The king and his antics II

11 09 2020

Thailand’s king and his antics in Europe have attracted plenty of unfavorable comment, The most recent is from The Statesman. While we think that most of PPT’s readers will know all of the facts and antics recounted, we consider the article by Francis Pike, with our added illustrations, worth reproducing in full:

The depraved rule of Thailand’s Caligula king
Protestors are risking it all to take on the monarchy

Fu Fu

The Roman emperor Caligula was renowned for his extravagance, capricious cruelty, sexual deviancy and temper bordering on insanity. Most famously, before he was assassinated, he planned to appoint his favourite horse as a consul. This is probably a legend. But King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who ascended the Thai throne in 2016, adopted Caligula’s playbook for real. In 2009 the then crown prince promoted his pet miniature poodle Foo Foo to the post of air chief marshal, in which capacity he served until his death in 2015, aged 17. Foo Foo’s cremation was preceded by four days of formal Buddhist mourning.

The poodle first came to the attention of the general public when a video was released showing him eating cake from the hand of Vajiralongkorn’s third wife, Princess Srirasmi, while she cavorted in a G-string at the dog’s lavish birthday party. At a 2009 gala dinner in honour of Vajiralongkorn, Foo Foo was kitted out head to paw in black-tie dress and, according to a WikiLeaks-revealed account by US ambassador, Ralph Boyce, ‘jumped onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses, including my own’.

When on parade the new king wears crisp, snowy-white, gold-braided, Ruritanian military uniforms or elaborate Thai regalia that make him look like a Buddhist temple in human form. In downtime his dress code can at best be described as kinky: trainers and low-hung jeans paired with the skimpiest of crop tops. His back and arms are festooned with possibly fake tattoos.

Vajiralongkorn is famously lecherous. Indeed, in his youth, Thai aristocrats would pack off their daughters to Europe to get them out of his clutches. Happily for Bangkok’s elite, the crown prince’s tastes, after his divorce from his first wife, an aristocratic relative of his mother, were consistently low-rent. His second wife was an aspiring actress, albeit of the soft-porn variety.

Prince, and kids in earlier times

The marriage did not last. After Vajiralongkorn put posters all over the palace accusing her of adultery, she fled to London and later to the US with her children — apart from a daughter who was kidnapped and brought back to Bangkok. The daughter was elevated to the rank of princess, but her mother and brothers had their diplomatic passports and royal titles revoked by the crown prince. The Thai public was left horrified by his treatment of his family.

Another marriage followed in 2001, to the aforementioned Srirasmi, though it was not publicly announced until 2005 when the crown prince, by then in his early fifties, declared it was time to settle down. How-ever, in 2014 he stripped his wife of her royal titles because of her relatives’ corruption. Srirasmi’s parents were jailed for two and a half years each for lèse-majesté.

Sineenat

Five years later, on 1 May last year, and just three days before his official coronation, Vajiralongkorn married for the fourth time, to Suthida Tidjai, a former Thai Airways hostess, giving her the title of Queen Consort. The Thai people were dumbfounded when just two months later, the new king named his mistress, Major General Sineenat Wongvajira-pakdi, as his Royal Noble Consort; it was the first time this form of address had been used for more than 100 years. The new relationship lasted three months. On 21 October, Sineenat was stripped of all her titles and disappeared from public view, supposedly for being disrespectful to the queen.

The king’s extravagance is no less remarkable than his private life. A monarchy that was impoverished in the postwar period had, by some estimates, increased its wealth to between $40 billion and $60 billion by last year. Most of the wealth resides in land; ownership of some four square miles of central Bangkok makes the Thai monarchy the world’s wealthiest by a large margin. Overseas holdings include a major stake in the Kempinski hotel group.* Indeed, for years Vajiralongkorn has spent months on end at the Munich Kempinski with his harem and servants. In addition, he owns a mansion on Lake Starnberg to the southwest of Munich. In spite of his huge allowances as crown prince, affording him ownership of two Boeing 737s, it is thought that he had to resort to begging funds from the then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to cover his gambling debts.

Why do King Vajiralongkorn’s private shenanigans matter? Royal families throughout Europe have long weathered sexual and financial scandals. Juan Carlos may have had to step down as king and go into exile, but the Spanish monarchy has survived. So too has the Belgian monarchy after the former King Albert II admitted to a love child. There is no suggestion that Prince Andrew, cherubic by comparison with King Vajiralongkorn, will bring down the British royals because of the Epstein imbroglio. But the key difference is that, unlike Thailand, all those are constitutional monarchies.

Bhumibol and Ananda

In Thailand the monarchy is integral to the country’s real power structures. This was a 70-year legacy of Vajiralongkorn’s father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Bhumibol’s reign started under a cloud following the killing of his 20-year-old predecessor, King Ananda Mahidol, by a single shot to the head with a Colt .45 pistol. After a questionable trial two servants were executed for the murder, though it is widely suspected that the king was accidently shot by Bhumibol, his brother. For the first decade of his rule King Bhumibol was entirely powerless and lived under the rule of the quasi-dictator Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram, who, during the second world war, had allied Thailand with the Axis powers.

Bhumibol, Sirikit, Prem

But gradually, as Thailand inched towards a democracy, Bhumibol won the adoration of the Thai people thanks to his moderating influence and good works, such as paying for medical facilities for the poor. His political power increased. In 1952 he bravely refused to preside over ceremonies for Phibunsongkhram’s new militaristic constitution.** However, Bhumibol’s finest moment came in 1981 when he faced down the ‘April Fools’ Day’ coup d’état by fleeing Bangkok and raising the Thai royal standard at the military base at Khorat, where General Prem emerged as the new military strongman. There followed what is now known as the ‘Network Monarchy’ era, a coalition of military interests and those of the financial and industrial elite based in Bangkok. As a former American deputy-president at Thailand’s Bank of Asia noted: ‘Thai politics has been about dividing up the pie among the elite.’ At the centre of the web stood the Thai monarchy. Elected democratic institutions remained largely an adornment to this oligarchic structure.

In 2001 a business chancer and mobile phone billionaire, Thaksin Shinawatra, later the owner of Manchester City FC, swept to power with his Thai Rak Thai party promising a populist agenda including reform of health and education. Much to the chagrin of the ‘Network Monarchy’, Thaksin won a sweeping electoral victory again in 2005. Bhumibol, who loathed Thaksin, gave tacit support to the coup that first removed him and then sent him into exile two years later. Until his death in 2016, Bhumibol thwarted, either by military or judicial coup, the democratic will of the Thai people, who since 2001 have consistently voted into power Thaksin-backed parties and their proxy leaders. Bhumibol’s historic reputation, albeit tarnished by his thwarting of the democratic will, became an important pillar of resistance to Thaksin’s outsiders. After Bhumibol’s death in 2016, the critical power of the monarchy was left in the hands of his dissolute playboy son.

Will King Vajiralongkorn redeem his dire youthful reputation and do a ‘Prince Hal’, moving to the path of royal righteousness? The signs so far are not good. Just over a week ago, the Royal Noble Consort Sineenat suddenly re-emerged with no information other than an inventive Royal Gazette announcement that ‘It will be regarded that she was never stripped of the royal consort title, military ranks and royal decorations’.

More important than this saga of extra-judicial fiat, the king intervened in the drafting of a new constitution by the military junta in 2017 to grant himself new powers over the appointment of regents. In addition, the new constitution asserted the king’s rights to ‘manage’ during any constitutional crisis. Given that Thailand has had 17 military coups since 1932, this is not trivial. Two crack regiments have also been put under his direct control. As the political exile and professor at Kyoto University Pavin Chachavalpongpun has noted, the king ‘is basically running the country now, though he’s not doing that like his father did through moral authority. He’s using fear to solidify his position and to take command.’

It is therefore interesting that in the past month, demonstrations of up to 10,000 people have called for the powers of the king to be curtailed. Protestors have defied Thailand’s draconian lèse-majesté laws — which can incur up to 15 years’ imprisonment — to chant ‘Down with feudalism’. It remains to be seen whether the protests are a straw in the wind of future political instability. The new king’s attempt to transition from a monarch with influence within the ‘Network Monarchy’ to a monarch who rules is fraught with danger. But at least Vajiralongkorn is unlikely to come to Caligula’s sticky end; the king has a ready-made home for an exile in his beloved Bavaria.

*For discussions that reflect changes in ownership, see here and here.

**The refusal to attend was a fit of pique and self-interest.





Patrolling Royalist Marketplace

29 05 2020

Khaosod reports that “a man was detained and questioned for his involvement in a popular Facebook page lampooning the monarchy.” The page is Royalist Marketplace, discussed earlier this month at New Mandala by Pavin Chachavalpongpun. Formed a month or so ago, it had 436,830 members when we looked today.

Royalist Marketplace “routinely mocks the monarchy with its satirical posts.”

The man stated that he was later released. There are also reports that several others had been detained, “asked to sign an agreement pledging not to make any critical comments about the monarchy in the future,” and released.

One of these detainees “said eight police officers took him away from his home without warrants, questioned him about the group and his political opinions, and ordered him to delete his posts in the Royalist Marketplace.”

In his New Mandala piece, Pavin stated that Royalist Marketplace is “a platform for discussion on all things monarchy. Content is mixed, ranging from business advertisements, serious discussion on the monarchy, to parody and sarcasm.” Of the latter, he gave examples:

One member sold a used teak bed, using a photo of the bed on which King Ananda Mahidol was found dead in 1946. Another member offered a building dismantling service, referring to the dismantling of the house of the former royal concubine, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, after her falling from grace.

There’s plenty to parody with the current absentee king.

Discussion that is more serious sees:

… members unpick a variety of issues submerged deep at the core of the institution: the future succession, the power of the Crown Property Bureau, the declining reverence of the institution, the increasingly absolutist nature of the monarchy.





Updated: A catch-up II

28 03 2018

Continuing our catch-up:

Khaosod reports on the prosecution of red shirt leaders: Nothing unusual about that. After all, one of the central tasks of the military dictatorship has been to break up and disburse the red shirt movement, jailing leaders and repressing the movement since the 2014 military coup. The unusual bit is that this prosecution refers to events in 2009. Prosecutors accuse red shirt leaders “group of inciting unrest and an open rebellion against the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva in a April 2009 protest, which saw parts of Bangkok occupied for several days.” Political advantage is being maintained.

Reuters reports on new political blood: It says that Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit sees little prospect of winning a junta “election.” He says: “Election laws are unfavourable to us, timing is unfavourable to us, the attitude of the government is unfavourable to us…. The chance is very slim. But a little hope is better than no hope at all.” Joshua Kurlantzick is quoted: “Political success in Thailand depends on being able to placate the military and royalist elite…”.

Andrew MacGregor Marshall has a new article available: Entertaining Ananda is the “story of Britain’s bumbling efforts to win the loyalty of Thailand’s young king [Ananda Mahidol] in the last months of his life.” PPT hasn’t read it yet – it is rather long – but it looks very interesting, based on documents from British archives.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that the 10 United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship leaders have all entered not guilty pleas in the case mentioned above. The court “set May 28 for the examination of evidence and witness lists submitted by both the accused and prosecutors. Witness testimonies are to begin in August.” The charges are “illegal assembly and stirring up unrest from Jan 31 until April 4 of that year [2009] by organising rallies at several important government offices…. They are also accused of being involved in two more serious incidents — the torching of a public bus and the hijacking of a petrol tanker that was later found abandoned during a violent street protest.” (Some aspects of the report are historically inaccurate.)





Updated: After the funeral, more of the same

30 10 2017

The funeral is officially over but the hagiographical syrup and royalist nastiness and threats continue to flow.

As in other periods where ultra-royalism is boosted by the military state, it becomes dangerous for anyone who might dare to express different opinions.

The military regime may also be emboldened by the continued rise of ultra-royalism, which obviously feeds into its political ambitions when it decides to call its “election.” Presumably the coronation will add to all of that political use of royalism.

In the meantime, we might also expect cowed and submissive politicians to become warily more active.

A Bangkok Post editorial has a bet each way. It drips royal loyalty for a couple of paragraphs, observing what should be obvious: “The expiration of the mourning period returns the country to a semblance of normality…”.

It strokes the military dog:

The members of the government under Gen Prayut deserve a respectful thank you for their care and attention to the events brought to a grief-stricken climax last Thursday. The preparations for the funeral of the great King Bhumibol Adulyadej provided impeccable grace, and splendour remarked on around the world. When he seized power three and a half years ago, Gen Prayut promised to unite Thais. Last week, Thai people were united as never before.

In fact, the funeral was fitting in that it marked a crescendo of military-backed monarchism that has defined one of the most politically repressive eras in Thailand’s modern history, with that repression being in the name of the monarchy and claimed to be protecting it.

The funeral was fittingly militarized but few have bothered to think about what this means for Thailand going forward (well, backward, under the junta).

(If one watches the Ananda Mahidol funeral and compares it with the recent event, the military dominance and precision of the latter is clear.)

The Bangkok Post then reminds the junta and its readers that the “funeral occurred in the midst of political questions which now will return to the fore.”

It adds that several of these “questions” are “urgent.”

It lists:

These include the running scandal of Rajabhakti Park‘s improvement plan. The Prachuap Khiri Khan site of the massive statues of the seven great kings has been under a cloud from its inception. The latest controversy is a two-part “improvement”. These consist of what seem to be the most expensive 52 toilets ever installed at a government-supported facility, and five shops. These will cost yet another 16 million baht in “donations” — a word which has become synonymous with “scandal”. In countering the allegations about massive overspending, army chief Chalermchai Sitthisad said the military is ready to disclose full financial details about the project which was investigated once by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). He should realise the public anticipates getting the details.

Then there is the ongoing corruption and pathetic excuses for abysmal decisions from former Army boss and Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda. His latest mess is over  laser, speed-detection guns at hugely exorbitant prices.

But, really, is that it? Of course not. As the Bangkok Post itself reports, “[l]ocals in eastern Thailand are opposing the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s [the junta] order to reorganise city planning in Chachoengsao, Rayong and Chon Buri provinces to bring it in line with the government’s Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) policy.”

There’s plenty of other land and infrastructure deals and shady, opaque stuff going on. And in the corruption in-tray there are all those cases around Rolls Royce that have never seen an out-tray. Just stalling, burying, hiding.

But what about the political repression that has juveniles charged with lese majeste. There is the old man potentially charged with lese majeste for comments about legendary events. And there is the law student, singled out by the military dictatorship for lese majeste for sharing a BBC Thai story that was also shared by several thousand others. What of the mothers and others jailed for scores of years on pathetic lese majeste charges? Protection of the monarchy means crushing many and threatening everyone.

Then there’s the missing/stolen/vandalized and enforced historical lobotomy of the “missing” 1932 commemoration plaque and associated lese majeste cases.

Military murders remain unresolved, with a recent tragic example of Chaiyapoom Pasae, shot by troops in very opaque circumstances and with the “investigations” adding farce to tragedy.

And who killed Ko Tee in Laos? We can all guess but probably the assassins, speaking Thai, will never be revealed. That’s the impunity that official murders enjoy.

We could go on and on and on…. After all, the ninth reign saw thousands of state crimes against the people.

Update: Readers will be interested in two views of the events and legacy of the ninth reign at New Mandala. Both are reasonably tame and the first quite lame.





Good rich king, bad rich king

25 10 2017

Are we the only ones who have detected a change in the way that critics of the monarchy are writing about it?

While we recently posted on the ninth reign as a bloody era where thousands of citizens were disappeared, jailed, tortured and killed by the state, usually operating in the name of the monarchy and, for the most part, supported by the king, other commentaries seem to be eulogizing that reign.

An example, and it is one of several, is a New York Time op-ed by Matthew Phillips, a historian in Wales.

Phillips repeats several of the lines from Bhumibol hagiographies and palace propaganda:

Thailand’s previous king … is credited with transforming Thailand into a modern nation-state and unifying the country during times of political turmoil.

The author might acknowledge that this is pure propaganda that ignores real history.

Then in 1946, Bhumibol ascended to the throne, and after a discreet first decade….

The author doesn’t seem to think it important to mention the death of King Ananda Mahidol or the royalist efforts to pin that on innocents and to send political opponents into exile. We would have thought that period was pivotal for the rise of a royalist military.

A military coup in 1958, pro-American and high on Thai pride, placed the (U.S.-born) king at its center, and the Thai public reacted enthusiastically.

We can’t help wondering about how public enthusiasm is measured? By the bodies that piled up under General Sarit Thanarat’s despotism?

King Bhumibol is often credited with foiling a Communist movement during the Cold War, liberalizing the Thai economy and keeping the country together despite its often-fractious politics.

Again, he is “credited” with these superhuman feats, but it is usually palace propagandists making these points.

The rest of Phillip’s article is quite good, so we are not sure why he repeats these lines of hagiography. In other stories, it seems the authors are pining for the past 70 years, comparing that era with what they think is going to be an awful reign under the erratic and narcissistic Vajiralongkorn.

The good bits seem to us to build on several insights from Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles. The previous king and his advisers came up with the propaganda device that made its wealth a sign of merit and allowed others to share in it.

On the funeral, he notes that “… there is little discussion over the expense of King Bhumibol’s cremation.” He adds that, “for the monarchy, has been to make royal wealth seem sacred, and any contribution to it appear virtuous.”

He notes the growth of royal wealth under the dead king.

The royal family, thanks in part to a raft of projects with business, academia, the arts and charities, has implanted itself at the center of Thailand’s cultural and social life — apparently far from the messy, brutal realities of capitalism and political gamesmanship. Giving money or labor to a royally endorsed project has come to be seen as a good deed, and so an opportunity to improve one’s chances of an auspicious rebirth in the Buddhist reincarnation cycle.

… Bhumibol’s material legacy also is great. The Crown Property Bureau, the agency that manages the royal finances, has vastly expanded its business portfolio. Neither the bureau’s assets nor its operations are entirely known, but the Thai monarchy is now thought to be the world’s richest, with an estimated fortune of at least $30 billion. Under … Bhumibol, the royal family of Thailand has become fabulously rich….

No debate there, although the figure is probably closer to $50 billion now. And the new king has control of it. The “fun” is about to begin.





History re-made for the dead king

21 10 2017

The monarchy has long had scribblers working in its interest. As the author of a Bangkok Post op-ed says, truthfully, “There is a lot of hagiography and officially enforced views about Thailand’s traditional institutions…”.

This is Thitinan Pongsudhirak, who has, in recent years, become a hagiographer himself. And, this latest outing is gross in its hagiography, smashing history into a royalist shape. Thitinan is no dummy, so his choice to take a hatchet to recent political history is an effort to mislead.

For starters, he claims that the king worked for the 70 years and 126 days. That he stayed around for a long time is worth noting, but suggesting he was hard at work until the end is odd indeed. Clearly, over some of the last decade of his life, the king was unable to do much at all, being ill with the afflictions of old age.

That may be a minor point, but the discussion of the beginning of the reign ignores – deliberately – they key event: the shooting death of King Ananda Mahidol. This event brought Bhumibol to the throne. No one has tried to adequately explain that event. But to ignore it is misleading.

Thitinan says that in “1946, the monarchy was at a low point, whereas military and civilian elites in the emerging new bureaucracy dominated.”

He neglects to note that the monarchy was at the center of these “squabbles.” Royalists used the death o King Ananda to seek to oust the persons the old princes hated and viewed as republicans.

The royalist-anti-royalist struggles of the period need to be mentioned.

Thitinan is right that there was a “symbiotic relationship between the military and the monarchy.” Both sides benefited enormously, with the royal family and the king becoming hugely wealthy as a military dictatorship went on for 16 years. These seem worthy of some consideration, but not in Thitinan’s story.

Remarkably, Thitinan justifies all those years of dictatorship: “The fight against communism during the 1950s-80s necessitated a strong state revolving around the military, monarchy and bureaucracy…”.

His speculation on what Thailand might have looked like in those years “[w]ithout the monarchy” is hypothetical nonsense. His claim that it was that monarchy that “saved” Thailand from communism is just silly speculation that polishes the monarchy’s posterior simply to make it shiny. Military dictatorship, repression, murders of citizens, secret wars, massive U.S. funding seem not to deserve attention.

His hagiography gets really hysterical when Thitinan seems to say that it was the king who was remaking Thailand. It gets worse when  he makes this up: the “late monarch owned no fancy vehicles or other trappings that would have been seen as extravagant and lavish…”.

This is bizarre. The royal garage was stuffed with expensive cars. Maybachs, Mercedes, Rolls Royces and more. The palaces expanded and spend plenty. His family was and is fabulously wealthy and awash with jewelry and luxury accoutrements.The taxpayer has seen several regimes shoveling baht into supporting the royal family’s lifestyle.

Much of the rest of the op-ed repeats this propaganda in ways that is little different from the palace propaganda and hagiography poured out over many decades.

Then Thitinan recognizes that “there were dissenters during the 9th reign. They derived from a competing political narrative that arose from the 1932 overthrow of the absolute monarchy and lost out in power struggles…”. It is noted that “[m]any of them suffered from repression and persecution over the years.” But is was much more than this. Some of them were exiled, many were murdered, but that’s not stated.

The continual rebuffing of calls for democracy and human rights came from the palace and the military.

Thitinan then writes of reconciling the re-emerging 1932 narrative and that of the triumphal royalists. How much chance of that when he and others make up the historical events? How can dissidents reconcile with a make-believe royalist discourse?





The “necessity” of military dictatorship

13 10 2017

In the Bangkok Post, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak comes up with his repeated excuse for military domination. He claims the succession explains it:

The consequent royal transition is likely to be viewed in posterity as the principal reason why the Thai people have had to put up with Gen Prayut.

Later he states, as he has before, that:

To appreciate how Gen Prayut and his cohorts could seize power and keep it with relative ease, we need to recognise the late King Bhumibol’s final twilight. The royal succession was imminent by coup time, and the Thai people collectively kind of knew the special and specific circumstances this entailed. Power had to be in the hands of the military, as it had to ultimately perform a midwife role. Unsurprisingly, ousted elected politicians may have complained about and deplored the coup but none wanted to retake power during the coup period. They knew that after seven decades of the reign in the way that the Thai socio-political system was set up around the military, monarchy and bureaucracy, it had to be the generals overseeing this once-in-a-lifetime transition.

This is nonsensical propaganda. There were, at the time, and today, many, many Thais who reject this royalist babble. But Thitinan just ignores the deep political and social struggles that marked the period of discord that began with the Asian economic crisis in 1997 and which was punctuated by two military coups.

Thitinan appears to us to be expressing the views of the socially disconnected middle class of Bangkok, those who hate and fear the majority of Thais, and “protect” themselves by attaching themselves to the economic and political power of the Sino-Thai tycoons, monarchy and military.

Thais have “put up with” ghastly military rulers for decades. The military dictators and rulers have used the monarchy to justify their despotism. General Pin Choonhavan used the “mysterious” death of Ananda Mahidol; General Sarit Thanarat promoted the monarchy as a front for his murderous regime; General Prem Tinsulanonda made “loyalty” de rigueur for political office.

Thitinan is wrong and, worse, whether he wants to or not, he provides the nasty propaganda that is justification for military dictatorship. We can only imagine that the military junta is most appreciative.

One reason Thais “put up with” military dictatorship now is because anti-democrats want it, because many of them hate elections that give a power to the subaltern classes. And, as Thitinan acknowledges,

Gen Prayut and his fraternal top brass in the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have guns and tanks to intimidate and coerce. In their first year in power, the ruling generals detained hundreds of dissenters and opponents for “attitude adjustment”. They even put some of those who disagreed on trial in military court. They also came up with their own laws in an interim charter, including the draconian absolutist Section 44. And they have used and manipulated other instruments and agencies of the state to keep people in check and dissent suppressed.

To be sure, dozens of Thais are languishing in jail during junta rule. One young man, a student with his own strong views, has been jailed for re-posting a social media message that appeared on more than two thousand other pages. The junta also has banned political parties from organising, and has generally violated all kinds of human rights and civil liberties all along.

In addition, the generals have not been immune to corruption allegations….

Thais, it seems, must just “put up with” all this in order to facilitate the death of a king, succession and coronation. Thitinan goes even further, lauding The Dictator:

who grew up in the Thai system from the Cold War, who came of age at the height of Thailand’s fight against communism in the 1970s, seeing action on the Cambodian border against the Vietnamese in the 1980s, serving both the King and Queen and the people in the process with devotion and loyalty.

In fact, General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s military promotion was not forged in “battle” but in providing service to the palace and especially the queen.

Thitinan declares that General Prayuth is the “soul of the nation,” a term once used for the dead king:

When Gen Prayut spoke for the nation [after the last king died], he meant it. Fighting back tears, in seven short minutes, he said what had to be said, and directed us Thais to two main tasks, the succession and the cremation after a year’s mourning. Had it been Yingluck [Shinawatra], who is not known for her eloquence, she might have stumbled during the speech. Had it been Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is fluid and flawless in speechmaking, it would have lacked the soul of the nation.

It had to be Gen Prayut, the strongman dictator and self-appointed premier. He is an earnest man, purposeful and well-intentioned….

Make no mistake, this is pure propaganda for military dictatorship. Make no mistake, Thitinan is justifying military dictatorship for the West, “translating” Thai “culture” for those he thinks are Thailand’s friends. He is saying to The Dictator and to “friends” in the West that 2018 or 2019 will mark the end of an “unusual” time and a return to “normality.” That “normal” is Thai-style democracy, guided for years by the military and its rules.

For those who seek a more nuanced and less propagandist reflection try Michael Peel in the Financial Times. He was formerly a correspondent for the FT based in Bangkok, and has penned “Thailand’s monarchy: where does love end and dread begin?” (The article is behind a paywall, but one may register and get access.) Peel asks: “In a country where few dare to speak openly about the royals, how do Thais feel about their new ruler?”

That is, how do they feel about the succession that Thitinan propagandizes as having “required” military dictatorship working as midwife.





Dealing with death

8 06 2017

The military dictatorship has decided – or perhaps the king has decided – to kill three birds with one stone. Yes, puns are intended.

In a brain wave that may be a brain fade, it is “encouraging Thai citizens to join in a merit-making ceremony in tribute to King Rama VIII and King Rama IX this Friday at the Royal Plaza, Dusit Palace.” And, oh, almost forgot, “concurrently offering their blessings to Queen Sirikit.”

The ceremony is to “observe the anniversary of the passing of King Ananda Mahidol and the succession to the throne of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on June 9…”.

By “passing,” they elide the whole deal: gun shot death, the accusations by royalists and the Democrat Party that Pridi Phanomyong did it and his exile for life and the execution of three innocent people for the “murder.” King Bhumibol never explained his role, although others reckon he was responsible.

Forget that all of this is a mammoth propaganda construction; but then so is the whole monarchy a house built on lies and large dollops of taxpayer money and the support of the corrupt military. Forget it and join the king’s Supreme Patriarch as he leads “195 high-ranking Buddhist monks in chanting holy stanzas, dedicating merit to the two monarchs and also offering well-wishes to Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of the Ninth Reign.”

The king “has kindly conferred prayer books on officials who are responsible for distributing them to public members participating in the merit-making ceremony.” We wonder if he knows about the family skeleton in the golden cupboard.

The junta says this is a “good opportunity for Thai people to express their loyalty to Kings Rama VIII and Rama IX and reminisce about their contributions to the nation…”. Perhaps they can reflect on Bhumibol’s political interventions.





CIA documents released and accessible

22 01 2017

The automatic declassification provisions of US Executive Order 13526 (formerly EO 12958, as amended) require the declassification of non-exempt historically valuable records 25 years or older. At the CIA this meant that it maintains a program operating out of the CIA Declassification Center to review records under the purview of EO 13526 before they reach their automatic declassification deadline.

Since 2000, if one visited the National Archives College Park, Maryland in the USA, the CIA had installed and maintained an electronic full-text searchable system named CREST (the CIA Records Search Tool), with about 11 million pages of data.

However, in January 2017, the CIA published the records of the CREST collection online, and they can be searched and downloaded online.

Helpfully, Andrew MacGregor Marshall has done a bit of a search through the material and provided his initial impressions, especially searching for material related to the monarchy and posted. Readers will surely find this of interest

One document we at PPT found of considerable importance is in regard to General Sarit Thanarat’s 1957 military coup. A few pages into the report, it provides what we think is a first-hand corroboration of the king’s involvement. It has always been known that the young king found Sarit a father figure and supported him, as Sarit supported him and the monarchy. This document says something more:

king-and-1957-copyHe did not become disillusioned with Sarit or the military and the military-monarchy political partnership was born. That the king played “an active role in the events leading to and subsequent to the army coup” is a revelation that blows another hole in the palace’s now shredded propaganda that the king was “above politics.”

Not mentioned by Marshall in his post is another document PPT found interesting for its resonances with recent events:

khuang-1khuang-2Khuang was a founder of the Democrat Party in 1946, which was then, and is now, a royalist party of anti-democrats. After the shooting death of King Ananda Mahidol in 1946, it was Khuang and the Democrat Party that accused Pridi Phanomyong of having been a mastermind of the king’s death, leading to Pridi’s exile until his death. The palace and royals hated Pridi for his role in the 1932 revolution and they never forgave him.

However, it is the phrase that Thailand “would never be secure until Pridi and his chief followers were eliminated” that caught our attention. We guess that similar words have passed around the yellow-shirted cabals and we would assume that General Prem Tinsulanonda and the 2014 coup leaders said very similar things with Thaksin Shinawatra now the mortal enemy of their royalist Thailand.





Anniversary and operations

9 06 2016

Two monarchy stories have been prominent this week. One is about the 88-year-old king’s ongoing and tortuous last years as his health declines and the royal doctors work to keep him alive. The second story is of the muted commemoration of the king’s 70 years on the throne – a throne that he came to in still official mysterious circumstances of his brother’s death. Of course, as Andrew MacGregor Marshall says, the unofficial story is that the present king “killed his brother,” without necessarily implying intent. One newspaper report mentions the event.

Superstitious types might link the two stories.

About a week ago, the Royal Household Bureau reported another problem in the the king’s health, saying he was being “closely monitored for irregular function of his heart muscles…”. We commented that this might be cardiac dysrhythmia, that could indicate a heart attack, but that it could also be many other disorders. Within days, it was reported that the king had “received treatment for narrowing of the heart arteries with ‘satisfactory results’,” dealing with the coronary artery disease that often impacts the elderly.

The report states that “[d]octors performed a procedure known as balloon surgery to widen the arteries on Tuesday … after tests had shown insufficient blood in the heart muscles. Arteries on both sides of the king’s heart had narrowed…”. The Bangkok Post reported the Royal Household Bureau also inserted a “stent and rotablator in some locations, to widen the arteries…”. Details on the use of rotablator can be found here. Information on stents and balloon angioplasty is here.

Less reported in the international media has been the sickly Princess Chulabhorn’s hospitalization. The latest report on her condition – third report from the palace – is that she remains in hospital following a “biopsy on May 20 at the hospital after a polyp was found in her neck.” Late in May, doctors stated she “had a high fever at times and was still very weak.” The latest report says ” she remained very weak, and doctors therefore had recommended that she put off royal activities for a while longer.” It refers to “a successful operation to remove a tumour from her neck…”.

The commemoration of the king’s 70th year on the throne is not at all like the massive series of events staged on the 60th anniversary. With the king more or less out sight, unable to effectively do anything and very ill, such celebrations were never likely. Newspapers have specials, wire services have stories, the “compulsory” commemorative banknote has been released, world leaders sent regards and the military junta has arranged a few things.

The international media has shown some interest, with the International Business Times UK having not much of a story but quite a few high-quality photos that can be interpreted in various ways. Interestingly, the only two prime ministers of Thailand we can identify in them are Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra.