Monarchy propaganda as fake news

25 01 2022

The Bangkok Post has published palace propaganda. We know they have little choice in the matter, but we also guess the tycoons who run the paper also love this kind of fake news.

As we write this post, the story has become inaccessible. It remains a searchable story at the Post, and might come back, but there’s also an excerpt here.

With King Vajiralongkorn turning 70 later this year, the military is busy not just crushing opposition to the monarch and regime, but is promoting him and link between monarchy and military.

Reminiscent of elements of then Army commander Gen Apirat Kongsompong’s royalist rant in 2019, the Post article promotes the martial monarch.

It reports that the Royal Thai Army “will upgrade Ban Mak Khaeng Thed Phrakiat Park in Loei,” building a “sculpture of the King, and open[ing] a museum to portray the historical moment when the King, who was Crown Prince at the time, fought alongside troops against communist rebels in Ban Mak Khaeng…”.

Such a propaganda effort promotes monarch, monarchy, military and the bond between monarch and military.

The park was first constructed “by the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) of Loei to mark the battlefield in which [Vajiralongkorn]… joined soldiers in fighting Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) insurgents in tambon Kok Sathon of Dan Sai district” in 1976.

As the Post story notes, the “1970s was the height of the Cold War, when communist revolutions toppled governments and monarchies in Laos and Cambodia and when relations between the Thai monarchy and military were reshaped by dramatic and rapid shifts in domestic politics.” The best example of that relationship was the royalist massacre of students on 6 October 1976.

Vajiralongkorn had hurriedly returned from counterinsurgency training in Australia to be there for the massacre and he took up arms with the military to fight the battle against those identified as opponents of the military and monarchy.

The Post reports that: “On Nov 5, 1976, King Rama X, who was [a] … captain at that time, received a direct order from … King Bhumibol Adulyadej … to contain the situation [the anti-CPT fight in Loei].”

A myth in training

Lt Gen Chanvit Attatheerapong, director of the Army Tourism Promotion Agency – who knew there was such a thing – declared: “As a soldier, when the king had fought alongside army troops, it was a moment of incomparable rejoicing for us soldiers. And he [the king] is courageous…”.

It is important to both king and military to create stories of the king-as-soldier in a period when the ruling elite is reliant on  the military-backed regime.

The propaganda is myth-making as “villagers, police and soldiers who witnessed the events tell the magnificent story of the bravery of … the King.” From a soldier taking part in a fire fight, the then crown prince is re-made as a hero:

Pol Lt Suvin Viriyawat, a 69-year-old retired police officer, said the CTP insurgents had nearly managed to surround and cut off a police stronghold….

However, they never thought His Majesty the King would arrive to support his troops. Due to the mountainous area, the chopper could not land, so His Majesty the King suddenly hopped down with his seven royal guards onto the heated battlefield. “His Majesty the King said he was just a soldier, no need to be formal, just carry out our duties. He was so kind to us and ate alongside us too,” said Pol Lt Suvin.

“If His Majesty didn’t show up, around 20 survivors of the 48 might not be alive as we were surrounded with limited supplies for eight days. It was like we were drowning and His Majesty pulled us up. We survived because of him,” he said.

With such embellished stories, ISOC and the Army want to display the martial king, the brave soldiers and the people as one. Such propaganda is believed to be critical for the maintenance of the ruling elite. And, it blots out the critical role played by royals and royalists in the murder of civilians.





Defeating and defending the young

12 10 2021

With the mainstream media becoming increasingly quiescent under the current regime, for English readers, Prachatai and Thai Enquirer are critical sources of reliable information on Thailand’s politics. In this post, PPT looks at two recent Thai Enquirer pieces. Each reflects on the current political crisis.

In the first article, Erich Parpart and Cod Satrusayang observe that:

General Prayut Chan-ocha and his military-backed government are jailing the country’s future leaders for their own benefit. There is no use denying it anymore. But in doing so they are jeopardizing our country’s future while protecting themselves from criticism.

The government has now detained at least 20 pro-democracy protest leaders and activists. Most have been charged with lese-majeste and denied bail or have had their bail revoked while waiting for trial.

In fact, we’d argue that while there is clearly benefit to the regime, the real benefit is to the monarchy and the monarch. It is the military scratching the king’s back for the protection his position provides to a broad ruling elite. So when the regime claims attacks on the monarchy are a threat to national security, they mean to their security and that of the business-monarchy-military ruling elite.

That’s what they imply when they say: “Keep in mind, these jail sentences and arrests aren’t done to protect the public good…”, but protect a rotten regime, populated by those who should be in jail and some who have.

The article notes that many of those jailed are among Thailand’s best and brightest; indeed the country’s future. But now it is they who are rotting in jail.

The authors yell: “Free them, free the shackles that bind our thinking, it’s the only option.”

If Erich and Cod look at the leaders of the future, Caleb Quinley looks at the Thalugas protests, emphasizing the economic interests that drive them.

Firecrackers and ping pong bombs versus armed police, “dressed head to toe in black body armor carrying nonlethal firearms…. The sound of their boots echoed through the narrow halls of Din Daeng’s slum community…”.

Violence escalating: “It’s dangerous now…. But how else are they [the government] going to hear us?”

The young demonstrators have set fires to glittering massive portraits of the Thai King scattered throughout the city,  targeted police bunkers, and fired large fireworks into the dark.  In response, police have implemented a zero tolerance policy for unrest, unleashing rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas, detaining hundreds since September.

Caleb states: “The economic fallout from Covid is at the heart of the anger.” It is Thalugas “doing whatever it takes for the government to hear them.” Some want “respect” from the regime; to be heeded. They feel “they have been neglected for far too long.”

There are “increasing arrests and police brutality,” but this “group of young men are still raging on.” Many of them are “facing extreme economic difficulty [and] say they have nowhere else to turn. It’s ultimately all about raising the pressure to help their communities.”

Communities are always split, but for many locals, “these young men are white knights taking on an unfathomably powerful enemy.”





“Uneducate” them

19 12 2016

We at PPT are not education specialists. However, we did see something in a story on Thailand’s poor PISA results.

The story explains how Thailand languishes in the bottom quarter of the 70 countries that have their students tested every three years on science, math and reading. It then asks why Singapore and Vietnam have been successful.

uneducate

Royalists show the poor what they think

Finally, the story gets to Thailand: what’s wrong? An academic from Chulalongkorn University’s Education Faculty observes that “the PISA results reflect serious disparities between students in well-known schools and students in rural areas.” In other words, a lack of equity.

New Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin “admitted he was also disappointed with the performance of Thai students.” He agreed that the results “reflected a huge gap in ability between students in elite schools and those in underprivileged schools.”

Teerakiat only just got his position. Until a couple of days ago, the Ministry was headed by a general with Teerakiat and another general as deputy ministers. Today, there’s one general as a deputy minister.

Inequality in schools and generals go together.

We say this because Thailand’s elite doesn’t really care about education except as a means for imparting propaganda and instilling notions of hierarchy and order.

The rich don’t send their kids to the average school. They go to expensive schools or get into the top-ranked public schools (which are essentially reserved for the elite). The rich, like the military, prefer average schools to beat hierarchy and order into the population. Most important, they expect the lower classes to be trained to respect and honor their “betters.”

PISA results reflect this desire to control Thailand so that the royalist elite can exploit, dominate and luxuriate.





Updated: Keeping royal secrets

28 07 2016

Update: We added the missing link.

Thailand’s elite and the elite’s regimes keep many secrets. According to Freedom of Information Around the World 2006 (clicking downloads a 200-page PDF) the best kept secrets are royal secrets:

Information that “may jeopardize the Royal Institution” cannot be disclosed. There are discretionary exemptions for information that would: jeopardize national security, international relations or national economic or financial security; cause the decline of the efficiency of law enforcement; disclose opinions and advice given internally; endanger the life or safety of any person; disclose medical or personal information which would unreasonably encroach upon the right of privacy; disclose information protected by law or given by a person in confidence; other cases prescribed by Royal Decree. Information relating to the Royal Institution is to be kept secret for 75 years. Other information should be disclosed after 20 years which may be extended in five years periods (p. 147).

Reading this assessment, we can only ponder just how deep and dark are the secrets of the royal family.





A call for US sanctions

24 03 2016

The New York Times had an op-ed by Tom Felix Joehnk, who writes for The Economist from Bangkok and  Ilya Garger, the founder of Capital Profile, a Hong Kong–based business research service.

The piece is right to observe that “since seizing power, the [Thai] junta has become increasingly erratic, incompetent and repressive.” It is right that the “economy is stagnating.” It may be right that the “threat of social unrest is rising.” It is right when it says that The Dictator wants to “ensure real power remains in the hands of the military even after a formal return to electoral democracy.”

Most of all, the authors are correct that getting “Thailand back on track is a matter largely for Thais.”

It is wrong to suggest that “America, which has been the dominant foreign player in Thai politics since World War II, can help rein in the junta’s increasingly dictatorial ways by isolating it from its support base among traditional Bangkok-based elites.”

That time has passed. The US is widely viewed in the elite as part of the Thaksin problem. The more conspiratorial among them think that the US and Thaksin want to bring down the monarchy.

But here’s a neat twist in the story, which would confirm a conspiracy for those who already distrust the US, but which says something unexpected:

Washington instead should isolate the Thai military from its traditional backers to deprive the junta of a crucial source of legitimacy and support. Acting with the European Union, Japan and other allies, America should penalize not only the generals involved in the 2014 coup, but also the civilians the government has appointed to its rubber-stamping institutions.

We have to say that we were bemused at this point, but then this:

The United States is in a strong position to do so. Wealthy Thais have shoveled assets overseas at an astonishing rate since Mr. Thaksin was brought down in 2006. Their annual investments abroad have increased twelvefold, according to the Bank of Thailand….

The call is for sanctions a la Burma. There are lots of issues with sanctions, but the authors suggest “that such measures work better when their goal is moderate and when they are used to pressure otherwise friendly governments, rather than enemies.”

We guess the question for the elite is whether the US is now an enemy or a friend?





Revised: Warning the conservative elite I

1 03 2016

In an editorial at The Korean Herald, Thailand’s conservative elite gets a warning on media freedom. The editorial begins:

Thai policy makers, dictators, military leaders or what have you, have never learned how to handle criticism from the international press and the recently issued regulation for foreign media reflects that long-standing mindset.

The junta’s demand is that:

foreign media representatives must demonstrate their attitude towards the monarchy and political development in the country – eats into one’s personal space…. It is like the government is trying to delve into the heart and soul of a person and make it a requirement before they be granted visa and permit to work in the kingdom.

The military dictatorship is seeking to “prevent negative reporting about Thailand.” The editorial observes that “to try to engineer this outcome is somewhat absurd…”.

It continues:

A free and independent media environment generates a positive atmosphere for the country.

But sadly, Thai policy makers, especially the current junta, do not have the sophistication to deal with criticism. So the bottom line of this absurd regulation is that if you’re not going to be nice to me, I’m not going to let you live here.

Sadly, when the editorial states, “We really hope that is a temporary thing and that soon the authorities will come to their senses, and realize that what they are doing will cause more harm than good,” we think they misunderstand the junta and its backers. When it comes to the monarchy and maintaining elite rule, there’s no sense, just nonsense.





Countercurrents, Vltchek and Marshall

6 09 2014

If readers haven’t seen it, they will find an interview between Andre Vltchek and Andrew Marshall at Countercurrents.org of interest. Titled “Thai Elites And Coups: It is All About Controlling The People,” there are some choices bits:

On the coup: … an old elite that has monopolized power behind the scenes; really behind the scenes, having the last gasp battle to hold on to its power.

Politics as an intra-elite struggle: I think what we are really seeing is a showdown and a final battle between these two elite groups, and neither of them is particularly admirable. We have an old entrenched Thai elite that believes the poor should know their place. They don’t believe in economic development; they believe in traditional obsequiousness to authority and deference to royal family. On the other hand we have Thaksin who is a modern capitalist, with all the benefits and problems that that brings.

There’s more, of course.

 

 





A Japanese take on events

16 01 2014

Yuriko Koike is Japan’s former defense minister and national security adviser. She was Chairwoman of Japan’s Liberal Democrat Party and currently is a member of the National Diet. She comments on current events in Thailand and implications for the region. PPT reproduces almost in full:

Thailand, Southeast Asia’s most developed and sophisticated economy, is teetering on the edge of the political abyss. Yet most of the rest of Asia appears to be averting its eyes from the country’s ongoing and increasingly anarchic unrest. That indifference is not only foolish; it is dangerous. Asia’s democracies now risk confronting the same harsh question that the United States faced when Mao Zedong marched into Beijing, and again when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ousted the Shah in Iran. Who, they will have to ask, lost Thailand?

Much of the world is wondering how such a successful economy could allow its politics to spin out of control. What accounts for the armies of protesters – distinguished, gang-like, by the color of their shirts – whose mutual antipathy often borders on nihilistic rage?

The roots of the current unrest extend back more than a decade, to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s first electoral victory in 2001. Thaksin’s triumph did not represent the normal alternation in power that one finds in a democracy. Instead, his victory heralded the political rise of the country’s poor, long-silenced rural majority. Bangkok’s entrenched elite recoiled in alarm.

But, instead of learning to compete with Thaksin for the votes of Thailand’s rural poor, the country’s urban elite (including the powerful military) sought to delegitimize his rule.

For much of her term in office, Yingluck garnered praise for her pragmatism, and for seeking to ameliorate the antagonism of her opponents. But that praise and success appears to have bred a form of hubris. She proposed an amnesty law that would have not only pardoned opposition leaders, including Abhisit Vejjajiva, her predecessor as prime minister (who faces murder charges), but allowed her brother to return to the country….

The opposition, sensing that its moment had arrived, launched a wave of street protests. Yingluck, in an effort to defuse the situation, called for a parliamentary election in February. But the opposition has rejected this and says that it will boycott the vote. It fears – rightly, most people suspect – that the Thaksin camp will be returned to power in any free and fair vote.

So, in essence, what is happening in Thailand is an attempted nullification of democracy by the opposition and the country’s entrenched elite. Unable to compete successfully with Thaksin for votes, they now want to dilute Thai democracy in order to prevent the electorate from ever again choosing a government that goes against their will.

If Thailand were an insignificant country with little geostrategic weight, its problems might not matter as much as they do to the rest of Asia. But Thailand is Southeast Asia’s lynchpin economy. It is a key partner for Myanmar (Burma) as it makes its own political and economic transition, and it is a hub for trade with neighboring Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

The rest of the article is speculative and elaborates a thought that China might gain from these events, but there is no evidence of Chinese understanding of events in Thailand, so we leave this out.





Wall Street crackdowns

6 11 2011

It is fascinating watching the ruling elite in the U.S. and elsewhere beginning to behave like the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime when it was faced with dissident red shirts.

While the Battle for Wall Street, London, Sydney and so on hasn’t reached the level of violence seen in the Battle for Bangkok, it is interesting to hear the rhetoric beginning to edge towards class warfare as the state’s repressive agencies are used to crackdown on peaceful protesters, provoking them to violence as a means to “justify” a more violent state response.

See how the ruling class rules and how desperate they become to protect their money, land, trinkets and palaces!





Red shirts condemned, yellow shirts praised

26 01 2011

There’s and interesting story in the Bangkok Post that says a lot about the context of Thai politics.

Democrat Party MP Attaporn Ponlaboot has broken ranks with the official regime line and has publicly supported the yellow-shirted demonstration. Attaporn has said that the People’s Alliance for Democracy has “a constitutional right and they had the freedom to promote their cause.”

He cautions them that their protest might lead to “war with Cambodia,” but that seems not a problem for yellow-shirt supporters. His worry is that such a clash would provide “ill-intentioned people opportunities to create unrest or generate unplanned benefits for the Thaksin [Shinawatra] cause.”

Just in case people were missing his message, Attaporn “accused red-shirt leaders of exploiting their supporters in a desperate bid to achieve their outdated, hidden political agenda.” Of course, this accusation could not be leveled at the lovable yellow-shirted war mongers….

Further, Attaporn accused red shirts as being led by people who are  “outdated leftists” out to attack the monarchy. He seems to associate red shirts with Maoism.

PPT thinks this is tripe, but if it wasn’t, then one might want to ask if jingoistic monarchism isn’t even more “outdated,” having origins well before the alleged “leftism” of red shirts.

When the yellow shirts are being touted as a major threat to Abhisit Vejjajiva and his government, Attaporn turns to attack the red shirts. Obviously, Attaporn is one of quite a few in the Democrat Party who respect and align with the PAD, recognizing that the yellow ones did a heck of a lot to get the Democrat Party into power.

The problem for Attaporn and others like him, is that the regime’s backers are suspicious of yellow shirts for some of the same reasons that they hate the red shirts. The elite and royalists hate the idea of any political mobilization where they fear they are not in control. So when the yellow ones are working for obviously elite interests, they are welcomed. When there is another form of mobilization, the elite worries and sometimes panics.








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