Tag Archives: Wachiralongkorn

Thai Politics: If you want titillation just follow Conspiracy Theories. If you want analysis you need to look elsewhere.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A few weeks ago, the Thai Conspiracy Theory networks were humming about goings on among the royals. We were told that top serving military generals were summoned to Wachiralongkorn’s villa in Germany and that the junta heads were not invited. We were told that the movement of tanks towards Lopbury was the beginnings of a military coup. There were dire warnings about a possible “civil war” between troops supposedly commanded by Wachiralongkorn and his opponents.

Yet, a less sensationalist explanation would be that the top generals were going to see the King about the final arrangements for his coronation in May, while Prayut, now a retired officer, concentrated on fixing the election. The armoured vehicle movements were part of the Cobra Gold military exercises with the US.

In terms of the civil war, we’ve been here before with similar dire warnings about a war for royal succession between the troops of Wachiralongkorn and those loyal to the Princess Siritorn (Sirindhorn). Of course this never happened.

Before this, the Thai Conspiracy Theory networks drove themselves into a climax by discussing the relationship between Ubonrut, Taksin and Wachiralongkorn. What was totally ignored was the discussion of the need for a mass social movement for democracy in order to end the legacy of Prayut’s military junta. Without such a movement, the flawed elections in March will not bring an end to the dictatorship. But this is not the kind of reality that excites and titillates the Thai Conspiracy Theory networks.

Some weeks have passed since the supposed “earth quake” in Thai politics, which resulted from the nomination of Ubonrut. But there has been no coup or civil war or attempt at a Palace Coup against Prayut. In any case, an “earth quake” in Thai politics cannot result from the petty manoeuvrings among the elites. An earth quake would look like the Arab Spring or the 14th October 1973 uprising in Bangkok or the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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During the election campaign, when Sudarat Keyurapan from Pua Thai Party proposed a cut in the military budget, General Apirat Kongsompong, army chief, suggested that she listen to an ultra-right song from the 1970’s which was used to mobilise thugs to kill leftists. Apirat is the son of General Sunthorn Kongsompong, who led the 1991 coup against an elected government. The resulting junta was overthrown by mass popular protests in 1992. The reactionary tirade by General Apirat, and his father’s coup in 1991, was a symbol of the military’s wish to monopolise politics and the power struggle between the military and civilian politicians. It was certainly not a result of following orders from Wachiralongkorn!

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leftist student being lynched in Bangkok 1976

These are uncertain times in Thai politics and it is not possible to predict what will happen after the March election. However, the military have 3 levels of action to maintain their power. The first plan is to get Prayut elected as Prime Minister with the support of the 250 military-appointed senators This means that his party only needs 126 elected MPs out of a total of 500 seats in the lower house. The second plan is to restrict the actions of any elected government not headed by Prayut, using the powers of the 20 year National Strategy and various junta appointed bodies like the judiciary and the senate. The third and most desperate action would be another military coup if the election does not give them what they want. But the choice and outcome of any of these 3 actions will not merely be decided in Prayut’s military headquarters or even in Wachiralongkorn’s German palace. It will have a real dialectic relationship with the reaction of millions of ordinary Thais.

Recently, a British socialist posted a comment on the so-called “Jewish Conspiracy”, so beloved by the Nazis. He wrote that “conspiracy theories can take hold when people find themselves incapable of explaining the malign features of our social existence and feel they lack any genuine democratic control over their daily lives. These theories act as an indispensable substitute for a genuine opposition to the real power in society.” This could equally apply to what has been happening in Thailand.

Those who are addicted to Thai conspiracy theories are not interested in helping to build a mass social movement for democracy. Those who claim that Thailand is run by Wachiralongkorn’s absolutism, which controls the military and a supposed “Deep State” are in the same boat. They dismiss the possibility that ordinary people can make “earth quake like” changes to society and instead shrink into gossip about the royals and various conspiracies. And foreign news outlets, looking for juicy exotic news about Thailand, are also happy to lap up all this nonsense. The Thai political crisis is seen as just an elite dispute and mass activity to expand the democratic space is dismissed as impossible. The result is apathy and helplessness.

But as I have previously written; “People who spend their time looking up at the view above risk stepping in dog shit”. The crisis that has divided Thai society for the last decade is about the significant changes to the social and economic conditions of millions of citizens and their unmet political aspirations.

In a previous article I wrote that… “The 1997 economic crisis exposed the material reality of the lives of most Thai citizens whose way of life had developed rapidly over many decades but which was in conflict with an unchanged and outdated “Superstructure”. This is the dynamic of conflict which was harnessed by Taksin. [See https://bit.ly/2I9WcLO ].

This crisis is part of an on-going struggle between ordinary Thai people and the elites who lord it over them. [See https://bit.ly/2SyK7ok ]. If we draw the correct lessons from the struggles of the past, we can begin to organise the overthrow these elites.

Conspiracy theories concerning the elites totally ignore these important issues and cannot begin to explain the complexities of the changes in Thai society. Instead they prefer to discuss Thai politics as though it was some kind of fairy-tale or sensational soap opera.

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Post-Script on Ubonrut’s Nomination

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

[This article should be read together with my previous post “Politics of the Sewer” https://bit.ly/2SHQrZW ]

Now that King Wachiralongkorn has scuppered Ubonrut’s nomination as Thai Raksa Chart’s candidate for Prime Minister, it is worth looking at what the incident exposed.

Firstly, most of the analysis concentrated on the politics of the top elites without raising the question about how a military dictatorship can be brought down in order to achieve real democracy.

People who spend their time looking up at the view above risk stepping in dog shit.

So once again we had people claiming that if Ubonrut became Prime Minister that this would reinforce the supposed growing power of the “Absolute Monarchy”. They were soon proved totally wrong when it became obvious that Wachiralongkorn and Ubonrut did not see things in the same way.

Those who have always been mesmerised by the monarchy and conspiracy theories about a “New Absolutism” have been twisting their theories into a contradictory muddle. Some claim that Ubonrut “must have” consulted the king beforehand since he holds absolute power. Is this really the case?

The question which has been posed now is why Wachiralongkorn intervened to stop his elder sister from entering politics. The most likely explanation is that he was politely “ordered” to stop Ubonrut by a junta agent who pretended to grovel to him. The reality is that the military are Wachiralongkorn’s golden meal ticket. Without them, his position would be very weak. The military were very annoyed by Thai Raksa Chart’s move, which threatened their monopoly on power. If possible they would prefer not to do a power deal with Taksin, which was the aim of Ubonrut’s nomination in the first place. But Wachiralongkorn would not be threaten by Taksin at all. After all, Taksin had paid off his gambling debts in the past. It is true that the competing egos of Wachiralongkorn and Ubonrut and their wish “to be number one” might have helped to persuade Wachiralongkorn. But that was not the key issue.

Some racist foreign observers, who repeat all the conspiracy theories and are not interested in searching for the truth, just laugh smugly at the stupidity of Thai citizens and the bizarre nature of Thai politics. These people should be treated with contempt.

There were many other people who claimed that Ubonrut’s nomination was a clever chess move to beat Prayut. No sooner had they said this than the junta’s side shouted “checkmate”!! People who seek short cuts in order to win in politics often come unstuck.

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After Pumipon’s death many Red Shirts deluded themselves that Wachiralongkorn would turn out to be a friend to their side and might even abolish lèse majesté! If they hadn’t already realised how wrong this myth was, they do now.

Many former Red Shirts and Taksin supporters defended Taksin and Thai Raksa Chart’s role in this chapter of the “Politics of the Sewer” because they mistakenly believe that the junta is all powerful and there is nothing that ordinary people can do.

This bring us to the main issue which has almost totally been ignored by the dog-shit-stepping, star-gazers: How can a military dictatorship be brought down in order to achieve real democracy? This is a key question because the coming elections are rigged in favour of the military and their 20 year future influence on politics. [See https://bit.ly/2RIIvrD ].  It is also a key question because most people who support Taksin’s parties want genuine democracy, even if that is not the priority for Taksin and his team.

The answer is that there are no short cuts. Ridding Thailand of military influence and building democracy means building a pro-democracy social movement which coordinates its struggle with pro-democracy parties. We know from Thai history that such a movement can be built and can be successful so long as it is not controlled by elites. If this reality is rejected and the role of ordinary citizens is denied, the result is a political farce where a royal is posed as an alternative to Prayut’s junta.

How to access my publications

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

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The Failure of Stalinist Ideology and the Communist Parties of Southeast Asia (1998). https://bit.ly/1OEfsJo 

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Thailand: Class Struggle in an Era of Economic Crisis (1999).   http://bit.ly/2kPNX9E  Book about the Thai labour movement.

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From the city, via the jungle, to defeat: the 6th Oct 1976 bloodbath and the C.P.T. http://bit.ly/1TKgv02   or   http://bit.ly/2d1iZbj

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A Coup for the Rich (2007).  https://www.scribd.com/doc/41173616/Coup-For-the-Rich-by-Giles-Ji-Ungpakorn or http://bit.ly/2aE7zc6  Book written in response to the 2006 military coup.

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Why have most Thai NGOs chosen to side with the conservative royalists, against democracy and the poor (2009).   http://bit.ly/1UpZbhh

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Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy (2010).  http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs  Book written during the continued crisis of democracy.

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Thai Spring? Structural roots of the Thai political crisis (2011). http://bit.ly/245WxhD

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Lèse Majesté, the Monarchy, and the Military in Thailand (2011) http://bit.ly/1cLbFtr or http://bit.ly/2cexlW1

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The Festering Sore: Thai State Crimes Go Unpunished (2012)   http://bit.ly/1qGYT9r

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The Bloody Civil War in Patani (2013) http://bit.ly/2bemah3

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The role of Thai Social Movements in Democratisation (2015). http://bit.ly/2aDzest

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What led to the destruction of Thai democracy? (2016). http://bit.ly/2cmZkAa or http://bit.ly/2bSpoF2

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Thai Military Re-adjusts its Relationship with the Monarchy (2017).  http://bit.ly/2xGDiSu Paper which looks at the role of the military and the monarchy after Pumipon. Also discusses the 20 year National Strategy for “Guided Democracy”.

 

Claiming that the king is all powerful is a convenient excuse to do nothing

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Even after the prolonged illness and eventual death of King Pumipon it is unbelievable that there are some Thais who still claim that the new “idiot” King Wachiralongkorn is all powerful and able to control the military junta.

One reason for prolonging this conspiracy theory is the mutual excitement that any discussion about the monarchy arouses. Given that the junta uses the lèse majesté law to imprison anyone who criticises the monarchy, it is understandable that discussions of “prohibited” subjects should cause such excitement. However, as I have explained in a number of my blog posts, the monarchy has always been weak and used as a tool by the military. In the case of Wachiralongkorn this is even more the case than it was for his father, who at least had some credibility in the eyes of many Thais. The lèse majesté law is also in existence in order to protect the military, who always claim to be protecting and representing the monarchy. [See https://bit.ly/2F73RoD, https://bit.ly/2teiOzQ, https://bit.ly/2AF9ozT ]

But excitement and gossip do nothing to further the struggle to increase the democratic space in Thai society.

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In practice, those who have been involved with protesting against the junta’s dictatorship on the streets of Bangkok have targeted the military and their policies. If such protests began to rebuild a pro-democracy social movement from the ruins of the Red Shirts, it would be a powerful force for progressive change. In the past Thai pro-democracy movements have overthrown military juntas. They have also had an effect in pressurising governments to change policies. Even today, when the movement is not as strong as in the past, small and continuous protests by young activists have kept up the pressure on Prayut’s junta to make sure that there is no back-tracking on elections. Also campaigns to defend the universal health care service have so far stopped them introducing payment fees.

Yet there are those who belittle these struggles against the junta by saying that “democracy cannot be established without getting rid of the monarchy”. They claim that Wachiralongkorn is controlling the junta. Some of the more extreme commentators, who titillate their internet audiences with anti-monarchy stories, even go as far as to say that they are not against the military.

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Given that in the present political climate it is not possible to demonstrate against the monarchy, the claims that the king controls the junta are just a recipe for doing nothing. By demanding something that is unrealistic, without also actively fighting for realistic changes, the demands become abstract. Yes, it is right that we aim for a republic, but we need to fight in the here and now for the ending of the junta and its 20 year plans to influence politics. Yes, it is right to aim for socialism, but as Rosa Luxemburg explained, socialists must also be the best fighters for reforms under capitalism.

Some Thais, who erroneously state that King Wachiralongkorn is ruling Thailand as an Absolute Monarch, also campaign against the military junta. But there is an inconsistency in their thinking because if it is the case that Wachiralongkorn is the most powerful person in Thailand, then the only meaningful campaign would be against the monarchy.

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The real anti-democratic thugs in Thailand are Prayut and his cronies and the sooner we build a mass movement against the military, the sooner we can have democracy.

Two main reasons why Thailand should be a republic

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

There are two main reasons why Thailand should be a republic and they do not include the myth that King Wachiralongkorn is supposedly an Absolute Monarch.

If we consider the reason why many countries such as Britain, Sweden, Spain, The Netherlands and Thailand have retained the institution of the monarchy from a previous era, we can understand the role of monarchies under modern capitalism.

Monarchies fulfill a reactionary ideological role which tries to promote the idea that class divisions and inequality are somehow “natural”. Monarchies are a statement that most people are born “low” while some are born “high”. It is only the high-born folk who deserve to be surrounded by immense wealth and it is only they who have the God-given right to determine political, social and economic policies.

The reactionary ideology of the monarchy serves to legitimise privilege, elitism and a lack of democratic space in society. It is an ideology which protects the ruling capitalist class. So it becomes “natural” for bosses to dictate policies in the workplace and for big business to exclude ordinary citizens from making economic policy. It becomes “unnatural” for anyone to suggest that we take away the immense wealth and power of the few in order to distribute it among the many.

The ideology of the monarchy also serves the purpose of trying to claim that we are all part of one nation with similar interests; the “National Interest”. This is an attempt to reduce class conflict.

Of course, this reactionary ideology is constantly being challenged from below, in Europe and in Thailand, which is why the elites seek constantly to reproduce it.

In this way, the monarchies and capitalist ruling classes of Britain, Sweden, Spain and The Netherlands are little different from the Thai monarchy and the Thai capitalist ruling class. This is despite some differences in detail, such as the functioning lèse-majesté law and the practice of crawling on the ground before the king in Thailand.

Many Thai political commentators are unable to break free from the socialisation by the Thai state and wrongly believe the ruling class myth that the king is all powerful. They are encouraged to believe this by ruling class nationalism which promotes the idea that Thailand is somehow unique. Therefore comparative studies of other countries are irrelevant. Therefore foreigners “cannot possibly understand Thai politics and society”. Some foreign academics, like the ones from the “Cornell Mafia”, but others too, just love to perpetuate myths about the unique Thai or Asian psyche which makes Thai or Indonesian politics so “mysterious”. Sharp analysis disappears among statements about “barami” (charisma) or about the “fact” that Asians love powerful leaders.

In Thailand the role of the monarchy is to legitimise the actions of the military, big business and the conservative bureaucracy. Thus, the military use the excuse about protecting the monarchy in order to install themselves in power and to try to crush opposition. Elected business politicians like Taksin also used the monarchy to help with his legitimacy. The difference between Taksin and the military is that the military have only royal legitimacy to justify their political interventions.

I have argued in many posts on this site, and also in longer articles, that King Pumipon and King Wachiralongkorn did not and do not have political power. The main obstacle to freedom and democracy today is the military junta. But it is the ideological role of the monarchy which we also need to abolish.

King Wachiralongkorn has not created a new “absolutist” regime, but what he has been busy doing is feathering his own nest. He insisted on a change in the military’s constitution so that he could continue to enjoy the good life in Germany without having someone else appointed over his head to act on his behalf. He has reorganised royal wealth by concentrating it in his own hands. He has asked the Bangkok zoo and other organisations to move out of prime real-estate land so that he can earn higher profits. It is all about personal greed and that is all he is interested in and all he can actually control.

This brings us to the second reason why we need a republic in Thailand. The Thai king is one of the wealthiest people in the world and given the average levels of wealth of the majority of ordinary Thai citizens, this is an obscenity. If all this ill-gotten wealth was taken off the monarchy we could improve education, health care and build a properly funded welfare state.

So the two main reasons for creating a republic in Thailand are the reactionary ideology symbolised by the monarchy and the fact that it is a parasitic institution wasting millions of much-needed resources.

Military Thuggery Rewarded

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Not only do the Thai military killers and thugs enjoy impunity after killing pro-democracy demonstrators, Malay Muslims or human rights activists, they also get promoted.

Army thug Apirat Khongsompong has been appointed as the new Commander-in-Chief of the Army. In early April 2010 he led a group of soldiers to attack unarmed pro-democracy Red Shirts at the Thai Khom Satellite Ground Control Station in Patum Tani. Several Red Shirts were injured in that attack. He can be seen in video footage shooting a handgun at the protesters. Obscenities were also mouthed.

The video can be seen on YouTube (assuming it isn’t removed at the request of the junta). The link is below.

https://youtu.be/x26MASB1J9w

The Thai military attack unarmed civilians as though they are enemy combatants, rushing forward as though they were involved in great feats of heroism. In fact they behave like cowardly thugs.

Some people have commented that because the new military reshuffle and appointments were done in the name of the king that Wachiralongkorn is somehow in charge of the military. This is just the usual nonsense from the conspiracy theorists. All such appointments have always been carried out in the name of the Head of State.

There is no evidence at all that Wachiralongkorn has any power over the armed forces and the military reshuffle was directed by the top generals and the ruling junta.

Military reshuffles and promotions are an occasion for top generals to get their turn to stick their snouts in the corrupt feeding trough and therefore much behind the scenes bargaining takes place between different factions.

In most European countries where there is a monarchy, top appointments of soldiers, Prime Ministers or judges are usually carried out in the name of the monarchy without the monarchy having any power whatsoever.

General Apirat clearly hated the Red Shirts and this is just another example of how the Thai military can never act as an honest broker between the different political factions.

Wachiralongkorn is greedy. But changes to the Crown Property Bureau are not that significant.

 

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Since the days of Pumipon, the Thai king has owned a huge capitalist conglomerate, in the shape of the Crown Property Bureau (CPB). This makes the king the richest person in Thailand and one of the richest monarchs in the world. The CPB owns a large number of shares in the Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement. It also owns huge amounts of land, often in prime real-estate sites in Bangkok. Historically it never paid tax.

Royalists have long claimed that the king did not actually “own” the CPB but that it belonged to the monarchy as an institution. This was always as illusion. Simon Montlake, in a 2012 Forbes article, called the CPB a “family enterprise, gifted to the next generation”. It is neither a government enterprise, nor a private firm, nor a charity. King Pumipon was formally in charge of its investments and appointed all members of the board except for the Minister of Finance, who acted as a powerless Chair. The investment policy and management of the CPB were secret affairs. None of the profits created by the CPB were returned to the Thai State. The King also had a separate private fortune. That is why Forbes always calculated Pumipon’s wealth based on the CPB holdings and his private fortune. [See https://bit.ly/2yknoCQ ].

The CPB was not “independent” of the king in anyway. The wealth originated from forced labour and a monopoly on trade in the Sakdina feudal era. In the late nineteenth century the Sakdina system was overthrown by King Rama 5 under pressure from Western Imperialism. The monarch’s ill-gotten gains were transformed into a capitalist enterprise. However, immediately after the 1932 revolution, which overthrew the absolute monarchy, the equivalent of the CPB in those days was nationalised under the control of the government.

This situation did not last for long and in 1948, when a pro-monarchy government came to power, they robbed the state of this public asset, giving it to the king. However there were three pots of wealth associated with the king. The Crown Property Bureau was organised independently from the king’s personal wealth, even though he controlled both. There was also a bureau which owned and managed some of the palaces “on behalf of the nation”, although ordinary citizens never benefitted from this royal wealth either.

Now King Wachiralongkorn has formally taken personal control of all the monarchy’s wealth, including the CPB [see https://bit.ly/2t3zA5Y  ]. This is not an attempt to grab public assets for his own personal use, but an attempt to make sure he is in sole control of what Montlake called “the family enterprise”. It makes sure that the previous royal officials and managers who were loyal to Pumipon are not able to interfere with the whims of Wachiralongkorn. It also makes it clear that no one else in the royal family has a say.

Those who get over-excited by the odious behaviour of Wachiralongkorn are always looking for conspiracy stories to claim that he is seizing political power and becoming the most powerful man in the country. This is not the case. He remains weak, greedy, extremely rich, and uninterested in affairs of the state. [See https://bit.ly/2oD4YGD ].

The monarchy should be abolished and its wealth put to good use in improving the lives of ordinary citizens. But the main obstacle to freedom and democracy in Thailand is the military junta and its plans to extend its influence for the next 20 years through a system of “guided democracy”.

See also: https://bit.ly/2MyX4Yx