Royalists, academics and palace propaganda

10 01 2021

A couple of days ago we posted on advice to protesters. That advice was well-meaning. At the Asia Times Online, however, academic Michael Nelson of the Asian Governance Foundation, writes the protesters off: “[Gen] Prayut [Chan-ocha] does not seem to be in danger. The royal-military alliance seems to be unassailable…”. He adds: “The protesters, though big on Facebook, also have little backing in the population. And now, the government is getting tough with them…”.

That seems somewhat premature, even if the regime has the “benefit” of a virus uptick and can use the emergency decree to good ill effect. In any case, as far as support is concerned, we recall the Suan Dusit survey in late October that seemed rather supportive of the protesters. Things might have changed given the all out efforts by the regime and palace, but we think the demonstrators have had considerable support.

Another academic is getting into the fray to support the regime and palace. At the regime’s website Thailand Today, pure royalist propaganda by “Prof. Dr. Chartchai Na Chiang Mai” is translated from The Manager Online. For obvious reasons, the regime loves the work of this royalist propagandist who tests the boundaries of the term “academic.” But, then, Chartchai is “an academic at the National Institute of Development Administration or NIDA,” a place that has played an inglorious role in recent politics and where “academic” seems a loose term used to describe a person associated with NIDA.

Royalists ideologues posing as academics have been well rewarded. Chartchai is no different. His rewards have included appointment to the junta’s Constitution Drafting Committee and its National Reform Council. In these positions, he opposed any notion of an elected prime minister and supported the junta’s propaganda activities on its constitution. He has also been a propagandist for “sufficiency economy,” a “theory” lacking much academic credibility but which is religiously promoted as one of the “legacies” of the dead king.

Self-crowned

His latest effort is a doozy. Published in November 2020, “Resolute and Adaptive: The Monarchy in the Modern Age” is a defense of a neo-feudal monarchy. It seeks to dull the calls for reform by claiming that King Vajiralongkorn “has already been reforming the institution of the monarchy to adapt in a modern context, even before protesters were making their demands for reform. Moreover, His Majesty’s approach has always been people-centred.”

This sounds remarkably like the royalist defense made of King Prajadhipok after the 1932 revolution, suggesting he was thinking about granting a constitution before the People’s Party, a claim still made by royalist and lazy historians. In the current epoch, if the king is “reforming,” then the calls for reform are redundant.

Reflecting the good king-bad king narrative, in a remarkable contortion, Chartchai warns that the bad king should not be compared with his father. He declares this “unjust” and “unfair.” The bad king is “preserving those achievements, but to also work with all sectors of the country to extend these accomplishments even further, as he carries his father’s legacy onwards into the future.”

That’s exactly the palace’s propaganda position on Vajiralongkorn.

How has Vajiralongkorn “sought to reform the monarchy”? Readers may be surprised to learn that the king has been “adjusting royal protocol by closing the gap between himself and his subjects, allowing public meetings and photo-taking in a more relaxed manner which differs greatly from past practices.”

Of course, this is recent and the palace’s propaganda response to the demonstrations. Before that, the king worked to distance the palace from people. Not least, the king lived thousands of kilometers from Thailand.

A second reform – again a surprising construction for propaganda purposes – is the “reform of the Crown Property Bureau…”. The king officially taking personal control of all royal wealth and property through new, secretly considered, laws demanded by the king is portrayed as intending to “demystify the once conservative and disorderly system the King himself found to be corrupt. The Bureau is now made more transparent to the public and prevents any further exploitation of the old system.”

There’s been no public discussion of this CPB corruption and nor is there any evidence that there is any transparency at all. In our research, the opposite is true.

We are told that the king’s property acquisitions were also about corruption and “public use.” The examples provided are the “Royal Turf Club of Thailand under the Royal Patronage” and military bases in Bangkok.

The Royal Turf Club was a which was a “gathering place for dubious but influential people” and has been “reclaimed as part of the royal assets is in the process of being developed into a park for public recreational activities.” That “public use” is a recent decision, with the palace responding to criticism. Such plans were never mentioned when the century old racecourse was taken. It is also “revealed” that the military bases that now belong personally to the king will be for public purposes. Really? Other “public places” in the expanded palace precinct have been removed from public use: the zoo, parliament house, and Sanam Luang are but three examples. We can only wait to see what really happens in this now huge palace area.

Chartchai also discusses how “[r]Reform of the Rajabhat University system or the Thai form of teachers’ college, has also slowly and steadily been taking place, with the King’s Privy Counsellor overseeing the progress.”

Now we understand why all the Rajabhats have been showering the queen with honorary doctorates. The idea that this king – who was always a poor student and didn’t graduate from anything – knows anything about education is bizarre. How the king gained control of the 38 Rajabhats is not explained.

What does this mean for the protests? The implication is, like 1932, those calling for reform are misguided. Like his father, the king “is the cultural institution and must remain above politics and under the constitution.” Is he under the constitution when he can have the regime change it on a whim and for personal gain?

Chartchai “explains” that “the monarchy is constantly adjusting itself…”. He goes full-throttle palace propaganda declaring the monarchy a bastion of “independence, cultural traditions, and soul of the nation, is adjusting and fine-tuning itself for the benefit of the people.” As such, Thais should ignore the calls for reform and properly “understand, lend support and cooperation so that the monarchy and Thai people sustainably and happily co-exist.”

For an antidote to this base royalist propaganda, readers might enjoy a recent and amply illustrated story at The Sun, a British tabloid, which recounts most of Vajiralongkorn’s eccentric and erratic activities.





Prayuth, the draft charter and domination

16 02 2016

We all know that The Dictator is in California, at a US-ASEAN summit. There aren’t any other military dictators attending, even if there are some leaders who share Prayuth’s authoritarianism.

We felt that readers might find a story at The Washington Times of some interest reminding American readers and President Obama of the problems facing Thailand.

A coup-installed government writing a new constitution and opposition parties (and supportive parties) and human rights groups rejecting it and the junta.

For Americans, the article notes that “the balancing act the Obama administration has faced dealing with the new government [it is hardly new after about 21 months].” The once “key U.S. ally in the region” is now a problem: “the government’s anti-democratic tendencies and persistent courting by China have put heavy strains on the bilateral relationship.”

There’s a bit of repeating things about the DOA undemocratic charter and the junta’s demands and threats:

Many people are afraid to directly criticize the draft constitution because of the regime’s frequently shifting punishments against free speech, enforced by threats to seize assets and military trials for civilian dissidents who express themselves.

Prayuth’s tantrums are mentioned: he grumbled, he labeled journalists “stupid,”  threatened to have the country “depart from this world, from the international community.”

It quotes Michael H. Nelson, a research fellow at Thammasat University, who reckons the military plans to hang on, in some form, for another four years. Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the Faculty of Political Science at Ubon Ratchathani University, essentially agrees: “It is more than likely that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s military junta will remain essentially in power, even if we have elections in 2017, albeit with a new prime minister…”.

Burin Kantabutra, a columnist, is also quoted as saying: “I fear we are headed towards the political system of the People’s Republic of China…. I think that post-charter, postelection Thai politics will be a train wreck…”.

A “scholar of Southeast Asia who asked not to be identified because of his research” [hmmm] explains that the “military is too backward, hopeless at government and an embarrassment…”. That scholar reckons this means there will be an election.

PPT reckons that it might be a reason for not having an election.





With 4 updates: The crackdown II

10 04 2010

PM’s Office minister Sathit Wongnongtoey, who has seldom been a source of accurate information has made claims of attacks on Government House. PPT is seeking independent confirmation of this.

The government has called for protesters to retreat – government is said to be retreating: “Army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd went on national television Saturday night to ask the protesters to retreat as well.  Sansern said a senior government official has been asked to coordinate with the protesters ‘to bring back peace’.”

The Nation reports that the “government has assigned PM’s Secretary General Korbsak Sapavasu to negotiate with red shirts’ leaders as clashes between soldiers and protesters continued.  Emergency Operations Command’s spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said at 9pm that Korbsak will seek ceasing of all actions by both sides.” He said: “We believe that at the moment, negotiation is needed to prevent further damage to properties and lives of both sides…”. It seems odd for the government to decide now to negotiate. Are there splits in the government and with the military? Where is Abhisit Vejjajiva on this?

There are government reports that 20 soldiers were injured in a grenade attack when clashing with red shirt protesters near the Democracy Monument. Later, the Bangkok Post reported that the government’s “call for truce came after at least 100 soldiers were reportedly wounded in the clashes with the red-shirts at Khok Wua intersection on Ratchadamnoen Avenue on Saturday night while trying to advance towards Phan Fa bridge amid fierce resistance by the red-shirts.” No confirmation of this. The government is claiming that the violence is only from red shirts.

Update 1: By late evening, the Nation has reported 8 deaths and almost 500 injured: “Eight people, including a foreign cameraman, were killed as red shirts protesters battled with combined forces of police and soldiers.  Erawan Rescue Center’s chief Phetpong Kamjornkitjakarn said a total of eight people were killed during the clashes.  At least 486 people, soldiers and red shirts protesters were wounded.  He confirmed that one victim was a Japanese reporter of Reuters news agency.  Central Hospital director Dr Pitchaya Nakwatchara earlier identified the cameraman as Hirouki Muramoto.  Muramoto was shot at his chest, he said.  The others were Sawat Wangam, 43, who was hit at head, while the two others victims; Thanachai (last name unknown) and Noppachai Mekfangam, died after being shot at the chest.  Name of the fifth victim could not be identified.”

Reuters says 521 killed or injured and it is reported that “Klang, Hua Chiew, Mission hospitals which are closest to Phan Fa brdige could no longer accept any more patients as the emergency wards were full. Any more injuries will have to be sent to other hospitals.” This same report has details on the red shirt reaction. Red shirts are trying to ensure that casualties and bodies are not hidden by the government. This relates to claims that the bodies of people killed by the military last April were spirited away.

New York Times report is here.

Update 2: Prachatai reports 15 dead. This is confirmed at the Bangkok Post where it says: “678 injuries and 15 deaths: 4 soldiers and 11 civilians.All the road intersections leading to the UDD protest site at Phan Fa bridge are being manned by securities personnel as reported by a TV late news.”

Update 3: The government is claiming that the red shirts have taken 20-30 soldiers as “hostages.” If this is correct, it is not clear what is being negotiated. [This was later revised down to 5 “hostages” but the source remains the military spokesman.]

Update 4: AP has a useful report on the day’s events. It begins: “A crackdown on anti-government protesters in Thailand’s capital Saturday left at least 15 people dead and more than 650 injured, with no progress toward ending a month-long standoff with demonstrators demanding new elections.  It was the worst violence in Bangkok since more than four dozen people were killed in an anti-military protest in 1992.” It is added: “Bullet casings, rocks and pools of blood littered the streets where pitched battles raged for hours. Army troops later retreated and asked protesters to do the same, resulting in an unofficial truce.” AP says that the “savage fighting erupted after security forces tried to push out demonstrators…. The army had vowed to clear the protesters out of one of their two bases in Bangkok by nightfall, but the push instead set off street fighting. There was a continuous sound of gunfire and explosions, mostly from Molotov cocktails. After more than two hours of fierce clashes, the soldiers pulled back.”

Most of the fighting was said to have taken place near the Democracy Monument. This report states: “Soldiers made repeated charges to clear the Red Shirts, while some tourists stood by watching. Two protesters and a Buddhist monk with them were badly beaten by soldiers and taken away by ambulance. A Japanese tourist who was wearing a red shirt was also clubbed by soldiers until bystanders rescued him.”

Michael Nelson, a German scholar of Southeast Asia said “Abhisit ‘failed miserably’, and Tanet Charoenmuang, a “political scientist at Chiang Mai University sympathetic to the Red Shirt’s cause, said he expects the fighting will resume because the protesters are unafraid and the government refused to listen to them.”





More royalist political advice (with several updates)

9 09 2009

Also available as คำสั่งสอนเพิ่มเติม จากพวกคลั่งเจ้า

Update 1: The Nation has a 2-part interview with one of those providing royalist advice mentioned below, Stephen B. Young. It begins with “National divide mystifies an old friend of Thailand” (9 September 2009). It is good that both New Mandala (here and here – from comment #30) and Bangkok Pundit have picked up this interview and its subject and highlighted it. This saves PPT having to take up the various questions raised in the interview by the “old friend” of the elite in Thailand, his lack of knowledge of Thai history and his inability to comprehend Thai politics while pontificating on the failure of others to understand Thailand.

It has become a trait of royalist ideologues to seek out foreign academics who are royal friendly and Thailand lite in order to promote their position. For example, recall when on-again off-again Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont was picked to head the military junta’s government following the 2006 coup. When the royalist premier promoted sufficiency economy (SE) as an ideological and political device and it came under scrutiny, loyal academics were asked to run an international conference on SE. They collected a bunch of big name foreign speaker who knew nothing about SE and nothing about Thailand. What was important was academic name and credential, not knowledge or even commitment to SE (on this see here and here).

Wheeling out Young is a similar exercise, although he is not a big name. His CV at the Caux Round Table is not particularly academic and indicates his conservative and Republican aspirations (e.g. in 1992 he was a founder of the Center of the American Experiment, which promotes  conservative and free market ideas as think-tank in Minnesota. He also serves right-wing causes such as the International Committee for a Free Vietnam).

The Caux Round Table, where he is Executive Director, is an organization that was originally established by some business leaders to promote free trade and now promotes “moral capitalism” and corporate social responsibility. It is not a particularly well-known advocacy group, but has Thailand connections through twice-appointed prime minister and staunch royalist Anand Panyarachun, who has spent a number of years translating the royalist project for foreigners. The Caux Round Table’s chapter in Thailand was led by none other than Kasit Piromya.

Young fits the royalist ideological needs rather nicely even if his knowledge is limited.

Updates 2 and 3: Anyone who wants to read Young’s travesty of a paper from April 2009 can go here. PPT can’t resist a few comments because this paper is just so bad and yet so revealing.

Young, a U.S. Republican (read his blog on the 2008 presidential campaign), has the audacity to comment on how politics should not be “bought or stage-managed with well-funded, narrow-minded emotionalism…”. Just look at the Republicans in the last few days to see how silly this statement seems. Look at the money being poured into U.S. political campaigns. According to some sources, it was more than $1 billion on the last presidential campaign.

He says his college roommate was a “Finance Minister for the Democratic Party [sic] who saved the country financially after the 1997 economic crisis…”. Really? Who remembers that “save”? Does he mean Tarrin Nimmanhaeminda? If he does, see Tarrin’s legacy see here and here.

Young resurrects a term that was invented at the end of the 1940s to describe Thailand as a “loosely-structured social system” in a journal article that came out in 1950. Resurrecting this terminology is a part of an ahistorical  effort to place the monarchy at the center of Thai society; the royalist task.

When he writes of current politics, Young is awful. The red shirts are all paid and the yellow shirts were always peaceful demonstrators – he obviously gets his material from Kasit. The only part of the Kasit story left out was a comment on the quality of the entertainment at the airport.

And, finally, the current conflict is an elite conflict – forget all that social movement stuff – pitting the horrid, money-grubbing Thaksin against those nice  royals who favor “traditional moral codes” and act like gentlemen. Of course this part of the elite are money-grubbing (think of the royals billions and how they rake it in every day) and corrupt too, but don’t let such little details impose on the story of such good chaps.

Democracy can be brought down (he cites Aristotle but seems not to understand him) by the corrupt but such good people around the Democrat Party and the palace couldn’t possibly be such self-serving oafs. PPT is interpreting, of course, but this is really terrible propaganda.

Update 4: The Nation has now published both parts of the interview with Young. PPT has to say that it only gets worse, with tinges of racism and shovels full of elitist nonsense about what “small people” in Thailand think and believe. Examples: Thaksin can’t be truly popular because “in Thailand the small people have always looked up to somebody. They always have some sort of a patron.” So this is just the patronage of moneybags Thaksin who is Chinese (so is the king, but is somehow Thai-ified more than Thaksin; must have been through the years in Switzerland) enamored of the “idea is a cosmic Chinese idea about ‘I’m a magical person’.” He adds: “If you continued with Thaksin, you would end up with this notion of Chinese dictatorship.” In the U.S. racism is usually taken very seriously and is a big story. So what is he doing here?

Moneybags Thaksin didn’t have true loyalty: “Everyone worked for Thaksin. That’s not American loyalty. That’s just saying that if you are a powerful man, and have lots of money and you’ll give me some money, then I’ll take the money.” PPT realizes that some of the more ideological yellow shirts actually believe this dross, but the Nation is claiming that this guy knows what he is talking about. It just gets worse and worse. Elections? “It proves nothing. The communists have elections. Stalin had elections. Hitler had elections.” Eeven a quick look at Wikipedia would have shown Young that he was inaccurate on this.

Who gets the blame for the 2006 coup? Thaksin of course: “It wasn’t the military, it wasn’t Abhisit. It wasn’t Privy Council Chief Prem; none of these people. It was one guy and his team.”

And Pa Prem is a bit of a hero: “The contributions of General Prem in the 1980s were very constructive. I think General Prem deserved some appreciation and respect. He’s an older man now but he moved Thailand in the period of half democracy. He took over from a tradition of violence, military dictatorship, and moved Thailand towards half democracy. It’s an evolution. It’s an important evolution.”

Mr. Young has dropped his marbles all over the place.

Earliest post: The Bangkok Post (7 September 2009: “Thailand still has to struggle to achieve democracy”) has more on royalists giving advice on Thai politics. For earlier comments, see here.

A recent seminar is discussed in this report and begins nicely with this: “During social and political upheaval, there is no better way to go forward than through a sincere soul-searching on sensitive but important issues such as the role of the monarchy, military and civic/political movements.” PPT firmly agrees and would like to see more. However, as Michael Nelson says later in the report, the debate needs to be broadened to include more voices, not just intellectuals and the elite.

PPT has been critical of  Charnvit Kasetsiri recently, but we commend him for these excellent and insightful comments: “instead of spreading propaganda without pragmatic solutions on such subjective issues as ethics, unity, and reconciliation, the Thai middle class should face the political division that has become a fact of life and stop blaming the rural people and the grass-roots as uneducated. They should stop singling out politicians as the only culprits for the country’s political quagmire as well.” He goes further, with the report commenting that “While many so-called elite groups continue to blame Thailand’s political conflicts on nothing more than an attempt by bad people to cause trouble, Mr Charnvit believes the contention belies a deep rift that can’t be bridged by acts of preaching.”

After this, the report gets into the royalist material.

Stephen B Young, Caux Round Table Global executive director, said “democracy could only work in an environment that is ruled by law and a fair justice system.” Young is profiled at New Mandala. We’ve checked, and the details there are correct.

Young believes that “Thai jurisprudence has standards for judging the actions of leaders and rulers.” Trawling up old ideas about Thai-style democracy, he says that “Thai democracy” has standards like “barami (charisma) of a good patron who holds the trust and care of the people at his or her heart, and Tosapitratjatham, the 10 virtues for ethical leadership as well as the principle of sufficiency economy emphasising the middle path, foresight, rationality, self-responsibility and compassion.” This is called “Thai-style democracy.” For different interpretations on this see here, here, here and here.

Young doesn’t see “Thailand [as] now greatly divided between the elite and grass-roots.” He says, “There are only differences in opinion. All people have the right to vote. Look at Isan, say, in the early 70s and how it is now. Before there were few roads, now there is development and they are like Bangkok.” Young seems to have been to a different Isan. Just like Bangkok? Thankfully not. But the comment on voting is classic. Yes, you can vote, but if some – the elite perhaps? – don’t like it, then they can overturn it several times. You can vote, but it doesn’t make any difference.

Young then makes an interesting assertion about  “the challenge” (to whom?) of “ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra for Thailand was serious because Thaksin does not ‘think like a Thai’.” The evidence for this is said to be this: “Other Thai leaders who had political problems at home – Pridi Banomyong, Plaek Pibulsonggram and Thanom Kittikachorn – they did not fight back nor try to restore their power after living in exile. But Thaksin is defiant.”

Not good history here. Phibun might not have played a political role once he was in exile, but that is wrong for Pridi and Thanom. Young seems to have conveniently forgotten that Pridi came back from his first exile in 1932 and after he was escaped the 1947 coup he came back in 1949 and amidst great turmoil, fled again that year. In the remainder of his time in exile, Pridi remained engaged with various pro-democratic and progressive forces in Thailand. Thanom, of course, came back as a novice monk at the royal temple, Wat Boworniwej. His return in October 1976, triggered student protests which eventually led to the rightist violence at Thammasat University where, with police and the military perhaps hundreds were massacred on 6 October 1976. The coup brought the military back, with the king’s man, the horridly right-wing Tanin Kraivixien made prime minister. Tanin remains a privy councilor today. It is interesting that it was Democrat Party Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai who attempted to fully rehabilitate Thanom in 1999.

Apparently sharing Young’s views was royalist legal scholar, Borwornsak Uwanno, a fellow of the Royal Institute, who “said although the 2007 constitution put an emphasis on civic education and political ethics, it was still not adequate as Thai society’s attitude remains based on the hierarchy system. Paying gratitude to phuyai was still imperative.” But then this observation: “You can see from recent polls that people from the urban areas and Bangkok place good economy before politics, while rural people choose election before good economy. Why? Because the middle class have access to resources while rural people rely on their MPs for irrigation, infrastructure, education and jobs…”.

As a liberal royalist (see here), he wants to wean the poor rural masses off Thaksin through “justice for all,” and a “reform of the tax system.” This is a compromise that might come to mean more as political dissent continues, but how thorough-going can it be when the monarchy is left out of the very concepts Bowornsak promotes? There is no equality for the monarchy and no taxation of the bulk of their assets. It will be interesting to see if Bowornsak’s “liberalism” gets any traction amongst the conservatives who dominate the palace and its political agendas.





Shrinking political space

26 05 2009

Nirmal Ghosh (The Malaysian Insider, 25 May 2009: “Shrinking space for honest debate”) has an interesting story on the narrowing political space in contemporary Thailand.

Ghosh points out that while Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva may have won one round against red shirt protesters, he is now “surrounded by the tightest security for any premier in recent memory – and it is handled by the army, not the police.” He adds that “Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya rarely sleeps in the same place every night, and his security too is handled by the army.”

Academic Michael Nelson speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, saw a conflict between monarchism and democracy that has not been resolved since the 1932 overthrow of the absolute monarchy.

At the same event, Chulalongkorn University’s Thitinan Pongsudhirak spoke of how former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s manipulation of the political system resulted in an end to the old “consensus” amongst the Thai elites which saw them pitted against each other. That struggle has also seen the poor recruited.

The red-shirted United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship’s supporters manifest “a sense of injustice. In their eyes, it is unjust that elected pro-Thaksin governments have been thrown out by the army or by ‘judicial coups’.” Every dismissal of their grievances by the establishment, every example of favourable treatment of the yellow-shirts or the blue-shirted vigilantes deployed against them in Pattaya last month, fuels their resentment.”

Ghosh explains that “the UDD is about more than just Thaksin; he is just a rallying point for broader grievances.” He points out that “leading intellectual, Mr Prawase Wasi, argues that the fights over Thaksin and the supposed plots to destroy the monarchy are ‘distorting the complexity of justice, simplifying it to a single-dimension issue’.” Prawese is further quoted: “In a pluralistic society…there are people who worship the monarchy and those who don’t – it is natural. The key is how to channel the differences towards creative collaboration and output. Justice is the only common ground…”.

Ghosh observes that: “In Thailand’s polarised environment, however, expressing opinions freely is like negotiating a minefield.” He cites Thitinan as saying: “We live in a tightening box of space for intellectual honesty.”

And, with the Abhisit government actively recruiting and encouraging spies, the space is narrowing exceptionally rapidly.