A royal shemozzle I

27 05 2021

It has been an exceptionally busy 24-36 hours for the regime’s virus “strategy.” Failures, turnarounds and a royal intervention point to a shemozzle. More significantly, they point to a royal/royalist failure and a rescue attempt.

The media is reflecting a broader discontent as it refers to the aspects of the vaccine “rollout” as a “fiasco” and talk of corruption hampering the regime’s response to thousands of cases a day, pointing to human smuggling:

In January, Gen Prayut set up a special panel to tackle labour smuggling, but it’s unclear what the panel has really achieved.

By setting up such a panel, the government hoped to appease critics, by giving the impression something was being done, when in fact the opposite was more accurate. The panel also gives credence to the belief that regular mechanisms are dysfunctional or beset with graft…. It’s an open secret that unscrupulous officials are involved in these activities.

It seemed clear to most people that there were major problems unresolved:

In October last year, the government chose the AstraZeneca vaccine as its main weapon against COVID-19. However, arming itself with AstraZeneca shots has proved difficult, and it now looks like the shortage will last longer than expected.

Then, in no particular order, a series of revelations pointed to the deadly results of the shemozzle. First, there was the report that the surge of virus cases in prisons continues, despite an earlier assurance from the Corrections Department that it could “bring the situation under control.” It has only gotten worse and deadly. The Corrections Department has now “reported 1,243 new infections and three deaths among inmates, raising the total number of prison cases to 17,138.” Being in prison now means almost certain virus infection and the possibility of death.

Second, it is clear that the cases among mostly migrant workers in construction camps around Bangkok are rivalling the rates in prisons, and the response is essentially to lock the workers up, infected and uninfected (so far) together. Businesses wanted to keep working and their profits rely on migrant workers. Leaky borders require official connivance in keeping wages low and migrants in shit conditions, even as they are infected and die.

Third, the regime began panicked changes to its own virus measures.

Vaccine registration through app Mor Prom was suddenly suspended. The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration’s explanation that this was “to forestall a bottleneck” seems to confirm that the vaccines are just not available in sufficient quantity to meet demand. We had posted on the delays to vaccine availability earlier, associated with the king’s company Siam Bioscience. Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul had announced that “Thailand would take delivery of another lot of AstraZeneca vaccine in June.” He then added: “that this did not mean they would be available on June 1,” saying: “If the shots made in Thailand are not ready, the company is bound to find them from somewhere else to fill our order as stipulated in the contract…”. This probably put him in conflict with the monarch’s outfit and he may well have been saying that he wasn’t prepared to wear the criticism for Siam Bioscience’s failings.

Then, the palace responded (that’s how it appears to us). Overnight on Wednesday, without fanfare, a peculiar announcement appeared at the Royal Gazette website, purportedly signed by the ailing Princess Chulabhorn and on behalf of her personal fiefdom, the so-called Chulabhorn Royal Academy and Chulabhorn Institute.

It declared that:

the academy had granted its secretary-general the power to enter into a trade agreement with public and private organisations, both domestic and overseas, in matters relating to the provision of medical and public health services during the emergency situation amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The announcement added that:

…all medical equipment, drugs and vaccines imported by the academy would be considered its property for the purpose of medicine and public health and will not be liable to any kind of legal execution.

The “academy” promises to provide more information on how it plans to procure and import Covid-19 vaccine from Sinopharm.

As we know, earlier in the week, “Bio Genetech Ltd, an importer of Sinopharm’s Covilo vaccine, had submitted complete documentation to register the vaccine for use in Thailand and expected approval to come soon.” We can’t find any information on that company, but it may well be a Thai subsidiary of a Chinese company. WHO information on the vaccine is here. Information on Sinopharm is available here.

Thai Enquirer has two reports. One says of the announcement:

The announcement, which was ambiguously worded, could be interpreted to say that the institute would now be able to bypass government red-tape [regulations] and bring it vaccines as it sees fit…. [It] also gives the organizations sweeping powers to carry out work….

But the other report goes entirely royalist being written by the deeply yellow Fuadi Pitsuwan. While noting that the right to procure and import vaccines “was reserved for only the Thai government,” it somehow construes the power grab as “most certainly a benevolent gesture by the Institute,” adding that “it highlights the royal frustration and the split among the ruling elites over how the Prayuth government is handling the crisis.” It babbles on:

HRH Princess Chulabhorn is taking the matter in her own hands. She is trying to do what she can to alleviate the dire healthcare situation and to compensate for the delay in vaccine procurement by the Ministry of Health and its relevant agencies.

This is self-censoring rubbish to avoid Article 112, adding:

But the royal move, exercised in this manner however well-intentioned, calls into question the political legitimacy of the government and its authority in the management of the crisis. It is a no-confidence censure and a royal rebuke of both Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and Minister of Health Anutin Charnveerakul.

To be fair, the report notes dangers in another royal interference.

When our top institution becomes too involved in people’s welfare, whether it exercises that power directly or through an agency, it exposes itself to being politicized and thus such a move is a double-edged sword that could end up hurting its own reputation and sanctity.

It adds:

For now, we can be sure that the ruling elites have split and that move by … Chulabhorn has highlighted the royal anxiety over the government’s mishandling of the crisis. What this means in practice is that our government is no longer in control of its health care apparatus and there is a functioning, competing alternative health-care system led by … Chulabhorn herself.

And, the author does worry about a broader royal takeover:

If Prayuth and Anutin do not step up their game quickly, it will be to no one’s surprise when a more powerful intervention beyond the healthcare arena finally takes place

This latter point is certainly true. The royal family is politically dangerous. But, while we think this general interpretation of the intervention could be true it  misses a lot because of its royalist spinelessness.

We think that the whole AstraZeneca/Siam Bioscience deal was concocted by the regime and the palace to “save” Thais with the “king’s vaccine.” The fact that Siam Bioscience has failed leads to claims that the whole regime-royal strategy has failed Thais. This throws a spanner in the whole royal propaganda machine. With Anutin demonstrating that he isn’t prepared to take the blame, the the monarchy has had to find another means to be seen to be “saving” Thais. 

Whichever interpretation is correct, the monarchy’s interfering is dangerous for Thailand.


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