General Prayuth Chan-ocha, with the blessing of the powerful monarchy and Privy Council, declared martial law, followed by rolling out the army’s tanks on the streets of Bangkok and sealed the fate of the country by staging the so-called “bloodless” coup d’etat of 22 May 2014. It was déj├а vu, all over again! Though the political event looked serious in the eyes of the world, it was an easy task for the Thai general, the coup leader, who often holds the title “Chief of the Army” to copy the same model as his predecessors. The final stage of any Thai coup is the customary photo-op with the king for full pardon and legitimacy.
This may, perhaps, be the core origin of the Thai culture of impunity, because such an act of treason against a government is punishable by death. As usual, the king gave a full pardon for the general, for any past, current and future undertakings associated with the coup d’etat.
Why does Thailand has to go down this path every few years with the same old characters again and again while the country and the majority of the population suffer? I would hereby like to emphasise again that the people suffer, not the handful of the military thugs who stage a coup and the monarchy and its network. They have all been enriched by this despicable deed. It all boils down to Thailand’s warped political system which is very confusing. Most foreigners think the Thai political system is like that of Japan or the United Kingdom.
The current system is not at all democratic! It is like the old absolute monarchy except that the monarchy has all the glories, even though the country is being run by the government whether elected or not. While the Thai monarchy and its network controls the print and television media, namely, the Bangkok Post, The Nation and various TV stations including the government owned Public Relations Department, it erroneously informs the world that Thailand is a democratic country with the king as “Head of State,” an indirect comparison as in the case that of the Queen of England or Emperor of Japan who are, in reality, politically powerless. Just a quick glance of each and every Thai Constitution shows how powerful the Thai king is.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha said he abrogated the current constitution except Sections concerning the monarchy. Thus, the following are still in use and true:
Section 3 of the Thai constitution states:
The sovereign power belongs to the Thai people. The King as Head of State shall exercise such power through the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers and the Courts in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
The above Section is not known to Westerners or even most Thais. It is like saying the car belongs to the people but only the king can drive the car. Or, the people own the gun but only the king can pull the trigger. In both cases, the people have to do the maintenance and upkeep of the car and gun.
Section 8 of the Thai constitution states:
The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action.
This section means the Thai King is like God and no one can sue the King even if he commits robbery, blatant lies, mayhem or murders. Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code states:
No one can criticize the king and any member of his family, even if such criticisms are based on the truth.
This is called “lese majeste” and it carries a jail term of 3 to 15 years for each offense.
Section 10 states:
The King holds the position of Supreme Commander of the Thai Armed Forces.
Section 11 is:
The King has the prerogative to create titles and confer decorations.
All the sections listed above clearly indicate the ultimate power lies with the Thai king. There can be no dispute in my mind that the king and/or his inner circles have ordered the coup d’ etat just like all the previous coups. This one is no different from the old ones. In sum, after he gives the order, he often stays low profile and never utters a word. Then he would appoint a so-called “temporary or neutral prime minister” of his own choosing. Nonetheless, in this latest coup, with this general in charge, the king and his inner circle decided on the coup maker himself as the prime minister in order to save time since they are now in full control of the country.
Thus I strongly feel the King and coup d’etat go hand in hand. Why does nobody dare talk about this? As you know, he is also shielded by the lese majeste law which forbids people from making any questioning comments about him.
As you can see, there can be no denying that the Thai king and his inner circles are heavily involved in controlling the country. They simply do not feel at ease if someone else such as deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra or his sister Yingluck is in the premiership. I believe it all comes down to money, the vast assets, business empire and cash worth some US$40 billion as of 2014 that the Crown Property Bureau (CPB), the investment arm of the King, controls.
Their investments extend all over Thailand and the world, be it in the field of banking, real estate, petro-chemicals, shopping centers, hotels, and you name it, they have it all. A distinctive Siam Park, a grandiose amusement park in Spain also belongs to the CPB. Another crown jewel of the CPB is the 5-Star and luxurious hotel chain, the Kempenski Hotel, worth in the billions of dollars also belongs to them.
I am so lost and it makes me sick as to why Thai taxpayers have to pay for all the royals living expenses at a tune of some 300 million pound sterling a year. A fleet of air planes and luxurious yachts were given to the royals on their various anniversaries, all paid for by taxpayers. Now I know why King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the richest monarch in the world and he may be ranked as one of the top 10 richest men in the world.
Lese majeste law or Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code is flawed from the outset. It was designed to scare people away from speaking the truth.
I would term the current political system as an “Absolute Monarchy by Proxies”: Proxies in a sense that the Thai king uses men around him to do the dirty work and never has to be responsible for the welfare of the people. He only takes all the accolades and praise. When it comes to the nation’s problem or the plight of the people, the Thai king and his supporters would all point their fingers at the government. This is worse than the old absolute monarchy, when the king was responsible for the welfare and stability of the country. Now he does not have to do anything or worry about anything except to watch out that anyone outside of his control who may be the leader of the government.
Thus the intent of the lese majeste law is to scare, intimidate and silence people from talking about the king in a negative way which might include the regicide case of King Ananda. Friends often ask me if I am afraid of lese majeste law. Indeed, I would rather die than live the life of deceit, hypocricy and fear of lese majeste law. Those who are associated with the European Union, I request that please attach the removal of lese majeste law in your condition to stop sanctions. Thai people are simply helpless to do anything with this law, even a civilian PM who often ignores the discussion of this law.
With this uncivilized and barbaric law still in the book, only the monarchy and a handful of elite will benefit. The CPB has amassed their wealth exponentially every year, while poor Thais are getting poorer.
Also, for the justice of King Ananda and the three innocent pages who were wrongly executed after his death, we must continue to search for the murderer, until he is brought to justice.
General Prayuth’s latest proclamation of “reform” for Thailand is a copout and an excuse for an even more dictatorial regime in defence of the monarchy and the protection of their vast wealth.
Thailand is still full of corruption starting from the top at the pyramid on which the monarchy and its network sit. Next in line is the score of top generals who benefit from the army budget annually. More than 50% of such army budget often goes into the bank account of the generals and/or their wives.
In sum, I feel if Thailand wants to truly solve her problems, the country must first decide to abolish the lese majeste law once and for all, so people can openly discuss the subject matter in a truthful manner and without fear of punishment. Because, to be frank, most of the country’s ills and troubles stem from the monarchy and its network.
Chatwadee Rose Amornpat is based in London. She was charged with lese majeste by the Thai military junta in July 2014. For previous New Mandala coverage of her situation see this post from earlier in the year.