PPT can’t yet judge it because we haven’t yet seen it, but we will be interested to assess a new book – “King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work” - on the current reign that results from a project overseen by former prime minister and ardent royalist Anand Panyarachun at the head of an editorial advisory board.
It was launched a couple of days ago.
The Nation reports that Anand promises “deep, previously unknown insights into King’s life and the monarchy with ‘no attempts to hide the truth or run away from debates’.” He says it is “not a sugar-coated description of the world’s longest-reigning monarch and the work in English was written by a group of experts with knowledge and long experience in Thailand.”
The experts are said to be Chris Baker, David Streckfuss, Porphant Ouyyanont, Julian Gearing, Paul Wedel, Richard Ehrlich, Robert Horn, Joe Cummings, Robert Woodrow, Nicholas Grossman and Dominic Faulder.
Baker is certainly a respected writer on Thailand but has seldom trespassed in any critical manner on issues related to the monarchy. Streckfuss is the expert on lese majeste and Porphant is the leading expert on the Crown Property Bureau. Respectfully, and wishing to be fair but critical, none of the rest are more than long-term journalists, some of whom haven’t written much for a very long time (e.g. Wedel), others write pretty lightweight journalism (e.g. Cummings) and some are pretty much yellow-shirted monarchists.
The book is meant to “help Thai and foreign readers understand the whole gamut of Thailand’s 750-year-old institution and all related implications, real or imagined, especially those related to HM the King, his role and life-long work.” The idea that this current reign is the inheritor of an eight-century tradition is, in fact, one of the inventions of palace propaganda.
Anand says the book even features “negative aspects” related to the monarchy; we’ll be interested to know what these aspects are. He refers to “both sides,” and “not hiding the truth,” and adds that “we also do not want to persuade anyone to change their ways of thinking…”. Such language suggests how deeply debates about the monarchy, despite the stifling impact of lese majeste, have gone.
Anand says more on this when he adds: “The Thai monarchy has been subject to heavy criticism in the past few years not based on facts, so I have used my role as an adviser to tell the truth to foreign audiences…. The book features accurate information, which is fair to all sides, and is regarded as a reference for anyone without true knowledge about the monarchy.”
Anand claims that the book is entirely factual: “we did not use details without reference.” He does, however, note that as “the adviser to this publication, [I] did not alter any inputs of information, but [I did] have put in some details as fulfilment, to create greater balance.”
In line with the palace view that the public has recently “misunderstood the monarchy,” he says “I want all Thais to read it, and to know about a lot of things [about the monarchy] not known before to the public…”.
The topics discussed, apart from a piece on the Privy Council and that on the CPB and lese majeste, seem pretty much the regular features of the hagiographical accounts, so it remains to be seen if they introduce anything that is critical on sufficiency economy, royal projects and so on.
The comment that the article on lese majeste concludes that: “Thailand currently has the most severe lese-majeste law seen anywhere in more than a century, comparable only to Japanese wartime legislation,” is suggestive of some criticism of the law, as would be expected of Streckfuss.
The story concludes, unfortunately with an inaccuracy: “In the past, books about the monarchy have been banned in Thailand. Paul Handley’s ‘The King Never Smiles’ was banned…. So was William Stevenson’s book “The Revolutionary King”, written in 1999.” Of course the latter is sold in Bangkok, but not the more thorough and more accurate Handley book.