Royalist propaganda

5 01 2014

PPT has made a few comments recently on the domestic media and the work of anti-democracy propagandists like Veera Prateepchaikul and Thanong Khanthong. We haven’t commented too much on royalist and anti-democracy propagandists who are popping up in the international media, except to briefly mention royalist dolts like Stephen B. Young and extremists who have latched onto Thailand as a site for bizarre rants disguised as commentary.

In recent days, several readers have passed on more of the international propaganda that is being cranked up by the royalist anti-democracy campaigners in Thailand. As with much of this stuff, it tells a story that is not meant to be accurate or factual. Rather its purpose is to establish a discourse that “proves” the anti-democrats’ claims and program.

Interestingly, some of this is by exactly the same “friends of Thailand” who were prodded into action to defend the 2006 military coup and the actions of the Abhisit Vejjajiva-led government that used military force to smash the red shirts in 2010.  Like Young, these propagandists are those who have had long connections with the palace and monarchy. Indicative of this is David Van Praagh, a former professor and former Canadian Globe and Mail correspondent in South and Southeast Asia who is the author of Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy: The Life and Times of M. R. Seni Pramoj. The book is a hagiography of a prince and royalist politician who was one of the founders of the Democrat Party.

His recent piece in the Globe and Mail was under the headline “Why Thailand is crucial to democracy in Asia.” It is about “royalist democracy,” and seems somewhat awkwardly twinned with a far more scurrilous fairy tale on democracy at YouTube, apparently produced by people so closely connected to events that Thaksin becomes Tharksin, with Thaksin and his cronies being elected by uneducated, dumb or bought peasants and – this is a surprise – controls the military, police and independent agencies. Ho hum, but it tells the story of why democracy doesn’t exist in Thailand and why it is that pro-Thaksin parties have won every national election since 2001 but that this is wrong and bad.

Van Praagh does argue that his favorite Democrat Party should stand in the upcoming election. That’s all well and good, except that it is too late for this. He also seems to miss the point that the Democrat Party is now in the hands of extremists. Yet van Praagh lives in a different political world that wants the monarchy to be something it isn’t. The extremists in the Democrat Party know that they must grab the future. So while van Praagh supports “democracy” it is a “democracy” that is monarchist.

He begins his op-ed with a complete nonsense:

But Thais never learned from farangs (foreigners) how to make democracy work. Instead they have endured a long series of military coups, corrupt politicians and, at especially critical times, pro-democracy intervention by the revered constitutional monarch Bhumiphol Adulyadej.

Should we point out that the monarchy’s interventions have been some of the most anti-democratic? Think of 1976. Think of 2006. Think of the monarchy’s long support of military dictatorships. Should we point out that Thais don’t need to be taught about democracy by foreigners?

His perspective is colored by his prejudices:

One group, led by wealthy exiled Sino-Thai profiteer Thaksin Shinawatra, whose younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra is Prime Minister in his absence, thrives politically as well as economically on corruption – routinely paying poor rice-growing farmers for their votes.

Vote-buying? Really? There are still people who believe this after all of the recent commentary that has shown this claim to be a “dangerous nonsense.” Note the claim that Thaksin is a rich Sino-Thai profiteer and compare this with the description of Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is mistakenly taken to be somehow critical for the “other group” in this conflict:

… growing out of the middle-class Prachatipat or Democrat Party founded in 1946, has in effect thrown away this vital credential by opposing and even planning to disrupt a Feb. 2 parliamentary election called by Yingluck, who has rejected a postponement proposed by Thailand’s Election Commission.

Led by Oxford-educated Abbisit Vejjajiva, the Democrats have turned their back on democracy by following dissident Suthep Thaugsuban, who favors a non-elected national council.

Perhaps Abhisit could also be described as an elitist Sino-Thai who has never really worked, having been groomed for wealth and power? Perhaps the Democrat Party can also be accused of vote-buying, when the military poured funds into coalition constituencies in the last election? And the claim that the Democrat Party is a party of democracy is a claim that simply cannot be maintained when its long history of royalist support for coups and military rule are considered. In fact, Abhisit is the most recent in a line of anti-democratic Democrat Party leaders.

Van Praagh then comes up with a series of nonsensical claims:

The underlying assumption among Thais is that Yingluck and her ironically named Clean Thai Party will win another election.

The first claim is true enough, but “Clean Thai”? We think the author has been watching the propaganda video above, where the Puea Thai Party – For Thai Party – is referred to as the “Pure Thai Party.”

If she does, and brings back Thaksin under an amnesty – the first reason for anti-Thaksin street demonstrations – the so far laid-back army is likely to take matters into its own hands, reviving the tradition of military coups by again deposing the Shinawatra family. The army commander has neither accepted nor rejected the possibility of another coup.

For a start, PPT does not believe that an election will be completed and a government formed from it. But that’s our guess.The amnesty is pretty much dead and a coup is likely.

Living in a fantasy world, van Praagh opines:

If Prachatipat does not return to its senses and its roots, and does not win the early February election, Thailand’s democracy landscape will be all but barren.

Win? Really?

This will have an adverse impact on other Southeast Asian nations aspiring to genuine democracy, especially Indonesia with its army in waiting, and the Philippines with its gap between rich and poor much greater than Thailand’s.

Moreover, setbacks for democracy in Southeast Asia and elsewhere in Asia and the Pacific will provide grist for the mill of China’s expansionism, with Southeast Asia its first regional target for anti-democracy statist regimes. Thailand’s Thaksin, for example, has strong ties to Beijing.

The extremists and the anti-democracy lot reckon that Thaksin is an ally of a secretive U.S. alliance to tie Thailand into a global capitalist plutocracy. But then there is a long royal discourse on nasty Chinese capitalist who only become Thai by their allegiance to the king, and by funding his quirky projects and ideas. Thaksin is anti-royal and therefore not a “good Chinese,” but an evil one:

Thaksin, the root of Thailand’s troubles, also claims he owes allegiance to King Bhumiphol. Many Thais do not believe him, and they may also be swayed by the sharp drop in Thailand’s economy, particularly the decline in exports of rice.

We have no idea how the rice bit adds to the royal stuff, but plenty of farmers like the rice support scheme. To hammer the “bad Chinese” bit home, van Praagh makes the obvious point:

Presumably, the king does not believe Thaksin either. He has publicly excoriated Thaksin for corruption. That was before he was compelled for health reasons to suspend the role he had created of mediator of last resort in Thai politics. But after four years in hospital, and while anti-Thaksin demonstrations were going on, King Bhumiphol, looking healthy on his 86th birthday, drove with Queen Sirikit to his palace on the ocean near Bangkok.

He then gets to his point. Only the king can deliver democracy and “save the nation”:

The king’s appearance during the latest Thai crisis clearly sent a signal. It was not clear immediately what the signal is. But many Thais who have yearned for democracy for decades strongly hope that Bhumiphol is reasserting his role when he banished autocratic governments in 1973 and 1992, and thereby saved the nation.

Frankly, we think the palace learned a lot from its identification with the 2006 coup. It wants to stay behind the scenes. Indeed, both the king and queen are weak and doddery yet we have little reason to think that they are not supporting the anti-democrats. Van Praagh’s op-ed seems to suggest just this, calling for what the protesters say is absolute democracy with the king as revered head of state.


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