Updated: Lese majeste barbarity deepens

9 06 2017

A strange mood emerged sometime during the 2010s that saw red shirts considering then Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn as a political ally. We are not sure why this view developed. Some of it drew on the position that the prince was close to Thaksin Shinawatra. That position drew on a partial reading of Wikileaks and the successionist argument that the royalist elite was seeking to prevent Thaksin being involved in that event, supporting the prince.

Whatever the reasons, this also led to an odd claim that the prince as king could be more “democratic” and could wind back the “damaging” (mis)use of the lese majeste law.

Nothing in the prince’s life story justified such political optimism.

When it comes to lese majeste, recent years suggest that the then prince used lese majeste as a means to rid himself of those he considered personal enemies, had crossed him or found themselves on the wrong side of his “divorce” from wife no. 3, Srirasmi.

The record of the first six months of Vajiralongkorn’s reign suggests that the reign of lese majeste terror is to deepen. This is confirmed in the most recent sentencing by a military court.

On 9 June 2017, a military court sentenced Wichai Thepphong to 70 years jail on lese majeste. The previous “record” for lese majeste repression was a sentence of 60 years.

Wichai’s sentence was reduced to 35 years when he agreed to plead guilty.

He was convicted of 10 lese majeste offences in “creating a copycat Facebook profile and posting lèse majesté messages on it to take revenge on his [former] friend.”

Wichai was “arrested in December 2015 and has remained in custody since.” That lengthy stay in jail apparently convinced him to change his not guilty plea.

Three basic points can be made. First, because the lese majeste law is draconian and allows anyone to make a complaint, it is subject to abuse by anyone, including the authorities. It isn’t even clear why this case amounted to lese majeste.

Second, it is a remarkable testament to the state of authoritarianism, that this case has been the responsibility of a military court.

Third, there’s no reason for false optimism about he new reign.

Update: We fixed an incorrect link.





King, fear and feudalism

26 05 2017

A couple of recent articles that seek to comprehend the admittedly odd politics of contemporary Thailand deserve wide attention. We summarize and quote below.

The first is by Pavin Chachavalpongpun at the Washington Post. Pavin looks at the oddness that has emerged in the early months of this reign, with the military junta frantic to control the king’s image. He says “Thailand finds itself in the grip of a strange political fever.” It is a potentially deadly disease.

He notes that “there’s nothing particularly new about Thai officials displaying zealousness in their efforts to protect the image of the king.” But, there’s something different: “there is a palpable sense that the current government is reacting with much greater sensitivity in the case of the current king — far more so than at any other time in recent memory.”

Pavin continues to the widespread view that the “mysterious incident six weeks ago, when a modest memorial plaque suddenly disappeared from the sidewalk of the Royal Plaza in Bangkok” was on the king’s orders.

He continues, noting that “the removal of the plaque and the intense official reaction to any online questioning of King Vajiralongkorn’s image show that he [Vajiralongkorn] is beginning to exert his influence over the state.”

That’s scary enough, but its scarier still when Pavin says that the king “is clearly very serious about reintroducing royal absolutism, and not at all interested in defending democracy or free speech.”

That raises a question. Will the king’s “increasingly hard-line policies … reinforce support for the monarchy or ultimately contribute to its weakening.” We are betting the latter. But it could be very messy.

The second article is at Asia Sentinel. It pulls no punches, beginning with this:

Thailand, once known as the Land of Smiles, is a country today seemingly trapped in a perpetual nightmare, headed by a half-mad king determined to return the country to the era before … the last absolute monarch of the country after the military ended [royal] absolute power in 1932.  Nobody appears willing to stop him.

It continues on the king’s time in waiting:

The prince, now 64, is said to be regarded with loathing by many within royal circles for his associations with Chinese gangsters, his womanizing and his apparent refusal to adhere to royal rules, according to official US cables leaked in 2011 by the Wikileaks organization, verbatim copies of which were carried in Asia Sentinel.  He has repeatedly scandalized the nation despite the military’s desperate attempts to use the world’s most restrictive lèse-majesté laws to keep a public lid on his behavior.

Since becoming king, he has largely lived up to his ominous promise….

And there is talk of the king’s bizarre and macabre behavior and how the junta must support it and even condone it:

“For decades, the Thai Army has used the excuse of upholding the monarchy to justify their actions and deeds that have included feathering their own nests, suppressing people’s rights, and conducting multiple coups to hold on to power and retard progress towards democracy,” a western source said. “So now Prime Minister Prayuth [Chan-ocha] is hardly in a position to meaningfully oppose Rama 10’s power grab that takes the situation back to the pre-1932 coup era, when palace officials had no protection and were subject to the king’s every whim, or in the case of this latest monarch, every cruelty.”

So far, the source said, “most of the new king’s abuses have been inflicted upon his own entourage, but the fear is what happens after Rama IX’s funeral in October, when the memory of his father is laid to rest and the last restraints on his power are released?  Will he start inflicting abuses against perceived opponents or dissenters in the wider populace? Will he launch a campaign against those who he views as having slighted him in the past, since it is well known that he has a list of such people?…”.

Who will be willing to stop him?





WikiLeaks, Clinton and Yingluck

24 03 2016

WikiLeaks now has a Hillary Clinton Email Archive. Its pages states:

On March 16, 2016 WikiLeaks launched a searchable archive for 30,322 emails & email attachments sent to and from Hillary Clinton’s private email server while she was Secretary of State. The 50,547 pages of documents span from 30 June 2010 to 12 August 2014. 7,570 of the documents were sent by Hillary Clinton. The emails were made available in the form of thousands of PDFs by the US State Department as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request. The final PDFs were made available on February 29, 2016.

A simple search for “Thailand” produces 73 results, several of which seem barely relevant, with Thailand simply mentioned. PPT hasn’t been through all of these cables as yet.

One that has gained some social media attention, not least via a Facebook post by Andrew MacGregor Marshall, is about Yingluck Shinawatra, the 2011 floods and a visit by Clinton. It is originally from Karen Brooks and forwarded by Kurt Campbell, and dated 16 November 2011. Some interesting bits of this cable are clipped and included below.

Yingluck Clinton

On the politics of the floods:

To keep momentum, Yingluck will need to make changes in her team. Given the poor performance of the past two months, a cabinet reshuffle is a must do. Top of the list is Agriculture Minister Theera Wongsamut, who hails from the Chart Thai Pattana party – a coalition partner but at best a fair-weather friend. Not only has Theera been inept in his handling of the crisis since Yingluck took office (water management being part of his portfolio), but he also served as Agriculture Minister in the previous Abhisit-led government. He is thus seen (correctly) as guilty of either malice or incompetence (or both) for his failure to appropriately manage water levels at the country’s two biggest dams in the months preceding the inauguration of the Yingluck government – which greatly exacerbated the current crisis.

On Yingluck and her work:

She is tired…. Very tired. I saw her last night at her house at 11pm and she told me that she is up around the clock with very little support and a cabinet team that has proven weak (her words were less diplomatic) and unable to rise to the occasion. She said she always expected the job would be hard, but that learning everything about government, while managing. the complexities of the relationship with the palace and the military, while being slammed with a major national crisis – AND doing it all with a weak team – has taken its toll. Even so, she is determined and has fire in the belly. She emphasized that she had won an absolute majority for only the second time in thai history, and that she would not let the millions of thais who supported her down. If it means not resting until her term is over, so be it. She can handle it, she said, because she believes in what she is doing. She will make some changes in her cabinet in the coming weeks once the water has been drained, and then look forward to getting the A Team back in May of next year, when the ban expires on the 111 Thai Rak Thai politicians removed from politics by the courts in 2007 after the coup.

Yingluck on reconciliation:

She made a point of saying that she is ENORMOUSLY grateful that Sec Clinton is coming today. “It’s been six long years of turmoil in this country,” she said. “I’m determined to use my mandate to bring people together and foster reconciliation, like I said in the campaign. I’m working hard to win over the military and help them see they have a real place here without interfering in politics. I’m working hard to do the same with the palace. But let’s face it: democracy here is still fragile. We need the US engaged.”

On General Prayuth Chan-ocha and not bringing down the government (just then):

Yingluck tell me she has gone out of her way to work cooperatively with Prayuth, and Prayuth seems to have come to appreciate her sincerity and hard work.

On the relationship with the palace:

The Palace, similarly, has not shown any inclination to use the crisis to bring down the government. The King has given three audiences (made public) to PM Yingluck since she took office. (In the opaque world of the Thai monarchy, this is one key tea leaf to read.) Moreover, other members of the royal family have given the PM private audiences in recent weeks (not publicly known) – including the Crown Prince and two of the princesses. Perhaps most telling, however, is the recent appointment by the government of two palace favorites, Dr. Sumet [Tantivejkul] and Dr. Veerapong [Virabongsa Ramangkura], to the new reconstruction and water management committees. Sumet, who is a long time advisor to His Majesty and runs one of his foundations, would never have accepted the appointment if the King had not explicitly blessed the move. Two others on the water committee are similarly associated with His Majesty.

To be honest, PPT had not previously seen Virabongsa mentioned as a “palace favorite.”

On Thaksin Shinawatra and amnesty or pardon:

Yingluck told me big brother remains in a dialogue with the palace described as “constructive” and expressed hope that this would yield an amicable end to the five+ year drama of his exile – either through a royal pardon or through a parliament sponsored amnesty law, with support from the palace. This is, at best, a delicate dance, and any mishandling or miscalculation on Thaksin’s part could yet trigger another cycle of political drama here.





Akechai released

16 11 2015

After serving his jail term for lese majeste, Akechai Hongkangwarn was released on 15 November. Prachatai reports that the release came four months ahead of his jail term of two years and eight months being completed.

Akechai pleaded innocent following his arrest, claiming that the documents he had from Wikileaks (see here, here, here, here and here) and the copies of the Australian ABC program on the monarchy were factual and not defamatory. He lost but fought his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

There’s some confusion on the reporting of his release and time served. We think it is correct that his release was four months early.

He’s a brave guy, telling Prachatai “that he still thinks that he is innocent.’ He stated: “I chose to fight because I feel that I have done nothing wrong.” He added:

There were hesitations, the Supreme Court took seven months to accept the case after the Appeal Court. At that time, [I] was discouraged, questioning why it took so long, and people were saying that next April pardons might be granted, so just give in. But eventually, I decided that as [I have] already fought this far then [I should] do it to the very end. People thought I was stupid.

 





Unleashing extremism

2 11 2015

Unleashing extremists has long been a tactic employed by the military when dealing with political opposition. This was especially clear during the 1973-76 period when rightists associated with the palace and often led by military figures were used to create unrest and destroy opponents. This often led to murder and what are now called enforced disappearances. The role of the Red Gaur and Village Scouts in the 6 October 1976 is available in the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars (clicking downloads a 70 page PDF).

The Red Gaur was led by Army intelligence officer Maj. Gen. Sudsai Hasdin. For a time, under General Prem Tinsulanonda’s administration, Sudsai was appointed Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. He and his supporters were often used to pressure opponents with the threat of more mayhem and violence.

Also in that period, rightist monks were active, including the notorious, palace-linked Kittivudho Bhikkhu, who claimed that killing Communists was not much of a sin. He meant all “leftists” who were also considered a threat to the monarchy. He was also a fraudster and shyster. More recently, the military supported the People’s Democratic Reform Committee which had rightist and royalist monk Buddha Issara as one of its leaders.

In other words, rightist extremism is not unusual in Thailand, and has long been supported by both palace and military. Such extremism is promoted by the aggressive notions of the trilogy of Nation, Religion and Monarchy that has been promoted in society, producing xenophobia as well as ultra-royalism and ultra-nationalism.

This is a long introduction to a disturbing report at Prachatai. It states that the monk “Aphichat Promjan, chief lecturer monk at Benjamabophit Temple, a Bangkok temple under royal patronage” has “suggested that the government should burn a mosque for every Buddhist monk killed in the restive Deep South.”

He also urged the government to “arm the Buddhist population in the Deep South as a measure to protect ‘defenseless’ Buddhist monks and people in the area from being targeted by what he called ‘Malayu bandits’.” That aligns with a program that was implemented from about 2004 and saw the arming of Buddhists at the queen’s urging. The aligning of extreme nationalism, royal urging and rights is seen in a Wikileaks cable from 2005.

While this monk probably draws some inspiration from right-wing nationalist monks in Burma, with a dangerous military dictatorship in power in Bangkok, working hard to eliminate all political opposition, the emergence of such rightists and extremists is, sadly, to be expected. The support they receive from military and palace emboldens them.





Cheering the dictatorship

28 09 2015

Shawn Crispin has long been based in Bangkok as a journalist. Most of his writing in recent years has been for the Asia Times Online. Much of it has been conspiratorial revelations based on anonymous sources.

In a recent article at The Diplomat, he turns his hand to Thai-U.S. relations. His basic point is the relationship needs some fixing as they have been strained by recent coups and the persistence of the military dictatorship. He says the new ambassador Glyn Davies, who has just arrived in Bangkok has a chance to be the fixer. The ambassador’s position has been vacant for almost a year.

From that basic point, Crispin proceeds to reproduce a milder version of the vitriol that infects rightist and royalist social media when spitting at the U.S. for not sticking by the warped royalist vision of Thailand, something the U.S. has done since the 1950s.

Crispin sates that “[o]utgoing U.S. ambassador Kristie Kenney staked out a hard line against the coup, a position the State Department has maintained on democratic principle to the detriment of the wider strategic relationship.”

That might seem reasonable when Thailand is the world’s only country currently ruled by a military junta. But this is not Crispin’s view. He alleges that “Kenney’s stance has so far outweighed the views of Thailand specialists in Washington who have called for a more nuanced approach to guard the United States’ considerable economic and strategic interests in the country.”

Frankly, we do not know which “Thailand specialists” Crispin speaks with. As usual, he does not name any. In fact, some of the old guard in Washington are confused by State’s position. These conservatives have long had palace connections and hobnobbed with the elite. Others have maintained close relations with the military from the days when the U.S. rented the Thai military. Many academic specialists and the younger, more broadly connected State officials know more about contemporary Thailand than the old duffers and are thus more critical of military and royalist fascism.

Crispin refers to the U.S. having had “a series of less distinguished and sometimes disinterested envoys” in Thailand. He adds that “[m]any officials and analysts in Bangkok argue that former U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Ralph ‘Skip’ Boyce, a fluent Thai speaker with top connections across the political spectrum, was the last top American diplomat to see clearly through the country’s complex, personality-driven politics.”

He’s factually wrong and ideologically-driven in these claims. Again, no one is named. Kenney is a career diplomat who has been Ambassador in Ecuador, the Philippines and Thailand. She is currently a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. PPT didn’t always like what she did, but she was anything but disinterested and could not be considered “less distinguished” than Boyce, who only ever held one ambassadorship.

Boyce was replaced as Ambassador to Thailand by Eric John, whose CV looks very similar to that of Boyce.

What marked John and Kenney as different from Boyce was that they did not lodge themselves exclusively on the rabid yellow side of politics. Wikileaks cables clearly show Boyce’s remarkable royalist bias and John’s questioning of the old elite, refusing to accept the usual positions. Like John, Kenney had far wider contacts than Boyce. It was this difference that marked them for attack by the rabid yellow right.

What is useful in Crispin’s report is the revelation of the efforts by the royalist elite to re-capture the U.S. Ambassador, a la Boyce:

Prior to his arrival in Bangkok, Davies received personal calls from Privy Councilors, royal advisors to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, welcoming his appointment, according to a source familiar with the communications. (In one of his first moves as ambassador, Davies on Friday visited the Grand Palace to pay respects and wish good health to the king.)

Obviously, the palace meddlers are keen to re-establish the U.S. relationship as theirs. Crispin goes on:

That royal treatment contrasts with Kenney’s initial reception in 2010, where she was scolded by Privy Council President and long-time U.S. ally Prem Tinsulonanda for the leak of confidential U.S. cables, including one that detailed a meeting he and other royal advisors held with Boyce to discuss sensitivities around the royal succession. It’s unclear if that meeting, which Kenney later described to confidantes as among the toughest of her career, colored her diplomacy in favor of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her family clan’s affiliated ‘Red Shirt’ pressure group.

Notice Crispin’s accusation of bias against Kenney but his silence on the captured Boyce. The notion that Kenney was biased in favor of red shirts is little more than a repetition of yellow-shirt social media vitriol. The bias of Boyce is in the record and in his own words.

Crispin then makes the case for military rule: “While the United States has publicly pushed for a rapid restoration of democracy, it has no doubt by now dawned on American policymakers that [The Dictator] Prayut intends to stay in power until the [royal] succession is secure.”

BreadThe point seems to be that the U.S. should accept this succession repression and royalist hegemony until the king dies. This sounds like Crispin as spokesman for the military and royalist elite. His bread seems buttered.

The problem with such advocacy is that the junta may decide to stay on for years after that, to manage the succession and long period of mourning. Still, that’s what some of these advocates seem to prefer.





The 2006 military coup remembered

19 09 2015

It is nine years since the yellow-tagged military rolled its tanks into Bangkok’s streets to oust Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai Party government.

Thaksin had many faults and made many mistakes.

Important in his errors was becoming an electorally popular leader – in February 2005 his party had won the biggest ever landslide in Thailand’s electoral history – and the threat this posed for Thailand’s royalist elite.

Behind government administrations lurked the real power holders in the military brass, the palace and the upper echelons of the bureaucracy who together comprised the royalist state. Some referred to this as the network monarchy and others identified a deep state.

Thaksin’s reliance on votes and the fact that he accumulated them as never before was an existential threat to the powers that be. The elite feared for its control of political, economic and social power.

Their final response, after destabilizing the elected government through the activities of the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy, was to get the military to throw Thaksin and TRT out.

In a reprise of those events, in 2014, Thaksin’s youngest sister Yingluck and her government were sent packing by another military coup that followed destabilization by anti-democrats.

PPT felt that as a way of observing the anniversary of the military-palace power grab on 19 September 2006, we would link to Wikileaks cables that reflect most directly on that coup. Here they are:

There are more cables on the figures circling around the coup and the events immediately before and after the coup, giving a pretty good picture of how the royalist elite behaved and what they wanted the U.S. embassy to know.

The royalist elite came to feel that the 2006 coup failed as pro-Thaksin parties managed to continue to win elections. The result was the development of an anti-democracy ideology and movement that paved the way for the 2014 coup and the military dictatorship that is determined to uproot the “Thaksin regime” and make elections events that have no meaning.