Violence and double standards II

3 03 2021

As there was a couple of weeks ago, there’s again some banter about protesters and violence in the mainstream media.

With 22 protesters arrested and some 30 officially reported as injured, two-thirds of them police, Khaosod says some activists are again questioning “tactics” and especially the idea of a “leaderless” protest.

Meanwhile, the Thai Enquirer has a completely different story, while sounding like a throwback to the Cold War, writing of “pro-Marxist” protesters and blaming “Free Youth leaders” for violence. It says that Free Youth’s advice to protesters speaks of its “violence” for telling protesters in advance to “wear face mask and running shoes but no jewelry, necklace or contact lens and to cover their face with disguises…, [recommending] protestors … bring security helmet, gas mask, thick gloves, first aid kit and other protest equipment.”

As far as we can tell, that seems pretty standard advice to protesters since last year.

In the two reports there’s only one photo of a protester being aggressive towards police – throwing a plastic water bottle. There are quite a few photos of police firing weapons, which tends to suggest that Thai Enquirer’s claim that “photos and videos of confrontations will only support the government and police claims that the pro-democracy protestors are violent when the majority of them are not” is not quite correct. But this kind of advocacy is naive and dangerously close to supporting a regime with decades of anti-civilian violence in it DNA.

A little bit of fishing around produces a report of a journalist arrested and charged, and evidence of the authorities’ use of rubber bullets. PPT watched the protest on livestreaming and there was very little violence in evidence. That may be because the police again restricted the activities of journalists or it may be that those doing the livestreaming were in the wrong place when there was violence elsewhere. That said, there was plenty of ducking and diving when the police fired off their weapons.

It is also noticeable that social media has shown pictures of people in plainclothes throwing items at protesters and video of plainclothes police and military dressed like protesters:

As Andrew MacGregor Marshall points out at Secret Siam, these were mostly “soldiers sent by the palace supposedly to protect royal buildings.”

It is noticeable that in the mainstream media’s reporting, there’s almost no information on what the protesters wanted and why they marched. Prachtai fills the gap:

The protest, which was called by the activist group Free Youth movement, now known as REDEM (Restart Democracy), started at the Victory Monument before marching to the 1st Infantry Regiment to demand that prime minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha move out of army housing, as he retired from the army in 2014. The group also said that electricity and water bills for the army housing are paid for with taxpayer money.

The 1st Infantry Regiment, King’s Close Bodyguard, was also one of the army units recently transferred to King Vajiralongkorn’s personal control. The group is therefore demanding that the control of the army units be transferred out of the King’s control.

REDEM also calls for the monarchy’s power to be limited, for the military to stay out of politics, and for universal state welfare.

These demands are aligned with those made several months ago. The emphasis on the king’s arguably unlawful control of military units is not discussed in the mainstream media.





Making palace propaganda

27 02 2021

Australia’s contribution to royalist propaganda has been posted to the Australian Embassy’s Facebook page. The “documentary” is released in Thai and English versions. Our link is to the English version that covers King Vajiralongkorn’s time as a high school student in Sydney, an officer cadet at Duntroon Military College in Canberra and training with Australia’s Special Air Services Regiment in Perth.

The embassy introduces it thus:

The Australian Embassy, Thailand proudly presents “His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua in Australia” documentary as a gift to Thai people.

Our Embassy is deeply honoured to have His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua and Her Majesty Queen Suthida Bajrasudhabimalalakshana to preside over the premiere screening on Monday 15th February 2021.

There will be a lot of Thais who will look this particular gifthorse in the mouth.

Some days ago, Australia’s most trusted news outlet, the ABC had a story on this propaganda piece, saying that the embassy “has produced a documentary showcasing historical footage of the King of Thailand’s six-and-a-half years in Australia at boarding school and with the Australian Defence Force.” It shows the then prince marching, running obstacle courses, studying, in the cadet’s mess, practicing patrols and “graduating.” It is added that the embassy Facebook post said it “highlights the shared history between the Thai Royal Family and Australia”…”.

The ABC notes that this propaganda piece comes as “dozens of protesters face up to 15 years in jail for allegedly defaming [the king].”

The story cites journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk, who said the timing was “unfortunate to put it mildly,” with “59 monarchy reform activists had been charged under the lese majeste laws,” adding:

It’s sending a very awkward message because we are in the middle of unprecedented calls for monarchy reform and then you see the government of Australia simply behave as if, you know, there is no controversy.

Embassy’s are not usually so tone deaf, with Pravit reminding them:

Australia is supposed to be a democratic government that stands for freedom of expression…. Australians have the freedom to criticise … Queen Elizabeth … the Australian people could entertain the future without the monarchy in London, right? Well, this is not the case in Thailand.

The propaganda piece “includes interviews with the King’s classmates including the Governor-General of Australia David Hurley, former governor-general Sir Peter Cosgrove, and Major General Duncan Lewis, the former director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).” They all have good things to say.

Political commentator Greg Raymond said he felt it “not the right time” to release an “effusive commemoration of our relationship with this particular monarch.” He added:

They’re producing this documentary in a social and political context where the place of the monarchy in Thailand is becoming increasingly a fraught question.

For the real (but still redacted) details of the then prince’s time in Australia, click here.





The royal elephant in the room

20 02 2021

Reading a report at the Thai Enquirer on Move Forward’s Rangsiman Rome and his speech in parliament requires insider knowledge.

Reporting that he “showed the four-page document from 2019, when the Royal Thai Police force was under the leadership of [Gen] Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and of current Deputy Prime Minister [Gen] Prawit Wangsuwan,” it is left to the reader’s imagination and inside knowledge to work out what this is about, adding:

The so-called chang or elephant ticket is allegedly a list of police officers assured of promotion. The ticket, according to Rome, is a vehicle for positions and connections within the police, bypassing the official merit-based system for promotion.

Immediately the hashtag #ตั๋วช้าง began trending, used millions of times.

Like an earlier politician forced into exile, Rangsiman spoke of the patronage system. Rangsiman implied “Prayut and Prawit were aware that such corrupt practices were taking place, accusing the administration of allowing the police to indulge the ‘godfathers’ operating gambling dens and the drug trade, while cracking down on pro-democracy protestors like criminals.”

The closest the newspaper gets to talking about the elephant in the room is when it reports that the MP said “he was aware that he was breaching a dangerous taboo against some of the country’s most powerful vested interests.” That’s code for the monarchy and that he was speaking of the involvement of the palace in police promotions and corruption was clearer – but still unstated – when he said:

This is probably the most dangerous action I’ve ever taken in my life,” he said during the hearing. “But since I have been chosen by the people, I will fight for the people…. I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but I have no regrets over the decisions that I have made today.

It is Khaosod that reports the speech more directly, helped by the slimy lese majeste bully Suporn Atthawong.

According to this report, Rangsiman’s “bombshell revelation” was that “a handful of government favorites and a royal aide can dictate appointments and removals within the police force at their whim…”.

He went further, saying that the documents showed that “police officers can gain immediate promotions without going through the formal route if they manage to obtain a ‘Ticket,’ a document signed by Maj. Gen. Torsak Sukvimol, the commander of the Ratchawallop Police Retainers, King’s Guard 904.” That’s the younger brother of the king’s most important official.

The link to the palace is clear:

The MP said the scheme is run by Torsak’s brother, Sathitpong Sukvimol, who serves as Lord Chamberlain to the royal palace. Documents shown by Rangsiman shows that Sathitpong in 2019 wrote to a certain institution asking for 20 police officers to receive either new ranks or titles.

The slimy Suporn has rushed in with Article 112 allegations:

We have transcribed every word and letter of the speeches that Mr. Rangsiman Rome referenced the monarchy…. Our legal team has looked into it and concluded that the information is sufficient for prosecution under Article 112.

Of course, the king’s previous interference in police promotions has been well-documented. A recent academic piece, drawing on Wikileaks, summarizes this, stating that Vajiralongkorn twice “intervened in matters to do with the appointment of the national police chief, in 1997 and 2009, both seemingly with personal motives…”. We also know that there were several periods when the king was crown prince that there were rumors that he was involved with crime figures.





Jabs traded

18 02 2021

Speaking during the no confidence debate in parliament, the self-selected Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha seemed to lose his marbles. Responding to an MP from the opposition Move Forward Party “who … questioned the government’s delivery of the [virus]  vaccine,” Gen Prayuth seemed to forget that he leads the government when he “warned critics of the government’s vaccination programme that they would be held responsible if their comments affected the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines.”

He babbled: “I am concerned that comments on the vaccines will cause problems. I don’t want it to be politicised. You have to be careful. If we cannot get what has been agreed upon because of this, you must accept responsibility.”

How can the opposition, with no control of anything associated with the state be responsible for delays? Of course, it is nonsense. It is the regime that is responsible.

The regime has been slow to get vaccines, with dozens and dozens of countries in the world already beginning vaccination. Some of the slower places are beginning within a few days. Japan has just begun and this slowness has been criticized. The regime is trying to save face by seemingly getting a special deal from China, using the almost defunct Thai Airways to run yet another special flight to get a few thousand doses being supplied by China’s Sinovac Biotech Co. The flight will bring 200,000 doses. The Food and Drug Administration emergency approval of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine will see a meager 50,000 doses arrive in Thailand sometime in February. The program for vaccination was announced only a few days ago.

We can speculate and guess why this is: the regime wants most people to receive a vaccine with the king’s mark on it – the propaganda value will be immense.

This is why the Bangkok Post reports that the National Vaccine Institute director Nakorn Premsri had to display “a letter from the AstraZeneca company, issued on Monday, in an attempt to prove that Siam Bioscience has passed the evaluation process of AstraZeneca’s audit team.” It might have, but this provides no evidence of when the king’s company will be producing shots.





Australia and palace propaganda

17 02 2021

A story on last evening’s royal news was about the king and queen visiting the Australian Embassy together with Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, several Privy Councillors and cabinet ministers along with a bevy of senior officials – with not a mask in sight. The visit marked the embassy’s production of a “documentary” on the king’s several years in Australia when he struggled through some high school and then undertook military training.

Like all monarchy propaganda, it “will be aired on TV Pool until Thursday.” The first bit to be shown “highlights the visit to Australia by King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit as well as [the current king’s] early years in Australia. “

It is baffling why the Australians think it is a good idea to be complicit in palace propaganda. It seems remarkably like Cold War era efforts by the USA, Australia and other Western allies to link up with royalists and dictators in promoting the monarch.

The Australian Ambassador Allan McKinnon bubbled to the media, telling them that “the Australian embassy in Bangkok obtained footage of the King’s time in Australia from the National Archives of Australia and developed the footage into a documentary…”. The reason it did this is “to highlight the shared history between the Thai royal family and Australia…”.

The ambassador declared that the documentary and its associated photo exhibition demonstrates “the strength of the relationship between two countries, which was recently elevated to the status of a strategic partnership, signed by Gen Prayut, the Australian ambassador and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison last November.”

It does sound ever so Cold War-like. As it was then, we doubt anyone will mention the protests and snubs the dead king received in 1962 or the current king’s somewhat checkered time in Australia.

We can point out some background information. During the dead king’s visit, the Secretary of the New South Wales Labor Council “said it was vulgar to display expensive jewellery (reported to be worth 240,000 pounds, or roughly $6.5m in today’s terms) and that ‘his heart went out to the poor people of her country’.”

Before that visit, the faculty at the Australian National University refused to offer an honorary degree to the king, and another was hastily arranged at the more conservative University of Melbourne. As Paul Handley has it in a footnote:

The trips were not all perfectly smooth. In Australia several small protests greeted the royal couple, as did uncomplimentary media coverage of Sirikit’s ostentatious jewelry and clothing collection. There was also turmoil surrounding Canberra’s plan to have Australia National University award Bhumibol an honorary doctorate. The university refused because Bhumibol had never earned an undergraduate degree from a college or university. Finally the government persuaded a lesser institution, the University of Melbourne, to give the king an honorary doctorate of laws.

For an account of Vajiralongkorn’s time in Australia, with some of the warts exposed – others remain secret – read our post of an important Australian newspaper investigation. We can be sure none of this will appear in the embassy’s contribution to palace propaganda.





Further updated: Fake reporting and conscientious non-reporting

15 02 2021

In a recent post, we observed that the royal family appeared, until a couple of days ago, to be on holiday. Until Chinese New Year, there had been very few appearances by any of them for about a month. Sometimes there were stories of royal good deeds, but as social media commentators noticed, these often involved collages of old photos.

This creates problems for the mainstream media, who are always pushed to give the impression that the royals are wonderful philanthropists rather than lazy, grasping, and self-interested. When the king spent most of last year in Germany, the average royalist might have thought the king was in Thailand. No mainstream outlet reported his residence in Germany or the antics he got up to there. Thus there was fake reporting and conscientious non-reporting.

Such trickery has also been at work over the past month, although the royal news is a bit of a problem for the palace has had a habit of reporting some royal thing, happening or event every day. But, as the Bangkok Post has demonstrated today, faked reporting is one way of filling a gap. It has the headline “King and Queen swoop in to help Covid-affected workers.”

That gives the impression that the king and queen were actually out and about: “Their Majesties the King and Queen gave 7,500 meal boxes a day to people affected by Covid-19 in Samut Sakhon from Saturday.” That reads a bit odd, so we looked further into the story and it turns out that the king and queen were somewhere else – in a palace perhaps – and the food boxes were presented to the governor to “hand over to officers tackling the coronavirus and people affected by the pandemic as they were concerned about hardship caused by the disease.”

It also turns out that these are “subsidised … meals” and that the king “designated the Thai Restaurant Association and Restaurants club in Samut Sakhon to arrange the food to serve medical officers, soldiers and police who combated with the coronavirus at hospitals, field hospitals and surveillance centres in all districts,” along with a few average citizens. It is stated that “the restaurant club in the province has joined hands with 30 restaurants to cook the meals.” Sounds like some orders have been issued.

So we wonder who “swooped,” who paid, and who decided to make the story appear like the king was out of the palace? Old tactics die hard.

Update 1: The fake reporting includes the military and palace. The military released several photos and video a day or so ago purporting to show the newly-shown, newly-minted general, Princess Bajrakitiyabha skydiving at the military’s Lopburi base. Turns out that this was not true, with the military scrambling to say it was not fake, but a “rehearsal” for a jump she will make at some other time. The “rehearsal” was so faked that it seemingly included a lookalike “Princess.”

Update 2: We are now seem to have confirmation of the princess jumping from a plane, with another video released, looking remarkably like the rehearsal video.





(Not) Taxing the crown

14 02 2021

One of the points of the announcement that he king was taking full and formal control of all crown wealth was that he’d pay tax. In its “explanation” of the secretly legislated changes the king had the junta make in 2017, it is stated:

Regarding the liability for duties and taxation, the Crown Property Act, BE 2560 (2017) stipulates that matters related to either liability for, or exemption from, duties and taxation shall be determined and regulated by the specific legislations covering the relevant types or duties and taxes. Such provisions differ from those under the previous statute which exempted the Crown Property Bureau completely from all types or duties and taxes. In implementing the new Statute, His Majesty made the decision to make the “Crown Property Assets” be subject to the same duties and taxation as would assets belonging to any other citizen Therefore, if the assets were to remain in the name of the Office of the Crown Property Bureau, they would have retained the exempted status under the current taxation laws since the Office of the Crown Property Bureau is designated – still, as an entity exempted from duties and taxation. “Crown Property Assets” are now given a status on par with that of any other legal person. The removal of exempted status was accomplished in line with His Majesty’s Wishes.

Like much that emanates from the palace, there seems clarity in this but there’s also plenty of ambiguity if the details are dissected. Of course, the question of whether the king actually pays taxes is opaque and one of the reasons why protesters have been calling for reform.

In a recent discussion at Prachatai, and attempt is made to cut through the secrecy, smoke, and mirrors. The result is an enlightening article, well worth reading, but the result is that the taxpaying public still doesn’t know if the king pays tax, on what, and how much. The report makes this statement:

the Crown Property Bureau still has not disclosed its annual report on its website, as was previously done during King Rama IX’s reign, so we do not have any information on the income of the Crown Property Bureau, especially on the transfer of real estate which used to be crown property and public property to become the property of King Rama X to be administrated, preserved, managed, and operated all at the King’s discretion.

That’s only partly true. There was an annual report for a few short years, but it contained no financial information. Now, however, the reporting on the CPB is missing but the financial information has always been kept a secret.

With regard to the billions of baht of taxpayer funds shoveled into the royal family and palace – some detailed by Prachatai – again, there’s no clarity on the taxation status.

For real estate, the report states that the 2019 Land and Building Tax Act sets a “rate of 0.01-3% of the estimate property value, depending on the category of land/building.” However, a Ministerial Regulation on Property Exempted from Land and Building Tax in 2019 exempted crown property and the property of members of the royal family for the following purposes:

(a) for use in governmental affairs, royal affairs or any royal agencies

(b) for use in any other affairs of the King and royal family members or for public benefit

(c) for use as a religious place of any religion to perform religious activities or public activities or as the residence of monks, priests or clergymen of any religion, or as a shrine.

The Prachatai assessment concludes:

The information given here cover only the facts and laws that are common knowledge, and the interpretation is based on the author’s understanding. It is difficult to confirm whether tax is collected as interpreted in this article or not. Ever since the changes in the administration of the Royal Offices and crown property there has been no clear explanation on the newly amended laws, and details about the crown property are not disclosed to the public. These questions therefore remain in society, as long as the people do not have access to sufficient information to answer them.

In other words, the king’s personal grab of crown property was propagandized as him paying tax. The result is less clarity than ever.





Back in the news

13 02 2021

Royal World Thailand has published pictures of the “missing” Queen Suthida and a newly shown “Princess Patty.” After the social media hullabaloo about the missing queen, this appearance will simply set off more speculation about her whereabouts over the past month.

Clipped from Royal World Thailand

Princess Bajrakitiyabha’s military-style haircut seems to be a part of her father’s promotion of her to full Army general and her taking up that new role. Like kings of yore, Vajiralongkorn likes to have favorites and family running things.

Clipped from Royal World Thailand

All of the recent hyperventilating speculation about the queen did send PPT to the royal news more often. What we noticed was an absence of royals generally from the news. After the huge profile taken in putting down the anti-monarchists, it seems that almost all of them are resting or convalescing. Never has the royal news been shorter than in the past week. There are some small mercies.





Further updated: 112 updates

9 02 2021

It is reported that lese majeste case No. 58 of the current round of repression has been lodged – we seem to have missed cases 56 and 57 – with a 37 year-old man being charged “with the royal insult, or lese majeste, for allegedly mocking the monarchy at a shopping mall in December…”.

A fanatical royalist from Thai Pakdee accused Pawat Hiranpon “of feigning to genuflect and saying ‘Long Live Your Majesties’ at Siam Paragon on Dec. 20 when several pro-democracy activists were walking past him…”. The mad monarchist thinks he was being sarcastic.

At about the same time, UN human rights experts are reported to have “expressed grave concerns over Thailand’s increasingly severe use of lèse-majesté laws to curtail criticism of the monarchy, and said they were alarmed that a woman had been sentenced to over 43 years in prison for insulting the royal family.”

They stated: “We are profoundly disturbed by the reported rise in the number of lèse-majesté prosecutions since late 2020 and the harsher prison sentences…”. They added: “We call on the authorities to revise and repeal the lèse-majesté laws, to drop charges against all those who are currently facing criminal prosecution and release those who have been imprisoned…”. The regime will not heed such calls. It never has. It heeds the king, and it is he who has directed this repression strategy.

Meanwhile some better news, with the Criminal Court having “dismissed a petition by the Digital Economy and Society Ministry to remove a clip criticising the government’s Covid-19 vaccine policy by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.” The ministry claimed it constituted lese majeste. He criticized the secret deal between regime, the king’s Siam Bioscience, and AstraZeneca.

After being ordered to take down his half-hour analysis, Thanathorn challenged the order. He was successful after the full clip was played in court, with the court “saying no part of the clip clearly showed he criticised or raised questions in any way that could be deemed insulting to the monarchy.” It added: “There is no clear evidence it affects national security…”.

The court asked Thanathorn why he used the term “royal vaccines”. His reply was wonderful, pointing out that “he was not the first to use it.” He pointed out that: “It was Gen Prayut and government agencies who first used or implied it that way…”. They were milking propaganda for the king and that was turned back at them, and the court agreed: “The court viewed the term was borrowed from what the government had said earlier about the local vaccine production to show the mercy of the king. Mr Thanathorn’s use of the word was therefore not a lie, which could cause damage to the king.”

Of course, the regime is now scrambling on vaccines, issuing statements that seem designed to mollify growing criticism. For a useful report of further questioning of the king’s Siam Bioscience, see Khaosod.

Update 1: Prachatai reports on the 112 case facing Pawat (using Phawat ‘Pocky’ Hiranphon). It states that the “charge was filed by Acting Sub Lt Narin Sakcharoenchaikun), a member of Thai Pakdee…”. Further,

the investigator gave as the reason for the complaint to a cosplay activity at Siam Paragon on 20 December 2020, where Phawat was seen paying respect by bowing, giving a ‘wai’ (the Thai greeting) , saying ‘Long live the King’, and presenting flowers to Parit Chiwarak and Panussaya Sitthijirawattanakul, who cosplayed King Rama X and the Queen wearing crop tops.

The investigator alleges this was an act of mockery toward people paying respect to King Rama X.

Phawat is seeking evidence to file a complaint against Narin, as he sees the complaint as politically motivated and damaging to his reputation and income. Narin also is not the one offended by Phawat’s action.

Update 2: The Bangkok Post has an editorial calling for the regime to get on with vaccination rather than defending itself. The editorial notices:

Bombarded by criticism that it has been too slow and overly reliant on two sources, AstraZeneca and Sinovac, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha tried to explain the government’s immunisation strategy last Sunday.

The PM was far too keen on defending the government than shedding light on the crucial vaccine drive. Although he addressed some of the main points of criticism, the PM offered no new information.

His claims and promises also appeared unsubstantiated, with little or no detail at all.

Self-censoring, it doesn’t say much at all about the king’s Siam Bioscience.

The public health minister has only made things worse. Bent on protecting himself and the government, Anutin Charnvirakul essentially told people to keep quiet and stop questioning the vaccine procurement and immunisation plan. He also told other politicians who are not in the government to keep their advice to themselves.

Mr Anutin’s tantrum only reinforced his image as being out of touch.

Self-censoring, it doesn’t say much at all about the king’s Siam Bioscience.





Grasping and interfering monarchs

9 02 2021

The interfering tendencies of King Vajiralongkorn and his father before him is well-known. Despite efforts to portray themselves as real constitutional monarchs, neither is or was. Vajiralongkorn has been most obvious in his interference with government, being like a bull in a china shop, demanding all kinds of constitutional, legal and military advantage.

But most monarchs tend to be secretive, wealthy and interfering. Two major reports in The Guardian, looking at the Queen of England, make this clear. The reports are worth reading for anyone interested in reform of Thailand’s monarchy.

Revealed: Queen lobbied for change in law to hide her private wealth” is an account of how “royal prerogative” was used to prevent the people of the UK from knowing how wealthy their royal family was. The queen claimed it had something to do with “embarrassment,” but what she wanted was to hide her huge wealth. The intervention with ministries, departments, and ministers was extensive, and governments colluded in maintaining secrecy. A second report “How Queen’s consent raises questions over UK democracy” asks how these interventions challenge Britain’s democracy.

Obviously, things aren’t exactly the same in Thailand, but the two stories have important resonances.