That plaque

19 07 2018

We won’t repeat the story of how the plaque commemorating the 1932 Revolution, people’s sovereignty and the end of the absolute monarchy disappeared.

No one has officially claimed responsibility for that act of political vandalism and the plaque being replaced by one extolling the wonders of royalism.

Interestingly, in a story at Prachatai, there’s an official clue as to the status of the thieves and vandals. (We must add that we are pleased that the English version of Prachatai has suddenly made a comeback after a hiatus over the past months or so.)

A second part of a report on a seminar that assessed the 1932 Revolution reports the presentation by former lese majeste prisoner and longtime activist Somyos Prueksakasemsuk:

Somyot stated that today he came [to the seminar] with a police car leading him. He considered it was a great honour for the police officers show respect to him by asking him for details and asking about certain matters that are inappropriate to be speaking about.

We would have guessed that the police wanted to silence him on lese majeste, the monarchy or his case. But no: “The issue they asked him to not talk about was the disappearance of the Khana Ratsadon plaque.

That suggests to us that the junta must have authorized the plaque’s removal or is officially covering-up for the real culprit. (Many assume that King Vajiralongkorn ordered its removal.)

Somyos went on to explain that:

… the disappearance of the plaque is nothing new because there have always been attempts to destroy the symbols of the 1932 revolution all the time, including the misrepresentation of the history of 1932 as premature where the revolution went ahead even though King Rama VII was getting ready to bestow democracy. The … date of the national day has been changed and Khana Ratsadon architecture such as the Supreme Court building, has been destroyed.

Ever a political optimist, Somyos explained:

As for the missing plaque, … its disappearance today is alright. When one day we have democracy, and a government, we can install a new one. At least it can be an ideological symbol of democracy and Khana Ratsadon.

We can only hope he’s right and support those who favor electoral democracy of military dictatorship.





Making royal propaganda from the cave II

15 07 2018

While PPT refrained from commentary on the remarkably uplifting cave rescue, we have said a few things about its use for palace propaganda purposes (here, here and here). Our point has been to point out that the kind of royal propaganda is nothing new, but that this is an opportunity for the palace to boost the image of the new king in ways that are not all that different from his father. Royalism is so deeply embedded in the military and bureaucracy that there is a constant search for opportunities to make the monarch look good, kind, generous, loving of his people, etc.

The latest efforts have involved both a familiar pattern and one that strikes us as somewhat new. The familiar involves the promotion of the former Navy diver who died in the cave and providing a royally-sponsored funeral ceremony. If academic Serhat Unaldi referred to something called “working towards the monarchy,” this propaganda exercise kind of reverses the process, allowing the monarchy to gain credit from the death of someone considered popular, a hero or worthy in other ways. Such actions are not always simple and cynical efforts by the palace but invariably bestow considerable credit on the monarch.

Governor Narongsak

The less familiar involves something we noted in our first comment on the efforts in Chiang Rai. In that post we observed the dress of Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn. Initially in the search, he appeared in a “loyalty” outfit. Appearing appropriately loyal is required in royalist Thailand under the military dictatorship. At the time, we thought he might be wearing a sky blue Snoopy cap,along with a yellow scarf.

In fact, the cap bears the king’s rather childlike cartoon figures which also recently appeared on shirts. He wasn’t the only one wearing the outfit in the early days of the cave drama. Narongsak seemed to ditch the outfit as the search became very serious and he handled himself commendably. So did others.

However, after the huge elation following the successful rescue of those in the cave, the blue caps and yellow scarves are back in big numbers. As hundreds showed up to volunteer to assist in the cave area clean-up, it seems that they were all provided with these symbols of loyalty. Remarkably, the regimented volunteers all managed to show up in very similar yellow shirts.

This “uniform” was also on show in some of the very early pictures that came from the boating tragedy in Phuket where 48 persons seem to have perished. It seems that the idea of associating monarchy with a tragedy saw the “uniform” ditched.

The Bangkok Post has a some pictures from Chiang Rai following the joyous outcome there. The “uniform” is de rigueur. We clipped one of those here.

Way off in the distance in the photo is the picture of the king that the volunteers are saluting, all lined up in their identical outfits. It is clear that there’s a palace propaganda effort underway. Yellow and sky blue are the kings chosen colors.





An interfering monarchy II

13 07 2018

Just over a week ago PPT commented on the cave rescue and the king’s self-selected role.

We noted that the king had ordered – a “royal order” – that “cave search-and-rescue training will be introduced to the curriculum of all branches of the armed forces…”. That was announced by The Dictator. The report cited went on to say that the king was “[w]eighing in on how the nation’s armed forces should be trained…”, and ordered that “the skills and knowledge used to rescue 12 boys and their football coach be incorporated into their training…”.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha immediately did as decreed, declaring: “[We] can adapt the rescue plan into diving and swimming lessons for the special operation forces in the future.”

We asked what business does the king have in “decreeing” how the military should be training? We also asked how many similar emergencies are there likely to be in the next few decades?

But in royalist Thailand, he who must be obeyed gets what he wants. Naval Special Warfare Command chief Rear Admiral Apakorn Yukongkaew has stated that “[s]kills unfamiliar to Thai Navy Seals but key to the successful rescue” of the kids and their coach in the cave “will be added to the training regimen of the Navy’s elite unit to better prepare them for unexpected situations.” He says that the operation prompted thinking “about arming themselves with the skills needed to navigate flooded, dark and murky passageways.”

We doubt that. This is coming from up high. When Rear Admiral Apakorn was asked “to name a priority for his Seal unit after returning from the cave rescue mission” he states that “Seals need cave-diving training…”.

To be honest, this is a bizarre response that only makes “sense” in the context of the royal command. And that makes very little sense.

Perhaps there’s also some nationalism at work when it is reported that the Navy team “handled the risks and pressure at Tham Luang well, but they still needed to be guided by world-renowned cave divers who also joined the rescue operations.” Nationalism is dangerous in such circumstances and the administration’s quick action in calling in experienced cave divers from all over the world was exactly the right thing to do.

We think the BBC gets it right too when it asks and answers:

Could the Thais have done this on their own?

No, and few countries could. Cave diving is a very specialised skill, and expert cave rescuers are even rarer.

Thailand was fortunate that an experienced caver Vern Unsworth has explored the Tham Luang cave complex extensively, and lives nearby.

He was on the scene the day after the boys disappeared, and suggested that the Thai government needed to invite expert divers from other countries to help.

The Thai navy divers who went down initially struggled, because both their experience and equipment were for sea diving, which is very different. They were driven out of the caves by rapidly rising flood water, and finding the boys seemed a hopeless cause.

Once foreign divers arrived, from many different countries, the Thai authorities allowed them to devise first the search, and then the enormously complex rescue. It was a huge logistical operation involving hundreds of people, building guide rope and pulley systems, putting in power and communication cables.

It is to Thailand’s credit that it was organised so well, and there was no attempt to diminish the foreign contribution.

So when a king who wasn’t at the scene and has no experience in caves or rescue operations provides daft advice, he should be ignored, not blindly followed. Monarchs need to be kept in their legal and constitutional place.





King, sangha and returning royal power

8 07 2018

Some time ago, the BBC’s Jonathan Head reported on Wat Dhammakaya that skillfully weaved a story that ended with this:

Thailand is in the midst of a complex and potentially dangerous, triple transition; a delicate royal succession, a battle over the future of Buddhism and a still uncertain political transition to a military-guided democracy.

More than a year later, the dictatorship and the king have again come together in defining the future of the Buddhist sangha.

In 2016, the puppet National Legislative Assembly passed an amendment to the 1962 Sangha Act. The amendment was designed to delay the appointment of Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn, known as Somdet Chuang, after he was nominated by the Sangha Supreme Council to be Supreme Patriarch. He was considered by the military junta and palace to be too close to Wat Dhammakaya.

The amendment gave great power to the king as it was he who “selects and appoints a supreme patriarch while the prime minister countersigns the appointment.”

Apparently, though, this was not sufficient. It is now reported that the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly on Thursday “endorsed the Monk Act, which will enable the [k]ing to appoint or remove senior monks and members of the supreme council of monks.”

“Voting” in the puppet NLA

Speaking to the puppet Assembly, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said that the king “is recognized in the constitution as the patron of Buddhism and other religions. He said it would be fitting for the [k]ing to appoint or strip senior monks and members of the Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand of their titles, as stipulated in Article 3 of the act.”

Wissanu essentially explained this as a throwback act: “… such royal prerogative was practiced between the reign of King Rama V to King Rama VIII. King Rama VIII’s reign ended in 1939.”

This might be poor reporting as Rama VIII’s reign ended in 1946 when he was found dead by gunshot. What was meant, we think, was that the Act was amended in 1941. We are not sure why 1939 is stated, but perhaps there are readers who know more on this.

The linked article cites Buddhist scholar Surapot Thaweesak on the most recent junta-sponsored amendment.

He stated that the amendment “is tantamount to returning royal power relations between the King and the Sangha to those of King Rama V’s time…”.

Surapot added that “this is a return of royal power.” He concluded: “Thinking from the standpoint of the … state, there will be greater control of the Sangha… But from a democratic standpoint, [Thailand] should be a secular state…”. Surapot correctly claimed that “the act in general will make Buddhism and the Sangha a mechanism to support conservative ideology.”

Pious king

King Vajiralongkorn has a particular interest in Buddhism and has engaged politically on the sangha several times as crown prince and now as king.





Making royal propaganda from the cave I

7 07 2018

A couple of days ago PPT commented on the making of royal propaganda and the king interfering in events and institutions that are not his preserve. In it, we observed how the palace propaganda machine in the previous reign regularly claimed a royal interest in events that elicited public sympathy. We don’t doubt the interest but the point was about how that interest became grist to the royal propaganda mill.

The ongoing efforts by rescuers to bring the soccer team out of the cave has continued to provide that propaganda opportunity.

In another message from the king’s palace he issued a statement “of appreciation, commendation and encouragement to the Thai and foreign teams who have located 12 young footballers and their coach…”.

The message allows the king to rehearse a message that was his father’s mantra: “there was unity of effort exerted by all in a disciplined manner, supported by great knowledge, dedication and sacrifice…”.

With the death of a former Navy seal, while tragic, provided another opportunity.

The king intervened, giving “instructions that Petty Officer 1st Class Saman be given dignified funeral rites.” The king “also gave instructions to that the dead diver’s children be well taken care of.”

In another effort at bolstering the “caring-ness” of the palace, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti Has “handwritten card … [that] urged 12 young footballers and their coach trapped inside a northern cave to stay strong, and thanked everyone involved in the attempt to rescue them.” He wrote it in German.

The 13 year-old son of the king is generally considered most likely to become crown prince in a few years. He is at school in Germany.

Such efforts will occur at every available opportunity, as they did in the past reign.





Updated: An interfering monarchy I

5 07 2018

One of the characteristics of the last reign was for the palace propaganda machine to claim a royal interest in events that elicited public sympathy. The idea was to present the king as a monarch who cared for his subjects. As his reign developed and as his public persona was accepted more widely a a good, generous, caring patriarch, that king came to have an opinion on almost everything, from agriculture to art, music to flood control, to governance and much more.

For the new king, creating the image is not so easy because of Vajiralongkorn’s erratic past, aloofness and self-centeredness. Even so, the palace propaganda machine and the military junta has been image-making in ways that seem little changed from the past reign.

With the most recent events associated with the young group of footballers trapped in the Chiang Rai cave, there has been much community and social effort rescue the boys. There’s also been a high-profile royal effort at support.

But, as Thai PBS reports, some of Vajiralongkorn’s “charity” amounts to royal interference, suggesting that the king is not about to allow the affairs of state to proceed as they should in a constitutional monarchy, where a monarch reigns under the government of the day and sovereignty resides with the people.

Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan says “the King wants the 12 young footballers and their coach, stranded in Tham Luang cave since June 23, to be brought out as soon possible…”.

Well, we suppose that most people would agree with that sentiment, but is this “advice” likely to lead to poor decision-making?

More in line with the “caring king” propaganda of the past, Prawit said the king “also wants all parties taking part in the search and rescue operation, including foreigners, to be taken care of.” Yes, but does that need stating and does it need to be the king making the statement?

More indicative of the king’s approach is seen in a Khaosod report: “Upon a royal order, cave search-and-rescue training will be introduced to the curriculum of all branches of the armed forces, the leader of the ruling junta announced Wednesday.”

The reports states that “[w]eighing in on how the nation’s armed forces should be trained, King Vajiralongkorn has decreed that the skills and knowledge used to rescue 12 boys and their football coach be incorporated into their training…”.

The junta seemed to have accepted this “decree.” Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha declared: “[We] can adapt the rescue plan into diving and swimming lessons for the special operation forces in the future.”

What business does the king have in “decreeing” how the military should be training? How many similar emergencies are there likely to be in the next decades?

Monarchs need to be kept in their legal and constitutional place even when dealing with toady military dictators.

Update: In another report it is stated: “Instructions were given by the King that everyone [rescuers] must bring out the children as quickly as possible…”. Instructions issued by a layman with little education in anything much at all and not on the scene makes little sense except in a royalist Thailand.





Monarchism in the new reign

29 06 2018

One of the things that critics and the international media says (repeatedly) about King Vajiralongkorn is that he does not command the same “respect” or “reverence” as his father did.

This is a shorthand for all of the eccentricities and worse associated with the king and rumored to be associated with him, ranging from odd dress to his violence and from his philandering to his use of his own prison, and so on.

It also seems to imply that, even with the palace’s formidable propaganda machine, the king will not follow in his father’s footsteps and be made out to be a popular and respected figure.

It seems to us that such beliefs and hopes are nonsense. Already, the same kinds of buffalo manure that were spread out for the dead king are also being used for the new one.

Remember all that stuff about the hysteria over the dead king’s dog Thong Daeng? Shirts and books selling out immediately, with the king’s puerile scribblings being proclaimed great works?

So it will be with the new king because maintaining monarchism is critical for the constitution of the ruling class.

So it is that Khaosod reports that shirts featuring stick figures claimed to be doodled by the king have sold out in minutes. It says many were disappointed they couldn’t get one of the shirts.

It reports that:

[h]undreds of people queued at dawn this morning in lines stretching out of the Government House to buy yellow and white polos in preparation for the [k]ing’s birthday next month. Half an hour after the shop opened at 9am, all shirts were sold out, even after they were capped at five shirts per customer.

Some royalist mouthpiece at the Prime Minister’s Office described the king’s doodling as a “cute pattern that anyone would want to keep for its auspiciousness and value, since there’s no other shirt like it in the world.”

Purchaser are reported as cooing about how wonderful the shirts are. Even Panthongtae Shinawatra, son of ousted former prime minister Thaksin, was chauffeured down to buy a shirt. Sucking up to royals is standard practice.

Meanwhile, it is said that “the palace would increase production to 3,000 shirts from 500 a day.”

Nothing seems to have changed as far as palace propaganda and the promotion of monarchism is concerned.