Updated: Rewarding Suthida

15 10 2017

A couple of days ago a Royal Gazette announcement was circulated quite widely. It was about the award of one of the highest-ranked royal decorations to the commander in King Vajiralongkorn’s guard.

The reason for the interest is that, as Khaosod reports it, that commander is none other than the king’s most senior girlfriend/consort/concubine (we are unsure of the appropriate term), General Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya.

The Knight Grand Cross of the Most Illustrious Order of Chula Chom Klao is reserved for the royal family members, Privy Councilors and members of the royal household). There are normally 30 male and 20 female members of this order.

The report notes that the announcement of this award “coincided with the first anniversary of King Bhumibol’s death, and the formal date of King Vajiralongkorn’s [retrospective] ascension to the throne.”

Suthida is often in the military uniform. The king promoted him to general when he took the throne. Her “qualification” is that she is the king’s favorite consort.

Today, General Suthida is the “de facto head of security for … the King. Although she formally holds the title of deputy commander of the royal guard corps, the top rank had been left vacant since December 2016.”

As the report states, “Suthida had been serving in the royal guards unit since 2013, when King Vajiralongkorn held the title of Crown Prince.”

Update: For those who can read Thai, BBC Thai has a very useful account of Suthida’s rise, beginning from 2012 and listing the many promotions and awards that have been showered on her by the prince-now-king. Each event is linked to the Royal Gazette.





Lese majeste expanding madly

15 10 2017

Since the 2006 royalist military coup, the use of the lese majeste law has been expanded and deepened. Under the military dictatorship its use has become downright bizarre. By the month ever more absurd cases are being pursued.

Some of the downright absurd charges and allegations have involved: “insulting” a dead king’s dead dog, expressing doubt about an ancient king’s elephant battle, juveniles, jailing the family of the new king’s ex-wife, “insulting” a long dead king, a palace associate who sold oversized chilli paste to the new king’s household, fraudsters and grifters charged under Article 112 and much more.

None of these cases have anything much at all to do with the law as written. All of these cases have been assessed by an unstated royalist judicial view of what might, possibly, perhaps, cause others to think less of the existing monarchy. (Yes, we know the current monarch is starting pretty low.) There’s also a lot of unexpressed fear of not being royalist enough. And, there’s the requirement to be seen to be doing the required posterior polishing.

In a recent story, Khaosod reports that a lese majeste charge “might be filed against a construction company that allegedly defrauded 300 million baht from its victims…”.

The Department of Special Investigation has nabbed the Hujjee Group for having “solicited investment by claiming to have won major contracts in Myanmar from bogus royal family members of the Mon ethnic group there.”

Bogus royals? In Myanmar? DSI is “considering” whether to file a lese majeste charge against the seven people already in custody other suspects still being pursued.

This seems like just another group of garden variety of fraudsters who are so common in Thailand, but their alleged claims are about Myanmar and a bogus royal family that has no relationship with Thailand’s monarchy.

Should the DSI file lese majeste charges, the next step might be to charge companies like King Power, Hotel Royal Bangkok, Royal Coffee, Royal Airport Services, Royal Skyways, Royal Foods and even similar companies in other countries for using allusions to the monarchy in their trading names!

It’s getting that risible.





The “necessity” of military dictatorship

13 10 2017

In the Bangkok Post, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak comes up with his repeated excuse for military domination. He claims the succession explains it:

The consequent royal transition is likely to be viewed in posterity as the principal reason why the Thai people have had to put up with Gen Prayut.

Later he states, as he has before, that:

To appreciate how Gen Prayut and his cohorts could seize power and keep it with relative ease, we need to recognise the late King Bhumibol’s final twilight. The royal succession was imminent by coup time, and the Thai people collectively kind of knew the special and specific circumstances this entailed. Power had to be in the hands of the military, as it had to ultimately perform a midwife role. Unsurprisingly, ousted elected politicians may have complained about and deplored the coup but none wanted to retake power during the coup period. They knew that after seven decades of the reign in the way that the Thai socio-political system was set up around the military, monarchy and bureaucracy, it had to be the generals overseeing this once-in-a-lifetime transition.

This is nonsensical propaganda. There were, at the time, and today, many, many Thais who reject this royalist babble. But Thitinan just ignores the deep political and social struggles that marked the period of discord that began with the Asian economic crisis in 1997 and which was punctuated by two military coups.

Thitinan appears to us to be expressing the views of the socially disconnected middle class of Bangkok, those who hate and fear the majority of Thais, and “protect” themselves by attaching themselves to the economic and political power of the Sino-Thai tycoons, monarchy and military.

Thais have “put up with” ghastly military rulers for decades. The military dictators and rulers have used the monarchy to justify their despotism. General Pin Choonhavan used the “mysterious” death of Ananda Mahidol; General Sarit Thanarat promoted the monarchy as a front for his murderous regime; General Prem Tinsulanonda made “loyalty” de rigueur for political office.

Thitinan is wrong and, worse, whether he wants to or not, he provides the nasty propaganda that is justification for military dictatorship. We can only imagine that the military junta is most appreciative.

One reason Thais “put up with” military dictatorship now is because anti-democrats want it, because many of them hate elections that give a power to the subaltern classes. And, as Thitinan acknowledges,

Gen Prayut and his fraternal top brass in the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have guns and tanks to intimidate and coerce. In their first year in power, the ruling generals detained hundreds of dissenters and opponents for “attitude adjustment”. They even put some of those who disagreed on trial in military court. They also came up with their own laws in an interim charter, including the draconian absolutist Section 44. And they have used and manipulated other instruments and agencies of the state to keep people in check and dissent suppressed.

To be sure, dozens of Thais are languishing in jail during junta rule. One young man, a student with his own strong views, has been jailed for re-posting a social media message that appeared on more than two thousand other pages. The junta also has banned political parties from organising, and has generally violated all kinds of human rights and civil liberties all along.

In addition, the generals have not been immune to corruption allegations….

Thais, it seems, must just “put up with” all this in order to facilitate the death of a king, succession and coronation. Thitinan goes even further, lauding The Dictator:

who grew up in the Thai system from the Cold War, who came of age at the height of Thailand’s fight against communism in the 1970s, seeing action on the Cambodian border against the Vietnamese in the 1980s, serving both the King and Queen and the people in the process with devotion and loyalty.

In fact, General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s military promotion was not forged in “battle” but in providing service to the palace and especially the queen.

Thitinan declares that General Prayuth is the “soul of the nation,” a term once used for the dead king:

When Gen Prayut spoke for the nation [after the last king died], he meant it. Fighting back tears, in seven short minutes, he said what had to be said, and directed us Thais to two main tasks, the succession and the cremation after a year’s mourning. Had it been Yingluck [Shinawatra], who is not known for her eloquence, she might have stumbled during the speech. Had it been Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is fluid and flawless in speechmaking, it would have lacked the soul of the nation.

It had to be Gen Prayut, the strongman dictator and self-appointed premier. He is an earnest man, purposeful and well-intentioned….

Make no mistake, this is pure propaganda for military dictatorship. Make no mistake, Thitinan is justifying military dictatorship for the West, “translating” Thai “culture” for those he thinks are Thailand’s friends. He is saying to The Dictator and to “friends” in the West that 2018 or 2019 will mark the end of an “unusual” time and a return to “normality.” That “normal” is Thai-style democracy, guided for years by the military and its rules.

For those who seek a more nuanced and less propagandist reflection try Michael Peel in the Financial Times. He was formerly a correspondent for the FT based in Bangkok, and has penned “Thailand’s monarchy: where does love end and dread begin?” (The article is behind a paywall, but one may register and get access.) Peel asks: “In a country where few dare to speak openly about the royals, how do Thais feel about their new ruler?”

That is, how do they feel about the succession that Thitinan propagandizes as having “required” military dictatorship working as midwife.





1932 plaque back in the news

11 10 2017

Prachatai reports that the Puea Thai Party’s Watana Muangsook has been “accused of sedition for posting on Facebook about the missing 1932 Revolution Plaque…”.

That plaque “mysteriously” disappeared around the time that the military dictatorship’s “constitution” was promulgated by the king.

That was no coincidence. No one ever investigated the disappearance, suggesting that the authorities were the vandals and thieves or that they knew who was responsible for an act meant to further erase 1932 from Thailand’s collective memory.

Watana has said he will fight the sedition charge. On Monday he appeared for a deposition hearing that also includes a charge under the Computer Crimes Act.

The report states that the “Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) accused him of posting false information on the internet in claiming that the 1932 Revolution plaque is a ‘national asset’ in order to call for people to demand its return, adding that the post might also incite chaos.”

This is a very large pile of buffalo manure, but the regime’s exaggerated response suggests that it is protecting a very powerful thief.





Updated: Big deals for the Crown Property Bureau

7 10 2017

In a somewhat bland Bangkok Post article it is reported that the “Crown Property Bureau’s shareholding in Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), Thailand’s third-largest bank by assets, has declined by 3.33%…”.

That amounts to about 17 billion baht or more than half a billion dollars.

The CPB remains the bank’s largest shareholder after the transaction on 2 October. There were few other details.

SCB shares fell every day following the transaction in a market that reached a 24 year high.

The Post provided no other detail or any analysis suggesting fear at work.

Sure enough, a Reuters report suggests murky trading. It states that the shares “have been transferred on behalf of King Maha Vajiralongkorn from the Crown Property Bureau…”.

The report adds that the Securities Commission “filing by the Crown Property Bureau did not identify the ultimate beneficiary of the shares, nor did it indicate if any money had been paid for the shares.”

This is an odd “transaction.” It may have been a sale, but we don’t know. (PPT could not locate the announcement at the SCB website or those of the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Securities Exchange of Thailand.)

Reuters states that the CPB confirmed the transaction but declined comment further. An official reportedly said: “It is his majesty’s private affair so I cannot comment further…”.

The SCB also “declined to comment on the transaction in its shares.”

That’s odd for a publicly listed firm and will probably worry some institutional investors. If we were SCB shareholders we’d be very concerned about this lack of transparency. After all, SCB is supposed to be a public company, not a royal plaything.

This isn’t the only recent deal that lacks transparency. Back in late 1994, there was a deal done to buy most of Kempinski, the hotels company. The annual report for that year stated:

It was the SCB that headed up this takeover, with its chairman becoming the chair of Kempinski. When the economic crisis hit, Dusit Thani “sold its share of Kempinski Hotels to its partner, the Siam Commercial Bank…”. Exactly how this was done is unclear as the SCB was struggling at this time.

In a remarkably opaque statement at the Kempinski website, it is stated:

In 2004, the Thailand Crown Property Bureau took over a majority holding in Kempinski AG, which enabled the company to extend its portfolio even further by means of a global expansion strategy and to develop new markets.

How the CPB obtained Kempinski from SCB is unclear. The same site then adds, equally opaquely:

After 13 years, in February 2017, the two existing shareholders formalised previous plans for an equity transfer between them and the majority shares are now held by the existing Bahraini-shareholder while the shareholder from Thailand now owns a minority.

Some say the “equity transfer” was worth one billion Euros. That means about $1.6 billion in two known but opaque deals in 2017. These coincide with the king’s formal expansion of his power over royal loot.

Update: The Nikkei Asian Review states that it is King Vajiralongkorn who “has personally become a major shareholder in Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) following the transfer this week of shares held by the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) valued at about $500 million.” It adds: “report filed with the SEC by the Crown Property Bureau, it was stated that the 3.33% holding had been transferred to King Vajiralongkorn, but there was no indication as to whether there was any payment for the stake.”

The motivation for such a transfer remain unclear.





The 6 October website

30 09 2017

As reported at Prachatai, a new website has been launched from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, to establish and maintain an archive about the massacre of 6 October 1976.

That horrid massacre, mainly of students gathered at Thammasat University, was led by police, ultra-royalist rightists and the military. The massacre and the military coup that was a part of the plan was enthusiastically supported by the king, queen, then Prince Vajiralongkorn and other members of the royal family.

A photo by Frank Lombard available at the new website.

The students killed and the more than 3,000 arrested were maniacally alleged to be “communists and threats to Thailand’s monarchy.”

For a monarchy that is regularly said to be “revered” and “loved,” it is remarkable how many citizens have been killed and jailed to “protect” it.

The website is superbly designed and is an important resource.It is mostly in Thai, although some resources are in Thai and English (like the documentary “Respectfully Yours.”

Prachatai notes that “Thai society has tried to remove the 6 October massacre from the history timelines…”.

Another Lombard photo from the website.

In fact, it is not “Thai society” that has tried to erase the massacre but the ruling class, including royalists, police and military.

Because Thailand is currently ruled by a repressive military junta that came to power following a massacre, to “protect” the monarchy and to wind back political space, this online archive is an important innovation.





Ousting Yingluck and Prayuth’s campaigning

21 09 2017

At the Asia Times Online, Shawn Crispin says that Yingluck Shinawatra’s flight – yes, we know, it still isn’t confirmed – has been good for The Dictator and his regime. Crispin says:

[General] Prayuth [Chan-ocha]’s proponents view Yingluck’s impromptu departure as a third big recent win for the authoritarian leader, following last August’s resounding passage by referendum of a military-drafted constitution that solidified a future political role for the armed forces and his perceived as smooth management of the royal succession after … King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death last October.

He adds:

Whether Yingluck’s flight has put the country more firmly on a path to new elections, long promised by Prayuth’s junta, is less certain. While junta representatives tell foreign envoys and business representatives the country is on a track back to democracy [he means a junta-controlled election], Prayuth continues to question the wisdom of holding polls that return to power the same corrupt elected politicians he overthrew in a coup.

On Yingluck’s case and “justice,” Crispin states:

An eventual guilty verdict against Yingluck is a foregone conclusion. According to one well-placed diplomat with access to the Shinawatra family, senior junta members were in contact with Thaksin as early as May advising that the court would rule against Yingluck – a verdict that carries a possible ten-year prison sentence – and that his clan should begin to make arrangements for her departure into exile.

He seems to be suggesting that the junta may have forced her to leave for exile. And, he adds: “Some analysts and diplomats believe the royal palace may have signaled for the junta to allow for Yingluck’s unmolested passage into exile to avoid instability…”.

The broader claim is that the military junta has essentially won. There’s no hint of royal discontent with the junta or of factionalism within the military and/or junta. Yet some social media commentary sees General Anupong Paojinda under unusual pressure – we mentioned this a couple of days ago.

Certainly, Prayuth campaigning is going at full tilt. Whether this is a sign of weakness (ie., the junta is split or splitting) or a sign that the splits are a myth and the junta is forging ahead, the calls from anti-democrats like Anek Laothamatas for a “national government” suggest that there is still concern that all the “work” done does not guarantee a Thaksin-free “election” outcome.

A “national government” would have General Prayuth as premier well into the future. This prospect has seen jellyfish politicians lining up to support continuing military Guided Democracy/Thai-style democracy.

A national government under The Dictator

The Nation reports that The Dictator, Thaksinizing his campaigning in rural areas of Suphanburi and Ayutthaya, has been promising all kinds of benefits and handouts to farmers if they support him and his dictatorship.

The two-day trip by Prayuth and his junta and a couple of civilian toadies was a massive PR exercise promoting military government.

Prayuth again warned potential voters to only “elect” those he considered the right people.

More significantly, The Dictator met with the owners of parasite political parties. In this case it was the Chart Thai Pattana Party, owned by the Silpa-archa family. They have created a franchise of gravel haulers and dumpers that can only politically prosper when attached to a dictator or a larger party or coalition of parties.

Prapat Pothasuthon polished Prayuth’s already shiny posterior: “I would only ask the government to distribute some of the budget from high-speed railway projects to help farmers. As long as people’s wellbeing is sustained, you can stay for another eight or 10 years and I won’t blame you for anything.”

Warawut Silpa-archa lapped at Prayuth’s boots: “The election will be decided by you. We’ll just wait to play by rules.”

This concocted meeting with politicians has been used to further Prayuth’s ambitions for ongoing political control. The Bangkok Post reports: that The Dictator is picking off the little parties, presumably to create a military party/national government.

Prayuth explained “democracy”:

We are making Thailand a democratic country, and special means are needed to achieve that goal. If we use normal means, is it really possible? I am well aware that the method to reach the goal is not democratic, but the problem needs to be fixed in this way….

Keeping the pressure on the Shinawatras and their supporters, The Dictator “warned Ayutthaya residents not to become pawns of some political groups encouraging them to gather in the capital.” He seems worried that they may disrupt the dead king’s funeral:

You can go to Bangkok to pay respect to the late King, but if you are going for other purposes or if anybody tries to persuade you to go, don’t go. Please stop it, in every province….

His persistent talk of threats permits deepening militarization and suppression, which makes the “election” a foregone conclusion.