Politics and the succession question

18 01 2014

A reader drew PPT’s collective attention to a recent, lavishly illustrated National Geographic story on Thailand. Part of the URL is revealing of the story: thailand-red-yellow-shirts-thaksin-bhumibol-insurgency-bangkok-world/. The sections that most interested us were on the monarchy.

National Geographic has a long history of support for the monarchy, born first of crude Orientalism and later of Cold War activism. Not that long ago, National Geographic teamed up with STG Multimedia to commodify king and royalism. They essentially re-packaged a bunch of old clips about the king. As we noted then, National Geographic was involved in propagandizing for the monarchy, and PPT has a PDF of a 1973 memo of comments from then U.S. Ambassador Leonard Unger to William Graves at National Geographic. Unger was the link to the palace as a story on the royals was constructed to the palace’s satisfaction. The embassy and the palace essentially dictated how the magazine should frame its story for best effect and when Unger states that he is “confident that the magnitude of your efforts … will not be lost on the palace” seems to explain the relationship.

Wax kingThe present article has quite a bit on the monarchy, and those who subscribe to royal conspiracies will be able to make quite a bit of the attention to Princess Sirindhorn, especially in the context of the sub-header: “A bitter struggle for control of the government is compounded by uncertainty over the future of the monarchy.” The story states:

On December 5, King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 86th birthday, the protests abruptly, but temporarily, stopped. All Thais, it was evident, instinctively recognized that violent demonstrations were absolutely off-limits for the moment: too disrespectful.

Well, only the anti-democrats were demonstrating, and as they are royalists, of course they’d stop for the purpose of having the “big boss” heard and demonstrate their “respect,” but many others couldn’t have cared less and hate the treacle associated with these events. In any case, the king’s incoherence due to he apparent dementia, showed all that this king, while he might cling to life, has already faded to the background. Even Sirindhorn told the author that her father was “frail, so we must be careful with him.” Others are steering the palace. Hence, this makes sense:

Questions about who will succeed King Bhumibol—who is sick, and after 67 years on the throne, the only monarch most have ever known—adds a layer of complexity to the ongoing political struggle and the country’s worrisome outlook. His designated heir, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, is widely disliked.

In further discussion, in red shirt areas, this quote says much about conflicts:

By courting the masses and then delivering on his promises, Thaksin [Shinawatra] won the kind of adoration once reserved solely for the demigodly King Bhumibol.

ThaksinThe politicization that came from Thaksin’s period is clear in the quote from one villager:

Kullakarn said she had lived most of her 42 years taking little interest in politics, but that changed after Thaksin came to power in 2001. “As a farmer, I benefited from his policies, including getting a better price for my rice,” she said. “Most Thais voted for him, not once but twice. When the army overthrew him, I realized that something was wrong.”

That adds to the fear amongst those associated with the palace’s tribute and profit system.

The conversation then returned to the monarchy:

Most stunning to Kullakarn was what did not happen [after the coup and in red shirt demonstrations]. The king was nowhere to be seen, his voice unheard. “If you ask if we love the king, yes, we do,” Kullakarn told me. “But today there is some distance between the king and his people—us. He was the only one who could have stopped the crackdown, but he didn’t say anything.” She said people want to know why the king treats yellow shirts and red shirts differently, why he didn’t help. “We want to ask the king questions but can’t, because lèse-majesté stops us from having direct dialogue with the palace. We’re afraid of it.”

 On the political use of the lese majeste law, the story states: “… the lèse-majesté law appears to be backfiring. Once sacrosanct, the royal family is now subjected to online insults and accusations.” A devoted yellow-shirt responds on this and explains why Thaksin is a threat to the monarchy:

Chumseri conceded that some Thais, particularly leftist intellectuals, had been criticizing the royal family throughout Bhumibol’s 67 years on the throne. “But it was never organized,” she said. “Now everyone knows Thaksin wants all the power for himself, so his very existence encourages lèse-majesté.”

VajiralongkornThe conclusion of the story is with Sirindhorn:

She is thought of throughout the country as the sole member of the royal family above reproach. Many call her “angel.” If the king chooses Sirindhorn instead of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, she’ll become Thailand’s first ever female ruler. Sirindhorn was noncommittal about the question of succession.

There it is for the conspiricists: she is “non-committal” when the law is that the succession is with the prince. Is this more reflection of a palace battle?

The author gets a little pointed:Sirindhorn “Why … at this late stage in the king’s highly regarded reign, were so many ordinary Thais speaking out against him—something that rarely used to happen or at least was kept from the public?” This isn’t quite true. As we have tried to document in our pages, there has been a history criticism. It is true that before social media it was much harder to circulate criticisms. Sirindhorn notes this:

“People have more and more ideas…. The social media have made these ideas more widespread. But I don’t think we should care much about it. The Buddha taught that you shouldn’t think it’s a big deal if anyone says bad things.”

Yet that isn’t the point of lese majeste, which is not to prevent “bad things” being said, but seeks to prevent all criticism, true or not, and anything that doesn’t suit the decades of royal posterior polishing hagiography. More to the point, lese majeste is meant to dull criticism of the palace’s tribute and profit system, including the political alliance of conservative royalism and military authoritarianism.

The author then says Sirindhorn said: “I don’t think it is possible to force people to love you.” She’s speaking colloquially but she’s wrong. If she isn’t, she’s involved in an enormous, expensive and deceitful scam. We’d ask why has the palace, the military and various governments invested so much – hundreds of billions of baht – in trying to achieve this end?  Why all the billboards, all the schoolroom propaganda, all the television propaganda, the hagiographies that are provided with official funding, and all the rest? What all of this has been about is the establishment of royalist dominance, including its ideological hegemony.

We are sure others can make more out of this interview and the succession issue than we can.


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9 12 2018
What happened to that palace “crisis”? | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] PPT wasn’t convinced by this successionist argument., but we couldn’t ignore the way discussion of succession merged with rising anti-monarchism. […]

9 12 2018
What happened to that palace “crisis”? | Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] PPT wasn’t convinced by this successionist argument., but we couldn’t ignore the way discussion of succession merged with rising anti-monarchism. […]