiasm, was idle and lacked correct judgment”.

At least four other officers were stripped of their ranks because they had been promoted twice in six months against the rules.

At the same time, royal decorations were handed out like candy at a children’s birthday party: “royal decorations were granted to 25 officers serving in King Vajiralongkorn’s royal guard unit, and privy councillor Kampanat Ruddit.”

The report notes that these “recent announcements come on the back of very public downfalls of some of the King’s senior aides” that saw a “grand chamberlain in charge of security and special affairs, Jumpol Manmai, … sacked for allegedly committing grave misconduct and having political interests deemed harmful to national security.” He’s now in an undisclosed jail that is likely the king’s personal jail.

Jumpol’s downfall was immediately preceded by that of “Chitpong Thongkum, an air vice-marshal who had served in the King’s bodyguard unit, was fired and stripped of all military ranks for reportedly stealing royal property and disclosing the King’s health records.” He’s in jail too.

The story goes on to report the secret dealings between the junta and the prince over the still languishing constitution. Perhaps both the king and the military junta have had second thoughts about the constitution and want it dead again. At least they now have a “plot” that can allow for further even delays.

As to how all this links to the goings-on in the palace, that’s anyone’s guess due to secrecy and threats of lese majeste.





Monarchy, junta and judiciary entwined

17 03 2017

In a couple of recent posts, PPT has emphasized the lawless or rule-by-law nature of the military dictatorship. Under this regime, rule-by-law is essentially lawlessness as the junta can make everything it does legal, while using law to repress and oppress all of its opponents, be they red shirts, “politicians,” grannies, kids or activists.

Lese majeste has been one important law used against political opponents and the prince-cum-king’s personal acquaintances, minions and consorts who fall out of favor. The threat of lese majeste, interpreted in ways that are not even covered by the law, threatens and silences many.

The junta uses Article 44 dozens of times to make illegal actions legal or to ride roughshod over law and procedure. Having come to power illegally through a military coup, later made “legal,” the junta uses law when it suits it, but makes law up as it feels fit. In other words, it behaves lawlessly but makes that lawlessness “legal” through “special” decrees.

The judiciary is complicit in both the manipulation of lese majeste and the making legal the junta’s lawlessness. Since the late king’s infamous intervention in 2006, the judiciary has been more highly politicized, with movement to judicialization, marking itself out as a royalist court that “interprets” law for the political advantage of royalists and its class.

The most recent example of the judiciary’s view of itself as “above” the hoi polloi is its use of “contempt of court” allegations and charges against anyone daring to question or criticize a court or judges. This is a ploy used by various courts in recent years, always in political cases.

In Khon Kaen, the Provincial Court is going after student activists.

This court, doing the junta’s work, has repeatedly refused bail for Jatuphat (Pai) Boonpattaraksa, the sole person accused of lese majeste for sharing a BBC Thai nes story on the new king. More than 2,000 others did the same thing and are not targeted. Jatuphat is charged and jailed simply because he is an anti-junta activist.

The director of the Provincial Court’s Prosecutor’s Office has accused several supporters of Jatuphat with “contempt of court for participating in a peaceful gathering to demand for … [Pai]’s release.”

In a junta pattern, the charges are targeted on activists considered leaders. The junta wants to threaten all by targeting leaders. The junta wants to decapitate opposition groups. The judiciary supports the junta’s work.

The activists are:

Phayu Bunsophon, Chatmongkon Janchiewcharn and a female student activist (who does not want to reveal her identity), the three law students of Khon Kaen University who are members of Dao Din group, and Narongrit Upachan, a political science student from the same university who is a member of NGC.

The court will hold a hearing on the case on 24 April 2017, essentially considering its own evidence. Whatever the outcome, the court, complicit with the junta, is seeking to threaten and  silence.





Even more palace cleansing

15 03 2017

The prince-cum-king has been cleansing and reorganizing the palace – his palace – for quite some time. One of the most high-profile bits of cleaning was the ousting of his former consort, the former Princess Srirasmi back in late 2014.

Since then there’s been a constant churn of people and officials close to the prince-now-king.

Now a report of yet another purge, this one in Khaosod English, which we reproduce in full:

The royal household announced a number of reassignments Monday in a reshuffling of the ranks.

Six palace aides working under His Majesty the King were stripped of their rank, some due to alleged misconduct, while five officials were promoted by the monarch for their service. Nineteen civil servants also left the royal household, four of them senior officials known as grand chamberlains.

Among the six military officers who lost their status were two officials, Cmdr. Jaruwan Changmool and Maj. Thanapon Yooman, who were expelled for serious offenses described in the Royal Gazette on Monday.

A royal statement said Jaruwan was slacking in her duties.

“[She] did not develop herself, lacked enthusiasm; was idle, and lacked correct judgment which caused damage” to His Majesty’s household, the Royal Gazette said in its proclamation stripping her of her rank.

Another statement accused Thanapon of multiple offenses, including disobeying orders from His Majesty the King himself.

“[He] used inappropriate words and behavior; disputed royal commands; displayed arrogance, insolence and insubordination; committed gravely evil acts; behaved carelessly in his bureaucratic duties; procrastinated; and neglected his bureaucratic duties,” the statement said.

Four other officers were stripped of their rank on technical grounds. The Royal Gazette said they had recently moved up two ranks within six months, which is not allowed under military regulations.

On the same day, His Majesty the King also promoted five members of his household corps, including three air force officers and two colonels, to generals, citing excellence in their services.

Meanwhile, 19 officials were fired from the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary. Four of them held the rank of deputy director to the royal household, a title known formally as grand chamberlain.

The Royal Gazette did not say why the officials were expelled.

Some details of this article have been been omitted to comply with the criminal royal defamation law.

The machinations in the palace, this lot coming as the king jetted off to Germany, are quite amazing. In fact, “amazing” is probably too limited a term. It is bizarre.

We wonder if lese majeste charges will follow.

Obviously, the king has the support of the military dictatorship as he behaves in this odd manner.





Drought doubt

12 03 2017

A couple of days ago, The Nation had this headline: “No fear of drought this summer.” The story stated:

… water experts ruled out the possibility of a severe drought this year, although they cautioned people to use water wisely.

Today, The Nation has a story titled “King concerned about drought, urged govt to help those in need: Prayut.” In another instance of The Dictator speaking for the king, apparently like a ventriloquist’s dummy:

… the King has raised concern over the current drought situation and ordered the government to do all it can to ease people’s suffering, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has said.

The PM urged the public and agricultural sector to use water more efficiently with the arrival of the dry season.

In order to avoid water shortages, the prime minister asked people in drought-prone areas and those living outside irrigation zones to store water in large containers whenever there is rain.

He said everyone must use water wisely and efficiently so the country can endure the annual dry season.

He also instructed the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and other responsible units to reach out to everyone in need, while giving an assurance that the government would continue to monitor the water situation and has prepared a number of measures including rain-making operations.

As with corruption “investigations,” we are confused by these conflicting reports, this time in the same newspaper.

The king’s concern for “his” people seems not to extend to signing off on the junta’s constitution. Not yet anyway. Perhaps The Dictator is preparing contingency plans there as well such as delaying elections and making more secret changes to the draft charter.





Jumpol speedily sentenced and jailed

10 03 2017

A week ago, Khaosod reported that”[f]ormer Grand Chamberlain Jumpol Manmai confessed Thursday to building a luxury mansion on public land and declined to post his own bail…”.

It stated that Pol Gen. Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said “Jumpol will be held at Nakhon Ratchasima’s provincial prison while cases are prepared against him. Srivara said the provincial prison may later transfer him to another jail in the Thawi Watthana district of western Bangkok.”

The story includes a photo of Jumpol with senior police. His presumably handcuffed hands are covered and a doctor is present, assuring the media that Jumpol was “in good health.” This was important as Jumpol has disappeared from view for about two weeks, held in an unknown location.

A second Khaosod report reveals that the “trial” of Jumpol is over, taking just four hours, and he’s been given a 6-year prison sentence (halved for a guilty plea) and a fine of 890,000 baht.

These hasty “proceedings” have been seen in other cases that have involved those who have fallen out with the king.

Jumpol, stripped of his police rank sand royal decorations, was convicted of forest encroachment for a mansion he built in or near Thap Lan National Park in Nakorn Ratchasima province.

This time, Jumpol appeared in the shackles that are used for political prisoners.

Given that other higher-ups had committed similar offences and never been charged, including two privy councilors, it is clear that Jumpol offended King Vajiralongkorn, with who he had previously had a close relationship.

We are amazed that Jumpol has not been hit with lese majeste charges, which have been one of the prince-cum-king’s weapons of choice in dealing with those he’d found tiresome or had fallen out with.

The report states that Jumpol had “been held at a special prison in eastern Bangkok. We assume this is the same jail mentioned in the earlier report. It is known that this prison is “special” because it belongs to the king and was constructed inside one of his residences, in the Phutthamonthon area.

Jumpol was immediately taken off to prison. Which prison is not stated in the report, which is unusual. This may mean that he will be confined again in the king’s personal prison. We can only imagine that such a prospect may be daunting for the former police general.





Banning a tabloid

8 03 2017

Prachatai reports that “[w]ithout any explanation, Thailand has blocked access to the New York Post.” The tabloid seems an unlikely newspaper to censor as it usually only carries stories that are somewhat kooky, titillate or shock.

The speculation is that the tabloid carried stories on the monarchy that were disliked by either the palace, the king, royalist snitches or some civil or military bureaucrat who stumbled upon them when linking to salacious articles about murderous threesomes of a beauty queen eating pizza (both recent articles).

So we thought we’d search the site to see what they had on Thailand. The most recent stories are of a bear “dropped” from a helicopter and the coin consuming turtle. Then there’s stuff about a python biting a man’s penis as it slithered out of a toilet and the monks breeding tigers. None of this seemed likely to exercise the internet censors or cyber vigilantes.

Back in 2016, there was a story a bit like the one that caused a kerfuffle and denials about Pattaya’s sex trade, “Inside the Thai sex scene — where women are sold like meat.” Perhaps that got some attention. Or maybe a related story bothered a do-gooder, “Gangs of transsexual sex workers are attacking tourists in Thailand.” Yet that is also from 2016.

What about royal stories? We found these, and in feudal-wannabe-absolutist Thailand under the military dictatorship, any of them could have caused censors to spring into action, even if all of them are months old and some are from wire services.

One on the death of the last king seems unlikely to cause offense: Thailand’s king, world’s longest-serving monarch, dies at 88. Another story we found in our search of the period since early 2016 was headlined Thailand prepares to welcome its new kooky king, which, apart from the headline, is a standard report on succession.

It is possible that articles on the prince who is now king might be a reason for censorship. The first story, Thailand’s new king is a kooky crop top-wearing playboy, reproduces the infamous temporary tattoo photos from Munich airport, and has some interesting detail, any line of which may have caused consternation in a palace and regime that wants a more santitized “history”:

… the playboy prince has a reputation among his soon-to-be subjects for bizarre behavior, womanizing and cruelty to his many wives.

Taking a page from Caligula, Vajiralongkorn named his favorite pet, a poodle named Foo Foo, as an air marshal.

He even took the pooch to a 2007 reception hosted in his honor by US Ambassador Ralph “Skip” Boyce.

“Foo Foo was . . . dressed in formal evening attire complete with paw mitts, and at one point during the band’s second number, he jumped up onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses,” Boyce wrote, according to a WikiLeaks document.

“The Air Chief Marshal’s antics . . . remains the talk of the town to this day.”

But tales of the prince’s behavior exist mostly in the realm of rumor in Thailand. The nation has strict laws banning stories about the royal family.

But in 2007, the depravity of Vajiralongkorn’s court was exposed when a video surfaced of his third wife, Princess Srirasmi, a former bar waitress, walking around topless at her own birthday party while eating cake with Foo Foo.

When the dog died last year, it was given a four-day funeral.

Srirasmi has split from the prince after being booted from the Royal Palace in December. In a show of his cruelty, he recently allowed her parents to be thrown in prison for 2¹/₂ years for “royal defamation.”

His earlier two marriages were equally rocky. During his first — to his cousin — he allegedly fathered five kids with a mistress, then married the mistress. Later he dumped her, forcing her to flee the country.

Another story, Thailand’s new king used his poodle to spite his father, could also cause the censorship, beginning with this:

Family relations were a royal bitch for Thailand’s clown prince.

The country’s kooky crop top-sporting playboy prince adopted Foo Foo, the pampered poodle he famously named as an air marshal — all to spite his father, according to a report.

This report cites a 2015 New Mandala story by Christine Gray, commenting on a lese majeste case.

The New York Post also has an article on lese majeste, This is what happens when you insult the new Thai king. This story features video of a “woman accused of insulting the kooky crown prince of Thailand was publicly humiliated and forced to grovel beneath a portrait of the country’s late king,” during the early mourning period for the late king.

If Thailand’s “authorities” are trying to concoct a new hagiographical account of the tenth king, then the internet censors have a huge task ahead of them.