Sufficiency shouldn’t get in the way of some good propaganda

11 11 2013

Somehow we missed this story when it first appeared in the middle of October. So, apparently, did The Nation, for it has only managed to get to it by 10 November. The Nation needs to be aware that it can’t be rampantly royalist if it doesn’t have timely propaganda.

Why propaganda? Quite simply because the story doesn’t interrogate its central claim.

The Nation reports that “Jarun Jaroensab, the first Thai farmer to receive the Asia-Pacific Model Farmer Award from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), took to farming after learning about His Majesty’s ‘sufficiency theory’.”

Saddled with debt, Jarun “did some research and found a book on His Majesty’s [they mean the king] sufficiency theory.” According to the report, “sufficiency theory [sic.] advocates a diversified approach to farming, rather than sticking to one crop, and encourages what are essentially organic methods for sustainability and freedom from loans.” Jarun was intrigued and reportedly “turned to Kasetsart University and Department of Agriculture for advice on implementation of the practices. He later shared his knowledge with other farmers in his village of Rang Si Mok.”

Hey presto, “before long, his yields were high and his farm was self-sufficient.”

At the Chaipattana Foundation, this is the explanation of sufficiency economy, maintaining the emphasis in the original:

In this royal statement, His Majesty [was] concerned that modern development which emphasized only the economic expansion might eventually lead the country to crisis. Therefore, he stressed the importance of building a ‘good and stable foundation’ before further progress could be developed. This means that instead of putting the emphasis on the expansion of the industrial sector prior to development, the stability of the basic economy should be established first, that is, assuring that the majority of rural people have enough to subsist first. This is a method of development that stresses the distribution of income to build the overall economic foundation and stability of the country before going on to a higher level of development.

Here’s a bit more:

His Majesty believed that if the farmers acted with due consideration based on knowledge of past price fluctuations of agricultural commodities they would see how risky it is to concentrate all one’s resources in such commodities expecting large profits. And if they adopted the principle of self-immunity, they would prepare for price changes in the market by producing enough to eat as a priority and only then think of selling any surplus.

And so on. Does this fit the story The Nation tells, with its headline that makes it seem like the award is for the king?Royal nonsense

Well, after following the king’s “theory,” “he and his neighbours were still at the mercy of the market…. They grew rice and other crops in the belief that demand was strong, but all too often, oversupply brought the prices down.” Maybe they didn’t study the contradictory and all-purpose advice well enough? Who knows, but the solution was found elsewhere:

So Jarun realised he had to make wiser choices about what to grow as well as come up with a marketing plan to sell effectively. While hunting for ideas, he decided to seek a job at one of Thailand’s largest agro-industrial companies. However, since he did not have a degree, he only landed the post of a janitor. But Jarun decided to make the most of it. He watched, listened and learned. After three months he developed a business plan, quit his janitor job, and began growing organic asparagus and baby corn to sell at a market just north of Bangkok.

The outcome of his three months “internship” at a large and modern conglomerate was:

It wasn’t long before exporters discovered Jarun’s high-quality organic vegetables, and with his knowledge about marketing, packaging, food safety and international standards he was ready for the big move. Now the problem was that his farm, which had expanded to 30 rai, was not big enough to meet the demand.

It seems to us that Jarun has done something that he deserves credit for.

We know, SE can be all things to all men and women, but this is anything but a story of the triumph of some grand theory.

Royalist fundamentalism

27 02 2012

Sumet Tantivejkul spent a good part of his working life at the National Economic and Social Development Board, the body responsible for setting the direction of the Thai economy since the early 1960s. Following that, he became a sidekick for the king, as  secretary-general of the Chaipattana Foundation.

In recent years, Sumet has been a staunch defender of his boss, sometimes speaking of the king as if he considered him saintly or god-like. He has been highly defensive of the king and his great wealth, lambasting “foreigners” for writing of the Crown Property Bureau and claiming that Thais should ignore this news as it just messed up their brains. In other words, critical knowledge of the monarchy wasn’t necessary, and Thais just had to believe the king and love him. More recently, Sumet has been outspoken against the reform of the lese majeste law. In fact, his opposition is a pretty good indication of palace thinking on the law: they want it.

Sumet was one of the first to speak publicly of a great fear amongst royalists that red shirts were about bringing down the monarchy. In fact that speech in 2009, is essentially recycled in a report at the Bangkok Post.

In this most recent report, he is reported as saying that “Thai people have to study His Majesty the King’s teachings and ideas and not just express their love for him…”.  He goes on:

We see the King but we don’t often look at him. We want to see him because he brings us happiness but we have never asked ourselves about all the things he has done.

This is another royalist claim that the people don’t appreciate the “gift” they have and do not heed him as they should heed a real saint. Nor do they understand his work and thinking well enough. It is royalist fundamentalism.

Like a fundamentalist religious believer, Sumet admonishes the silly children: “We would not be suffering today if we followed his ideas, trust me…”.

Sumet claimed the king “fully understood the social landscape of the country,” and like a tent preacher, claimed “[p]eople will find peace and be free from suffering if they follow the King’s virtues. Nothing is too difficult to do if our intention is strong…”. Hallelujah.

Like other yellow-hued speakers of recent days, Sumet, once a planner of Thailand’s rapid industrialization, now criticizes the “liberal system” for its rampant consumptionism. He thinks “excessive consumption” is a cause of global crises. Like the king, he talks of “greed.” Remember that this is a man who is taken about in light yellow luxury cars and serves a monarchy that has $37 billion and more in its coffers and takes hundreds of millions a year from the public purse. He’s talking about “greed.”

The king has all answers, because like a Buddha incarnate, he “teaches dharma, which is to be moderate. Each individual, organisation and country has to know one’s own ability or strength and find the middle path for oneself.” In other words, sufficiency economy under the sufficiency monarchy that has used its fabulous wealth “moderately.”

Sumet explains that: “No matter how wealthy we are, we cannot carry on if we don’t have ethics. It’s not important whether you’re rich or not but what is important is to ensure that every baht spent will bring about benefits and happiness…”. See, the sufficiency monarchy exists! And, of course, the sufficiency monarchy cannot be corrupt like all the plebeians.

The monarchy will save all. Believing in the king is presented as the Thai version of salvation. The saving of Thailand is in truly understanding the monarchy. This is royalist fundamentalism.


10 11 2011

If it wasn’t already clear, it is repeatedly being reinforced in the mainstream media that the natural and human crisis caused by massive flooding is a political opportunity. Indeed, for the royalists and their so-called Democrat Party it is a heaven sent opportunity to turn back the red tide that swamped them back in the July elections. It seems nature has handed them a political opportunity to take apart that result.

Related, the military has grasped an opportunity to reinvigorate its appalling public image born of its capacity to kill while protecting the still extant royalist regime. While troops are out working very hard, for much of the mainstream media it is as if only the military is doing the heavy lifting. There is little attention to, say, the bus drivers and garbage collectors who struggle on.

The media shows military trucks taking people about in flooded areas when it is actually the everyday buses that are still doggedly pushing through the waters. There are also many private sector vehicles helping out. It seems they even concoct some of this.

Volunteers, officials and tens of thousands of others are working night and day in very difficult circumstances and get little credit as media and other opportunists highlight themselves.

For many in the mainstream media, it is as if the military are the only ones out there. Even the Army boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha seems a bit taken aback by this, stating: “The Army isn’t the sole hero. It is just well equipped with manpower and tools, which can be commanded…”. But for the media, political purpose is at work.

In the English-language media, the Bangkok Post that has provided some classic examples of political opportunism. After recently arguing in an editorial that the floods were not the time for political point-scoring, the Post seems unable to resist the opportunity and to listen to its own editorial advice.

For example, the Bangkok Post’s perennial anti-Puea Thai journalist Aekarach Sattaburuth proclaims that the “Yingluck Shinawatra government is falling out of public favour because of its handling of the country’s flood crisis.”

Why? It seems that “declining popularity is reflected in a recent Suan Dusit poll in which 46.9% of respondents said it had failed its first test and was ill-prepared.” We could ask what the majority 53.1% said, but that isn’t the issue as Aekarach wants to score political points.

Schizophrenically recounting that the “government was sworn into office in early August,” that the “worst disaster in 50 years” was “already creeping up on it,” and that “cabinet seats were barely warm when a vast ocean of water” descended from the north, you’d think Aekarach was about to be fair in his presentation of the mammoth challenges. But you’d be wrong: “In hindsight, she [Yingluck] had ample time in early August to brainstorm ideas from experts to mitigate the impact of floods in the North and the Central Plains and deal with the threat to the capital.” Aekarach might have added that the parliamentary requirements meant that the government didn’t actually become fully operational until late August, but that would be too reasonable.

But wait, the other side of the brain kicks in again: “In reality, little could be done for many of the provinces north of Bangkok, such was the extent of the deluge.” But then back to the other side: “Yet she and her cabinet cannot avoid responsibility for the catastrophe.” It is all Yingluck’s fault! The implication is that she and her government should go!

In such circumstances, the only thing for a schizophrenic journalist to do is to call on a declared government opponent for a confirmatory comment. In this case it is Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, rector of the National Institute of Development Administration. He reckons that “since the flood disaster began, the government has been defeated on every front.” Sombat stressed “it is important to put the right man in the right job and not deal with problems as they crop up.” That man is clearly not Yingluck Shinawatra!

In a post some time ago, PPT said this of Sombat: “A more staunch opponent of Thaksin Shinawatra, all of his related parties and the red shirts than Sombat Thamrongthanyawong would be hard … to find. Yet he is … regularly cited in the media as if he is independent. He was one of the academics appointed by the military junta to the National Legislative Assembly in 2006.”

In another Post piece, Pichai Chuensuksawadi, who is the is Editor-in-Chief of Post Publishing, gets into the act: “For months now floodwaters have wreaked havoc on the lives and livelihoods of so many Thais…”. The lesson for Pichai in the inundating waters is vintage People’s Alliance for Democracy and royalist mantra: all politicians are hopeless bastards. He says: “What … remains in doubt, … is whether the Thai people can rely on the necessary collective leadership to implement the right measures, indeed make tough decisions, to ensure that a similar disaster will not occur again.”

While he is talking about all civilian political leaders, Pichai adds in a curious mix of 1970s throwback male chauvinism and PAD anti-Thaksinism: “There is no doubt that Khun Yingluck has all the good intentions; she is determined and is trying her best to deal with this disaster. In fact, I do feel sorry for her as this challenge of premiership was thrust upon her.”

Poor little girl! He continues: “This disaster has shown that inexperience … has resulted in missteps by the prime minister.” She couldn’t “control” ministers, she changed her mind on important things, she “flip-flopped” – women, eh, always changing their minds!

Add in the constructed rumor that the Puea Thai Party want to get rid of Yingluck and replace her with a strong man like Chalerm Yubamrung. PPT recalls all the Post stories of 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 that claimed the Puea Thai Party was split and falling apart, Chalerm would be party leader, and that factional manoeuvring would be the end of the party and its electoral prospects.

Most of those stories were simply political support for the royalist party…. In an earlier post mentioning Pichai at the time of the election in July, PPT observed that he headed “a media outlet that did much to support the Democrat Party. As one of the elite’s media, it [the Bangkok Post] inflated public support, boosted its campaign, gave extra space to Abhisit and wrote op-eds that were blatantly anti-Puea Thai.”

Get the girl out! Pichai explains: “I do believe that a more experienced leader would have done a better job. Love him or hate him, we must admit that Thaksin Shinawatra would have done a better job. Likewise with Abhisit Vejjajiva. Both have had experience…”. Thaksin! Yep, he said it. But this is chauvinism. Don’t let the elected girl do her job. Pichai wants authoritarian men who are not afraid to use forceful means to get what they want. Men to the rescue! We are surprised he didn’t mention General Sarit Thanarat as the prime example of men getting things done.

Of course, there is the one man who really matters: “In 1995 His Majesty the King advised and warned…”. As if in the palace was dictating the political line, Pichai says: “Sadly, and clearly, our political leadership then, and now, have not heeded the king’s advice.”

If readers examine the map in this report, it is seen how the dyke – “HM King’s dyke” – that was constructed following his advice encloses the city. That construction means that areas outside the dyke are regularly sacrificed to floods.

This brings us to the palace’s opportunism.

Of course, the king has to be the super-hero. Because he is aged and remains hospitalized, this is done via his loyal men. So we see pressure on Yingluck to buckle under to all palace directions and orders. Hence, loyalist royal defender and retainer Dr. Sumet Tantivejkul, Secretary-General of the king’s Chaipattana Foundation, is appointed as an adviser of a Yingluck-established committee to “work out water resources management strategies” post-flood. Sumet is the palace’s proxy for the “ultimate guru.” This term is from Sumet a while back when he stated: “We have the ultimate guru and sage in our land, but we never listen [to him]. Instead, we listen to whom we shouldn’t.” That the same line spun by Pichai. PPT has previously noted Sumet’s political involvement in machinations associated with the judiciary and the Democrat Party.

As we previously noted, the palace has gone into campaign mode, explaining its version of flood history. It is supported by several significant loyalists.

Doing his bit is Army boss General Prayuth. He has been speaking on the king’s views and positions. He is reported in The Nation doing this again. Prayuth explains that the king “is concerned about flood victims and wants to see the deluge drained away soon…”. No surprise or philosophy in that, as there are literally tens of millions thinking exactly this….

But as Prayuth tells it, the king is doing more: “His Majesty has proffered advice and granted audiences to the government to consult with him, the general said. All Thais, out of gratitude, should express their best wishes for the beloved monarch’s quick recovery, he said.”

That recovery might refer to his still unexplained two-year hospitalization or it might refer to another bit of palace PR. The Bangkok Post, has cited Princess Chulabhorn who has been doing a bit of royal charity related to the floods, requiring the commitment of resources to her travel and “standing.” She also says the king is concerned but goes further: “She said that about a week ago, His Majesty the King had been watching flood news stories on television for five hours. She said the monarch, who has been concerned for people suffering from the deluge, was probably stressed and fell ill as a result…. But His Majesty said very little and it turned out he developed symptoms of illnesses such as internal bleeding.”

This is part of the palace PR that has the king as the father of the country who has a magical and paternalistic connection to his people that no politician could possibly attain: “His Majesty loves his people like his children…. When he is aware that the people are suffering, so does he.” She added: “His heart always goes out to his people…”. When they suffer, he suffers.

If it wasn’t the continual need for royalist PR, such revelations focused on an individual in a time of national crisis might seem difficult to explain. The princess added that “doctors are determined to establish which part of his body had suffered and that the King was under observation.” But magically defying mortal doctors, she says: “now his condition is returning to normal.”

Even in times of a huge national disaster, don’t let the propaganda gaze fall from the one who is always better than the nasty, grasping, and insolent politicians. The latter are always doomed to failure because they don’t listen enough to the ultimate guru.


Updated: Stupid foreigners, the monarchy’s wealth and messed up brains

25 02 2011

A report in the Vancouver Sun which placed Thailand’s king on top of its list of the 10 richest world leaders.

The story states: “Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak resigned power as Egypt’s president today, and leaves with a reported fortune of anywhere between $40-70 billion. Here are some other world leaders who have a healthy nest egg socked away for their retirement.” Here’s the list, with Mubarak’s alleged personal wealth listed:

PAD_King1. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand ($30 billion)

2. Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei ($20 billion)

3. Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of UAE ($18 billion)

4. King Abdullah bin Abul Aziz of Saudi Arabia ($21 billion)

5. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai ($12 billion)

6. Hosni Mubarak ($10 billion)

7. Silvio Berlusconi ($9 billion)

8. Hans-Adam II, Prince of Liechtenstein ($3.5 billion)

9. Emir of Qatar ($2 billion)

10. Asif Ali Zardari, President of Pakistan ($1.9 billion)

Perhaps the newspaper should have made it clear that the wealth of Thailand’s king is not entirely personal and is held for the monarchy. It does state: “The Thai government has disputed his position as the wealthiest head of state, saying that much of this is not part of his personal wealth.”


It should also be added that the $30 billion figure only refers to the Crown Property Bureau, and that each member of the royal family is thought to be personally very wealthy as well. Of course, the figure takes no account of the billions handed over to the royals for “charity” or spent on keeping up appearances through large injections of taxpayer funds to the royals.

Long-time royal aide Sumet Tantivejkul, who is secretary-general of the Chaipattana Foundation and has overseen the vast portfolio of royal projects, has commented on this report (also see our 2009 post on Sumet extolling monarchy). His comments are posted at Prachatai. The report says that Sumet questioned the motives of “those who spread the news,” and implied a warning that those spreading stories could be in trouble.

Asked “about the increasingly open talk and criticism of the monarchy at social networking websites, Sumet said, “that lot don’t have identities, do they? They like cursing anybody they choose.  So [they] can say anything in the online world.  If we take them seriously, it messes up our brain.

PPT cites this point first as the Sun story is all over these sites and we liked the idea of messed up brains. Presumably this means that thinking is impaired. We wonder, though, if thinking is impaired by having to dissemble for one’s sponsors and heroes? As an example, see how Sumet describes and explains royal wealth:

What is the Crown Property Bureau?  If you want to know whether HM is really rich or not, you have to look at his private property. That really belongs to him.  […]  But this has all been mixed up,’ he said.

‘Crown property means that it belongs to the state.  But when farangs see the emblem [of the CPB], oh! this must belong to the King.  In fact, the Ministry of Finance is in charge. The chair of the CPB is the Minister of Finance.  It’s not part of HM’s property.  It belongs to the institution.  It has a board,’ he said.

This is messed up thinking. Here’s what the CPB says at its website:

The Crown Property Bureau was established under the Royal Assets Structuring Act of 1936 and became a juristic person in 1948. According to the Act, a Crown Property Board was set up, to be chaired ex officio by the Finance Minister, and served by at least four royally-appointed directors. His Majesty the King would also name one of the board members the director-general of the Crown Property Bureau. The Board of Crown Property is responsible for the overall supervision of the activities of the Crown Property Bureau. Duties and responsibilities of the director-general are prescribed by the Board of Crown Property.

In effect, the king controls the CPB through his appointed board. More from that website:

… On 21 April 1935, the 1934 act to exempt royal assets from taxation took effect. The act categorized the royal assets into two types:

* Assets eligible for tax exemption

* Assets eligible for tax payment

On 19 July 1937, the Royal Assets Structuring Act of 1936 became effective. It separated the royal assets into “His Majesty’s personal assets”, “crown property” and “public property”. “His Majesty’s personal assets” would be managed by the Finance Ministry. The Crown Property Bureau was set up with the status equivalent to a division under the Treasury Department of the Finance Ministry.

We guess that when Sumet talks of “private property” that he means anything outside the above. The above shows control is with the king. Each of those appointed is a royalist, close to the palace (note that a slightly different list appears in the Thai version).

What the above doesn’t tell us is how the assets are used. The CPB has almost no transparency – look at the very limited list of  investments. It is opaque because the CPB is “special.” That list implies that the assets of the crown are not state assets.

That the Finance Minister is chair of the board does not mean that the assets are owned by the state and managed for the state. That position is one that was created under the law set by anti-royalist politicians and the intent of that law has long passed, most especially in deals done with the palace under a 1948 Act and then under General Sarit Thanarat. Of the 1948 Act, Porphant Ouyyanont in”The Crown Property Bureau in Thailand and the Crisis of 1997,” Journal of Contemporary Asia, 38,1, 2008, says:

The Crown Property Act of 1948 [not mentioned above] reconstituted the CPB as a juristic person with considerable independence within the overall framework of the government. It also gave control back to the palace.

The minister of finance continued to serve as chairman of the CPB Board, but other board members, including the director, were chosen by the king. The role of the director, who had great independence in managing the CPB’s assets, became of paramount importance. While prior to 1948 there had been frequent changes of management, over the next six decades there were only three directors, giving great continuity. The two distinguishing characteristics of these directors were that they were well educated and palace insiders.

Later the author adds this:

The 1948 Act had some other important characteristics. It specified that the use of the PPB’s resources and income ‘‘depends totally on the royal inclination.’’ It laid down that the CPB’s landed assets could not be seized or transferred. It absolved the CPB from tax on its income (a provision that had been introduced in 1936). It constituted the CPB as an absolutely unique entity which was difficult to define in terms of Thai law. In the course of subsequent legal processes, the Council of State had to give rulings on the nature of the CPB on four occasions. Not one of the rulings was unanimous, and the four rulings conflict. The Council agreed that the CPB was not a private company, government department, or state enterprise, and ultimately in 2001 ruled it was a ‘‘unit of the state,’’ whatever that meant (Somsak, 2006: 67-93).

So when Sumet says: “Don’t think that farangs are always smart.  Many farangs are stupid,” he means in their interpreatation of the king’s/palace’s wealth. Leaving aside the racist slight, which is not uncommon from the amart, it seems that Thais too are perplexed by these “arrangements.” This includes those who have studied the CPB most closely. In fact, they are not stupid, and it is Sumet who is dissembling for political purposes, for Chirayu Isarangkun, the head of the CPB has stated the position clearly, as cited in the above academic article:

The fact that CPB is the investment arm for the monarchy, with a long-term and continuous reputation for reliability, induces Thai and foreign investors to seek joint ventures.

So Sumet can babble on for as long as he wants, claiming the king isn’t wealthy:

‘Is this an exaggeration?  The news spread.  Many people get excited, talking and writing all kinds of stuff….  Go and look at HM’s residence.  Don’t talk about foreign billionaires; even billionaires in Thailand are far richer than him.  So how can they say he is the world’s richest?  Insane,’ he said. ‘Look how he lives.  HM lives in a small palace, and is frugal.  He has been the example of sufficiency,’ he said.

Apart from the fact that the king seems to currently reside in a public hospital, his “small palace,” presumably at Hua Hin is just one of several palaces around the country, many of them barely used. And, the fact remains that the CPB and personal wealth of the monarchy in Thailand is stupendous. And, most of it has been developed during this long reign.

Monarchy, military in drive to win hearts and minds

8 07 2010

The Bangkok Post on 8 July included a second page “advertisement” that is revealing of the thinking that has gone on following the red shirt uprising that ended in the bloody crackdown of 19 May 2010.

Strikingly, the “advertisement” is about a “project” between the Crown Property Bureau and the 1st Division of the army’s King’s Guard and is located at the Bon Kai community. Bon Kai was a site of considerable red shirt support and fighting both before and following the Rajaprasong “clearance.” The project is called “Water resource from the King’s kindness…”.

The “advertisement begins with one of those quotes from the king which one imagines the writers feel is a pearl of wisdom but is actually a truism of elementary school biology: “The principle is that we must have water for consumption and agriculture. Our lives primarily depend on water. If we have water, we survive. If not, we don’t.” These are cited as “H.M. the King’s royal words” as if they are somehow magical or profound. Of course, they are neither.

The project is said to honor the king and raise environmental awareness while also “promoting love, unity and quality of life…”. It seems it was also meant to remind the Bon Kai community that the Chaipattana Foundation had once implemented a water quality project there which is claimed to have improved the environment. It seems the event did nothing new but was meant to celebrate the king.

For PPT, this seems like a propaganda effort motivated by the uprising and the need for the military and the palace to “remind” the locals that they are now watched and expected to display loyalty. As in the days following the 2006 coup, it is apparent that the monarchy is again the centrepiece of the propaganda effort. This time, however, the palace is taking a role.

PPT wonders how this mundane royalist propaganda can still be seen as effective. It’s like beating a dead horse. Most people have seen it a million times, it doesn’t change anything and people know how to respond “appropriately.” It is unlikely to strike very deep at the anger, resentment and frustration that remains in Bon Kai and in many working class and rural areas. And, reinforcing the link between the military and the monarchy is likely to do little more than reinforce the image of which groups constitute the amat and the oppressors.

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