The propaganda associated with promoting the monarchy and royalist ideology is intimately related to the lese majeste law. This may seem obvious to many, for one of the points of lese majeste is to prevent any questioning of the propaganda. At the same time, those who wield this blunt instrument attempt to separate the monarchy from the law, as in the specious reference to the king’s speech on lese majeste that was, in fact, an attack on Thaksin Shinawatra.
Three recent reports at Khaosod illustrate this important intertwining of propaganda and lese majeste.
The first may seem relatively innocuous in the pattern of royalist propaganda and repression. It is a story about Prince Vajiralongkorn and a cycle ride to “honor” his aged and infirm mother, Queen Sirikit.
Titled “Bike for Mom 2015,” the event is said to have been “conceived” by the prince for his mother. If she gets there, she will be 83 on 12 August. It is announced that the prince “will lead [the] mass bicycling event.
This is surely propaganda, for the event was announced by the military dictatorship. More than this, the cycling event is from the so-called “Royal Plaza to the 11th Infantry Division headquarters in northern Bangkok on 16 August.” That military base has been politically significant in recent years as a center of the Army’s planned attacks on red shirts.
It is also a part of well-established palace propaganda that has designated Thailand’s Mother’s Day to be the queen’s birthday, as Father’s Day is the king’s birthday. These designations are attempts to establish a paternalistic hierarchy that is critical to royalist domination.
The military dictatorship builds on this, basing its propaganda and rule on hierarchy, paternalism and royalism. Its announcement brings all this together, claiming that this event will “reinforce unity” and states it is an “open opportunity for all groups of people across the country to join the event to express their loyalty to the monarchy, express their love for their mothers and the Mother of the Land…”. the statement says, using a common epithet to refer to Queen Sirikit.
The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, announced the prince’s involvement, saying that the prince “has … ordered officials to take care of the participants’ safety. The important thing [for him] is that the people are happy.” We are not sure which laws give the prince the power to give orders to officials. Prayuth also reveals that the military dictatorship receives constant messages from the palace as a matter of course. In other places, such actions by a constitutional monarchy cause problems. But, then, Thailand’s constitutional monarchy has been transformed over many years into something that is highly politicized.
In a second report, Khaosod tells us that The Dictator considers “Thainess” and being “Thai” to be associated with uncritical support for the monarchy.
Prayuth was commenting on the constant efforts to extradite those accused of lese majeste who have fled the dictatorship and threatened incarceration in Thailand. Of course, if any returned, they would be convicted. Indeed, in recent days, as in the 30 or so lese majeste cases initiated through Prince Vajiralongkorn, all victims have been forced to plead guilty and their “trials” have been perfunctory.
Prayuth states that Ekaphop Luera, now living in New Zealand, is no longer ‘Thai.” He declared: “Since he fled this country to another, it shows that he is no longer a Thai person and he cannot stay in Thailand…”.
This links directly to the prince’s cycle event in the sense that Ekaphop is defined as being outside the norm of royalist Thailand that makes the monarchy central to any definition of “Thainess.” Hence, Prayuth considers it his “duty” to jail those who reject the royalist norms: “We are not neglecting this duty. We simply cannot neglect it. The Ministry of Justice is working on it, the Royal Thai Police are working on it [extradition]…”.
The third story at Khaosod links notions of duty and lese majeste to the enforcement of hierarchy and authoritarianism through lese majeste repression. Prayuth, is described as “a hardline royalist,” and the report reminds us that he has declared that “defending His Majesty’s authority” is a top priority for his military junta.
He has received a communication from a “group of ultra-royalists in northern Thailand” who have declared their gratitude to The Dictator for “defending” the monarchy through “his strict enforcement of the country’s lese majeste law.”
These royal fascists have a “local association called People Who Love the King, [and] submitted the group’s thank-you letter through Phrae province’s governor…”. They assert that they “are impressed by Gen. Prayuth’s ‘dedication’ to enforcing Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Codes, a law known as lese majeste that criminalizes insulting the king, queen, heir-apparent, and regent with up to 15 years in prison.”
The fascists believe that, “In the past, officials responsible for law enforcement have neglected their duties, and there were many serious insults and accusations against the monarchy, both in open and secretive ways…”. They believe that this led to more attacks on the monarchy because “there was no fear of committing the crime…”.
Such a claim makes a nonsense of the history of lese majeste, but the point is that these ultra-conservatives appreciate Prayuth’s efforts to roll back electoral politics and reinforce royalist hierarchies. They prefer the old order and many laud a military dictatorship as a faux absolute monarchy. Royal and palace propaganda and the extreme implementation of the feudal lese majeste law are essential for the maintenance of the social, economic and political rule of the royalist elite.