CNN, the royalist trap and the propaganda time warp

5 12 2011

CNN is highlighting Thailand this week. It may as well be a paid advertisement for the monarchy and country as Thailand falls for the royalist propaganda trap that has captured so many foreign journalists in the past.

The centerpiece of the series of reports is advertised as a CNN exclusive interview with Princess Sirindhorn as she visits the rural “royal children.” Normally, at this time of the year, and with the king’s 7th cycle anniversary birthday, we would expect something on the king, but he hasn’t been active in rural areas for a very long time. So the birthday advertising this year features the seemingly ever-jovial Sirindhorn.

Readers can watch the report themselves, and as they do, consider some of these points. The report is said to come from the unknown “Nakhorn” province (hopefully CNN at least finishes the name of the province). It is a report stuck in a time warp. CNN gives us the new royal propaganda, which is the same of the old stuff. It could be from National Geographic in the 1970s.

The first is that the headline comment is plagiarized from that usually reserved for the king: “Revered in Thailand, Princess Maha Chakri Sirinidhorn uses her status to improve education in deprived communities.” Of course, there is no evidence in the report that Sirindhorn is really “doing” this. Like all royal projects, the Border Patrol Police schools cannot fail, get special attention and plenty of money spent on them. The report seems to think this a virtue.

The report misleads by implying that this all comes from the princess. In fact, these projects owe a great deal to the Thai taxpayer.

The headline itself is just syrupy: “Thailand’s Angel Princess,” where the hapless reporter fails to note that “Prathep” or “angel” is a part of the princess’ title. Nor does reporter Paula Hancocks ask why it is that the monarchy works on schools with the BPP. Later, there is no question raised as to why the princess is in an Army uniform and surrounded by fawning Army officers.

Of course, they can’t do a real story and explain the long link between the BPP, and we could never expect CNN to recall that the BPP were the royalist murderers of October 1976. Likewise, we couldn’t expect CNN to report the close links between the Army and monarchy that has buttressed both and worked against democratization, even resulting in dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries as recently as May 2010.

Even the good works completed by the team of doctors and dentists raises several questions, the most basic of which is: is it even necessary in modern Thailand or is this kind of charity an artifact of a previous era, maintained for propaganda purposes?

Perhaps most striking in this throwback propaganda is the claim that the princess is the one who has made education and health care a right for the children in the report. Of course, this is nonsense. The right to health care and education has been established for some time, in the policies of several governments and funded by the taxpayer. This amounts to a denigration of the work done by hundreds of others.

When it comes to the section of the report on floods, the report claims “she [Sirindhorn] has been directly involved in helping the country’s efforts.” Perhaps, but think of all the others that have done so much more. Why the royal posterior polishing?

With Anand Panyarachun’s new book and this CNN report it becomes clear that there is yet another major attempt to rehabilitate the monarchy’s image. While this recognizes the damage done to the monarchy in recent years – mainly by loopy royalists – it is startling that the means chosen is no different from last decade, the one before that or even before that. There seems little attempt to update the message or the medium. Sirindhorn may well be the most popular face of the monarchy at present, but the message hasn’t changed.

But really, shouldn’t CNN be better than this?





Updated: Wikileaks, human rights and the military

30 08 2011

In the most recent batch of Wikileaks cables released over the past few days, two in particular caught our attention. Both are related to human rights in Thailand. After all of the events in the South and long records of human rights violations by the military, police and Border Patrol Police, PPT just finds these cables startling for the light they throw on the U.S.’s lack of official concern for human rights. Of course, we have read Chomsky, so we know, but we never cease to be amazed when we see the “system” at work:

The first cable is about human rights screening for Exercise Balance Torch which was to be held from 11 April to 3 June 2005.

As authorized per Ref A, U.S. Embassy Bangkok verifies that the Department of State possesses no credible information of gross violations of human rights by any of the Thai units listed in Para 2, as of this date. Embassy Bangkok’s Political Officer Robert J. Clarke is the verifying officer for the Department of State.

… Selected units are:

ROYAL THAI BORDER PATROL POLICE (BPP)

– 4th Region BPP Headquarters Combat Patrol Unit

– 4th Region BPP Headquarters Sub-Division

– BPP Region IV Headquarters, Songkhla

– BPP Battalion, Sub-Division 41, Region IV, Chomphon

– BPP Battalion, Sub-Division 42, Region IV, Nakhon Si Thammarat

– 4th BPP Sub-Division 43

– BPP Battalion, Sub-Division 44, Region IV, Yala

– BPP Training Battalion, Sub-Division 8, Region IV, Nakhon Si Thammarat

– BPP Training Battalion, Sub-Division 9, Region IV, Songkhla

PROVISIONAL NARCOTICS SUPPRESSION BUREAU

– NSB Division 1, Sub-Division 5 – Surat Thani, Phuket, Songkhla, Narathiwat

– NSB Division 2, Sub-Division 5 – Chompun, Krabi, Hat Yai

OFFICE OF NARCOTICS CONTROL BOARD (ONCB)

– Regional Narcotics Control Center (South)

ROYAL THAI MARINE POLICE (RTMP)

– Royal Thai Marine Police, Sub-Division 3, Surat Thani

– Royal Thai Marine Police, Sub-Division 4, Songkhla

– Royal Thai Marine Police, Sub-Division 5, Phuket

BOYCE

The second cable also relates to Exercise Balance Torch.

JUSMAGTHAI has requested that the Embassy/State Department complete human rights vetting for units that have been selected to participate in Exercise Balance Torch (BT) 05-2 from 11 April – 3 June 2005. To meet internal DOD advance deployment deadlines, they have requested that the review of human rights reports and files be completed no later than eight weeks prior to the exercise, if possible.

… The Embassy possesses no credible evidence that any of the units listed below in paragraph four have committed gross violations of human rights. The Embassy has important information, contained in paragraph 5, about one of the units. Please advise whether the Department has any relevant information on the units listed in paragraph four below.

… Participants in the Exercise are as follows:

ROYAL THAI ARMY UNITS

Special Warfare Command, 1st Special Forces Division, 1st Special Forces Regiment – (approx. 20 personnel)

1st Army Area, 1st Infantry Division, 1st Infantry Regiment (approx. 440 personnel)

2nd Army Area, 3rd Infantry Division, 3rd Infantry Regiment (approx. 220 personnel)

4th Army Area, 5th Infantry Division, 25th Infantry Regiment (approx. 220 personnel)

ROYAL THAI NAVY

HQ, Special Warfare Group (approx. 50 personnel)

¶5. Thai media reports indicated that members of the 25th Infantry Regiment were involved in the April 28, 2004 assault upon militants holding the Krue Sae Mosque in Pattani Province. 32 militants who had occupied the mosque and who were part of a series of regional attacks against Thai Government institutions and murders of Thai officials were killed by Thai special forces who stormed and retook the mosque. An independent commission was set up by the Royal Thai Government to investigate the incident and concluded that excessive force was used in retaking the mosque. The investigation did not/not name the 25th Infantry Division as having committed human rights violations. MG Surapun Wongthai, G-3 for the Royal Thai Army, has assured JUSMAGTHAI that no members of the 25th Infantry Division have been implicated, or are expected to be implicated, with excesses associated with retaking the mosque. Post notes that an added feature of the training these units will receive in this exercise is an expanded human rights training course. Embassy Bangkok Political Counselor Robert J. Clarke is the verifying officer for the Embassy/Department of State.

BOYCE

Not one human rights violation to be found amongst this group of police and military!

Well, at least one action in the South is mentioned (and then defended and ticked off)…. We might add that, by 2010, many of these units had been involved in several more events that call into question their human rights records, in the South and in violently putting down protesters in 2009 and 2010.

Update: And if readers thought that more serious vetting might have been taking place, see this cable:

¶1. (U) DOD (OSD/POLICY), per Ref A, has requested that the Embassy/State Department complete further human rights vetting for the 25th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division, 4th Army Area, a unit that has been selected to participate in Exercise Balance Torch (BT) 05-2 scheduled from 11 April – 3 June 2005.

¶2. (U) The Embassy has reviewed its previous vetting (Ref C) on the 25th Infantry Regiment, and made additional inquiries of an academic and an NGO that monitor human rights abuses involving security forces in Thailand. The Embassy possesses no credible evidence that the 25th Infantry Regiment or its personnel have committed gross violations of human rights. Please advise whether the Department has any relevant information on this unit.

¶3. (U) Embassy Bangkok Political Counselor Robert J. Clarke  is the verifying officer for the Embassy/Department of State.

BOYCE

The stated vetting includes: media reports, a Thai government report that has already been seen as a whitewash, one academic and one NGO, with the latter two only completed as a follow-up. Not even Tak Bai and the War on Drugs are considered. Remarkably shoddy work, perhaps deliberately so give the U.S.’s long engagement with the main human rights abusers in Thailand – the military and the police.





Updated: The army and Yingluck

20 08 2011

If readers haven’t seen it, the article in Asia Times Online by John Cole and Steve Sciaccitano is worth a look. The authors are introduced as having “spent several years in Thailand while on active duty with the US Army. Both were trained as Foreign Area Officers specializing in Southeast Asia and graduated from the Royal Thai Army’s Command and General Staff College. They are now retired and the views expressed here are their own.” There views are likely to reflect some inside knowledge and connections.

It is a long article, so PPT isn’t about to summarize it here. Rather, we wish to highlight a few points.

The article makes the all-too-obvious point that new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s cabinet selections had to be sensitive to the poor relationship between it and current Army boss, royalist and Democrat Party-supporting General Prayuth Chan-ocha as well as other military leaders and factions:

The two most important cabinet appointments … are that of deputy prime minister for security, retired police General Kowit Wattana, and the minister of defense, retired army General Yuthasak Sasiprapha. The selection of Kowit and Yuthasak reflects very careful political consideration, and undoubtedly indicates a desire by the new government not only to appoint trusted allies to critical posts, but also not to threaten overtly either the military establishment or royal palace.

The authors seem to think that despite all of the discussion about watermelon soldiers and different political affiliations for the military and police that:

many observers of Thai politics, including much of the international media, tend to overestimate greatly the seeming monolithic nature of the Thai military. The false impression is often given that Thai military and police officers are more or less unified in their views and goals….

The story then discusses the patronage system and different loyalties associated with different classes in academies. They add that: “[l]oyalty to the monarchy has been a given…”.

PPT isn’t so sure. Loyalty to the monarchy has really only been established since the 1960s. Even then, loyalty was not to be taken for granted. Indeed, one of the major tasks of Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda from his time as prime minister has been to ensure that palace favorites were in the senior military positions.

Looking at affiliations and loyalties, the article notes Kowit’s career as a “graduate of both the AFPS [Armed Forces Prep School] and the Police Academy” and in the Border Patrol Police (BPP), stating that “the BPP has always been under the operational control of the Thai military…”. The author’s add that “the royal family was and is still the major benefactor and patron of the BPP,” with “[v]irtually every BPP senior officer, as well as most of its rising stars, were in the BPP’s early days all personally well-known to members of the royal family.”

Continuing the royal connection, Kowit attended the “Royal Thai Army Command and General Staff College (Class 56). This was the same staff college class attended by Crown Price Vajiralongkorn…”.

Finally it is noted that, for a short time, Kowit was a somewhat reluctant member of the 2006 junta.

The 74 year-old Yuthasak should probably be out to pasture but has been recalled to face the challenge of the Army’s relationship with the new government. He is said to have:

… graduated from the CRMA [Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy] (Class 8 ) and exemplifies what might be called the traditional elite side of the Royal Thai Army (RTA). He is married to one of the three daughters of the late national leader [and, PPT points out, one of the “three tyrants” thrown out of Thailand in 1973] Field Marshal Praphat Charusatien and is the son of a famous three-star army general.

His career was associated with the “Bangkok-based 1st Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division (King’s Guard), then the most prestigious unit in the RTA and the choice assignment for sons of generals and important politicians.” He’s close to General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh but not to Prem, the palace or the current Army leadership.

Even so, he appears to have respect as a military man who is senior to the current batch of leaders.

The article assumes that conflict with the military will always be a threat to the Yingluck government, noting especially that

… the members of AFPS Class 24 and their supporters throughout the Thai military have neither forgotten nor forgiven the killing of their classmate Colonel Romklao Thuwatham … during the army’s suppression of pro-Thaksin protests on April 10, 2010. Romklao’s death was an important factor in strengthening and unifying the Thai officer corps before the final May crackdown on protesters, a development not fully appreciated by most in the media.

The first big test of the relationship is the military reshuffle, “which will become effective on October 1” but already being considered. Another test will be:

the procurement of new weapons and equipment by the various military services. The new government’s likely decision to reemphasize the existing system that centralizes the process for all equipment and weapons acquisitions at the ministry of defense and the defense council will likely be strongly resisted…. While in recent years the principle of centralized procurements has been well-established, the reality has been that only under Thaksin was the procedure strictly implemented and adhered to, with the prime minister having the final say…. Following Thaksin’s 2006 removal, the process lapsed into a structure without an effective government veto. Individual commanders-in-chief of the three armed services were almost always able to push through their preferred deals – with sometimes disastrous results.

Other  potential sticking points are mentioned. PPT just wonders how long Prayuth can hold his tongue reasonably in check; he’s known for flying off the handle. The article is worth reading.

Update: Although looking at the issue more broadly and with a quite different ideological perspective, this article at World Socialist Web Site is worth reading too. PPT noted this comment:

In her first speech as prime minister, Yingluck called on Thais to rally around King Bhumibol Adulyadej and declared that he would serve as her “guiding light”. This public kowtowing to the monarchy is aimed at appeasing staunch royalists, including those in the military high command, who have accused Thaksin and particularly the pro-Thaksin “Red Shirt” protest organisation, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), of disrespect for the king.





Ji on the military and red shirt enemies

25 10 2010

We post Ji Ungpakorn’s latest message, with illustrations from PPT’s library. See also PPT’s related posts here and here.

Military claims that the Red Shirts are the main enemy

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Army boss General Prayut Chan-ocha maintains that the Military’s top priority is to repress the Red Shirt pro-democracy movement and defend the Monarchy. Recently he said that “everyone is obligated, in an act of loyalty, to root out certain individuals from offending the country’s revered institution because without the Monarchy, we may live but things will never be the same…”. The truth is that without the Monarchy the military would not know how to legitimise its brutality.

Prayut’s views are supported by the General Wantip Wongwai, head of the 3rd army, who says that there is a serious republican movement headed by Jakrapop Pencare and myself. The army will go into villages and tell the truth about the army and the Monarchy to the people!!

Mainstream accounts of Thai society and politics always include the cliché that “the King is loved and respected by all Thais”. This may have had some truth at certain periods in history, yet it over looks the constant changes in public opinion and the severe repression, especially the use of the lèse majesté law, and also the manic propaganda associated with the ideology of the Monarchy. Today there are people serving up to 18 years in prison for merely criticising the Monarchy, yet despite this repression there is now a serious republican mood among millions of citizens. The King is openly verbally insulted and criticised in public, especially when demonstrations take place. The reason for this is that since 2006, the Military and the conservatives have systematically destroyed the democratic rights of millions of people who voted for Thai Rak Thai, using the excuse that they were “protecting the Monarchy”. The King also remained silent when the Military gunned down pro-democracy demonstrators in April and May 2010 and the Queen has openly supported the fascist PAD and the actions of the army.

It is ironic that the majority of, both the opponents and supporters of the Monarchy, believe today that Thailand is run by the King in some kind of Absolute Monarchy system. For most Red Shirt republicans, the King is the root of all evil and has ordered military coups and dominated politics for his own benefit. For most royalists, the King is an Absolute Monarch, a Constitutional Monarch and a “god” all at the same time! Reason does not come into the royalist thinking. This is partial convergence of belief is achieved by imposing and socialising the view among the population that the King is an all powerful god who is to be loved and feared. Today millions of Red Shirts have started to hate the King, but they still fear his power. Yet, the King’s power is a myth, created for ideological purposes by the ruling class, especially the Military.

An AP photo from the Telegraph: Protesters surround the coffins which will be used for the bodies of their comrades killed in clashes with troops.

If we are to understand the role of the King in Thai society, we have to understand the double act performed by the Military and the King. For ruling classes to achieve hegemony in most modern societies, they require both coercion and legitimacy. The Military and their bureaucratic allies have their armed might to stage coups and manipulate political society. The King symbolises the conservative ideology which gives legitimacy to the authoritarian actions of the Military and their allies. It is a double act of “power” and “ideological legitimacy”. In this double act the weak-willed King has no real power, but he is a willing participant.

The Military has intervened in politics and society since the 1932 revolution against the Absolute Monarchy. This is because the revolutionary Peoples Party led by Pridi Panomyong relied too much on the Military rather than building a mass party to stage the revolution. Yet it is also a cliché to just state the number of coup d’états that have taken place in order to say that Thailand is plagued by coups. The power of the Military is not unlimited and it relies on the ideology of the Monarchy and an alliance with businessmen, civilian technocrats and corrupt politicians in order to supplement its violent means of coercion.

At important moments in history, the power of the Military has been significantly reduced or kept at bay by social movements and popular uprisings. The post 1973 and1992 periods are good examples. It would be more accurate to state that the Military is an important centre of power among many. Other elite centres include big business, political bosses and high ranking bureaucrats. What is unique about the Military, however, is its weaponry and decisive ability to topple governments through coup d’états. The Military has a monopoly on the means of violent coercion which it has been prepared to use by gunning down unarmed protestors in the streets. The latest example was in April and May 2010 when over 90 people died. Previously, the Military shot unarmed protestors in 1973, 1992, 2004 and 2009 and in 1976 the Border Patrol Police, a paramilitary police force created to fight the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT), was used, along with fascist mobs, in order to murder and brutalise students in Bangkok.

Because the Military has always had a problem with trying to legitimise its actions by quoting “Democracy”, it has relied heavily upon using the Monarchy to shore-up its legitimacy. At the same time, the Military also needed to promote the Monarchy. This process was initiated in the 1960s. Today the Military always claim that they are “protecting the Monarchy” and that “they are the servants of the King and Queen”. We see the generals in photo poses, supposedly taking orders from royalty. Yet it is the generals who are really in charge of the Palace. The Palace willingly cooperates in this arrangement, gaining much wealth and prestige. Claiming legitimacy from the Monarchy is a way to make the population afraid of criticising the Military and all the elites, and the draconian lèse majesté law is in place to back this up.





Further updated: Matichon publishes a list of detainees

9 06 2010

A few hours ago, Matichon/มติชน newspaper published a list of detainees currently being held or recently held and released in Thailand. No source is listed, but the categories used are worth examining. Detainees are being held at:

  • Border Patrol Police Region 1, Pathumthani (11 total: 5 released, 6 still under detention)
  • Naret Camp, Petchburi (14 total: 1 released, 13 still under detention)
  • Adisorn Camp, Saraburi (4 total: 1 released, 1 dead, 2 still under detention)

Matichon notes that there are an additional 50 people being pursued for arrest, and 37 people who have been accused of alleged crimes of terrorism.

See the list here: 9 June 2010, “เปิด รายชื่อผู้ต้องหาถูกคุมตัว 29 ราย 50 คนถูกขึ้นบัญชีตามไล่ล่า 37รายเจอข้อหาหนักคดี”ก่อการร้าย””

PPT remains gravely concerned about the conditions of detainees. PPT is also concerned that this list does not represent the full number of those being detained in Thailand — earlier reports indicate that many more were pursued. In addition, what about areas outside of Bangkok? Are there individuals being held in the many other provinces under emergency rule.

Update: As PPT suspected, the number of those detained is much higher than reported in Matichon. The Bangkok Post has reported that the “identity of 422 people arrested in connection with the red shirt protests has now been made public.”

The burden is on the Thai government to immediately justify these detentions.





Red shirts and provincial protests

27 04 2010

Red shirt actions against the government are becoming increasingly widespread. The Bangkok Post reports multiple protests and road blocks. There was a road block in Wang Noi district in Ayutthaya and in several actions in Ayutthaya, red shirts “seized five police vans and detained six soldiers…”. Some 100 protesters led by “Puea Thai MP for Ayutthaya Surachet Chaikosol, used motorcycles and tuk tuks to block a road in Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya district to prevent Lop Buri police reportedly travelling in 14 vans to Bangkok.” The other vans retreated.

On the outskirts of Bangkok, some 400 red shirts set up checkpoints on Phahonyothin Road near the outer ring road.

Meanwhile, in “Saraburi’s Nong Khae district, about 200 UDD protesters blocked a section of Phahon Yothin Road to inspect vehicles heading to Bangkok…. [I]n Chachoengsao, about 200 UDD protesters used 15 songthaew passenger trucks and motorcycles to block entrances and exits at Chachoengsao police station to prevent officers from travelling to Bangkok.” Police were reported as using “road spikes on Chachongsao- Kabin Buri road.” However, the report doesn’t explain why.

In Phitsanulok “the 31st Border Patrol Police division at Fort Phraya Chakri was surrounded by the UDD-linked Red Shirt Phitsanulok 51. More than 150 officers were prevented from leaving their base for a mission in Bangkok as about 100 protesters placed logs, rocks and objects across a road in front of the division.” The BPP eventually broke through injuring some protesters.

More worrying for the government might be red shirt leader Natthawut Saikua’s statement that the protesters planned to move out of Rajaproasong to “undisclosed locations.” He said: “It’s time for another … offensive …. The government has been trying hard to crack down on the red shirt demonstration and we want them to know that we remain firm on our goal to oust the Abhisit Vejjajiva government.”





The monarchy and political campaigns

12 02 2010

PPT almost never agrees with Thanong Khanthong, one of The Nation’s hacks who seems to think that re-reporting extreme yellow-shirt views constitutes journalism. However, we do agree with one aspect of his latest op-ed where he notes: “The Thai Army is now in firm control…. [I]f the political situation gets out of hand … [i]t will roll out the tanks if the red shirts strike first. “ PPT guesses that this is the plan. Maybe it is even what the military and the Abhisit Vejjajiva government and its backers hope will happen. Maybe there will even be attempts to provoke such a “red shirt strike.” Or perhaps agents provocateur will maneuver a clash thus allowing a crackdown.

These are dangerous and confusing times. Talk of coups, new governments and so on are everywhere and it now seems almost inevitable that something will happen. There are more signs than just the reported events. There are threats against activists seen as pro-red shirt or anti-monarchy. Academics are being watched and some have been intimidated.

For PPT, however, a useful indicator of the likelihood of some kind of “final showdown” comes from the monarchy itself.

For the past three weeks and more the televised royal news has been dominated by long reports of the travels of Princess Sirindhorn in the north, south and northeast. You might think that there is nothing unusual about the jovial Sirindhorn’s visits but this looks much more like a politically-motivated schedule than her usual activities. In these visits, Sirindhorn is not just visiting “trouble spots” such as the deep south where she “inspects” Border Patrol Police schools and projects that emphasize making Malay-Muslim kids into Thai-Muslim subjects of the king. She is also shown visiting schools and projects in the north and the northeast in the heart of red shirt constituencies in Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Roi-et and Srisaket.

In our view, Sirindhorn is engaged on a highly political crusade. It seems that the she and the old men of the Privy Council have decided that one of the political problems in the red shirt heartland is that the monarchy has not been visible enough and that it is time to remind the “children” of the great benefactors from palace and the good works they do for the seemingly ungrateful “children.” Worse, it is clear to them that the current government is making no headway in these areas in winning back support from red shirts to the royalist political alliance.

It seems that their view is that since the king ceased his visits to these rural areas, the royal aura has declined and that it is essential to re-establish the monarchy in the minds of those who continue to support Thaksin Shinawatra. Within the current royal family, only Sirindhorn has the propaganda wherewithal to do that. She’s politicized enough to understand this, and the schedule for this now very middle-aged lady has been very demanding.

At the same time, the younger and more sprightly privy councilors have been keeping an equally demanding schedule of visits in these areas. They, like the princess, have been displaying royal benevolence and apparently trying to recapture a population that was lost to Thaksin, Thai Rak Thai and its successors.

It feels very much like General Prem Tinsulanond’s search for support prior to the 2006 coup. He was mainly campaigning for military support. The focus is now changed because the battle is now society-wide. Or, for those with long memories, think back to the royal campaigns for rural-based support in 1975 and 1976. In PPT’s view, these are not normal royal visits. There is an apparent urgency to the whole exercise and the political implications are also clear.