Update: Overcoming PR failures

25 07 2021

In many countries, the vaccine rollout has been mired in secret or opaque contracts and quite a few governments have been providing only sparse details about strategies, contracts, and plans. In Thailand, this has been made even more opaque because the AstraZeneca vaccine is produced by the king’s Siam Bioscience, which means that almost no information has been produced and critics repressed.

It has only been in the past week or so that AstraZeneca has released some information, although this also remains vague on details, with the most recent reported in the Bangkok Post.

Vaccine

In essence, the company appears to confirm production problems at Siam Bioscience. It does this when it states that the  company “is ‘scouring’ its global supply chain to try and boost Covid-19 vaccine supplies to Thailand and Southeast Asia…”. It adds: “We are hopeful of importing additional doses in the months ahead…”.

Siam Bioscience, “a first-time vaccine maker,” is said to have “not commented on reports of production shortfalls or delivery timelines.”

So if the monarchy/regime bet that the production of the vaccine would boost the monarch hasn’t worked, and the king and his family have been pretty much invisible for much of the current virus trouble. But, his birthday is upon him and he has to be seen to be doing something.

Out of the blue and from an unlikely source, with the so-called Chulabhorn Royal Academy using Facebook to “announce” a huge royal “donation.”

Of course, the “Academy” also came out of the blue to order a replacement Chinese vaccine to make up for the AZ shortfall. It on-sold the vaccine, but as Andrew MacGregor Marshall on Twitter has shown, the Academy’ has been demanding displays of royal loyalty from those being vaccinated.

But this is small chips compared with its most recent “announcement.”

The Bangkok Post reported that the “Academy” posted that the king had “donated more than 2.8 billion baht for procurement of medical supplies and equipment to support efforts to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.”

A couple of things come to mind. First, usually the Royal Household Bureau makes such announcements or through a Royal Gazette proclamation, so this one strikes us as being unorthodox. Second, the amount is large., but, if our shaky math is right, this “donation” would be about $85 million, amounting to only about 0.12% of his vast fortune (on our figures) or about double that if the usual figure for the king’s wealth is used – $30-35 billion.

On Facebook, the “Academy” claimed that “the the monarch donated the money to hospitals and medical facilities so they can buy medical equipment to deal with the pandemic…”.

If this report is in any way accurate – and often taxpayer funds are claimed as royal funds – then it seems  making up for the PR failures of the recent past is rather expensive.

Knowing the truth, though, is pretty much impossible.

Update: Andrew MacGregor Marshall has had a couple of very useful posts on virus politics at Secret Siam. In particular, related to our post, he points to a Prachatai post in Thai on the king’s “donations.” That article points out that the original “Academy” post was soon removed. It also points out that the figure is not very different from the previous report on royal donations.





A deluge of 112 charges

23 07 2021

People might be dying in the streets but the regime has its eye on what it thinks is most important: more and more lese majeste and other charges. It is desperate, not to stem the virus, but to stem any notion that the neo-feudals should be reformed.

Thai PBS reports that 13 protesters were formally indicted by public prosecutors on Thursday for lese majeste and sedition. The charges stem from the march and rally at the German Embassy on 26 October 2020. It states:

Mind

Among the accused named by the public prosecutors are Passaravalee “Mind” Thanakitvibulphol, Korakot Saengyenphan, Chanin “Ball” Wongsri, Benja Apan, Watcharakorn Chaikaew, Nawat “Am” Liangwattana, Atthapol “Khru Yai” Buapat, Akkarapon Teeptaisong, Suthinee Jangpipatnawakit, Ravisara Eksgool, and Cholathit Chote-sawat.

12 protesters reported to prosecutors at the Bangkok South Criminal Litigation Office at about 9.30am to acknowledge the charges brought against them by Thung Mahamek police. The other was due to report … [today]. They were escorted by police to the Bangkok South Criminal Court for arraignment and have been granted bail.

Fellow activist Arnon Nampa and others showed up to provide support, while “[t]hree “Move Forward” MPs, namely Rangsiman Rome, Thongdaeng Benjapak of Samut Sakhon, Suttawan Suban Na Ayuthaya of Nakhon Pathom, were present at the court to offer their parliamentary status to secure bail for the protesters.” In addition”six lecturers also volunteered to offer their academic status to support bail for the protesters.”

The Bangkok Post reports that “[t]hree officials from the German embassy were also present as observers.”





Class, gender, protest

20 07 2021

Eurasia ReviewIf readers haven’t already seen them, we suggest reading to recent articles at Eurasia Review, considering aspects of class and gender in Thailand in an era of virus and political protest. They are relatively long articles, so we just preview them here.

Eurasia Review’s Murray Hunter observes:

Thailand’s class divisions have dramatically widened during the Covid-19 pandemic. With students returning to the streets in protest, even with tight crowd restrictions in place, after a three-month hiatus during the pandemic, the Prayuth Chan-ocha regime is faltering in public support and perceived competence to handle a dramatic linear increase in case numbers.

He adds that:

With the prime minister and his entourage seen not obeying rules to wear masks at all times during the opening of the Phuket “sandbox”, on July 1, a scheme to bring back foreign tourists to Thailand, the covid pandemic has become the symbol of a great class divide.

Unemployment, poverty and inequality have all increased. Double standards are common:

The Prayuth government has attempted to balance economic considerations and public health in making decisions about restrictions. Large manufacturing concerns have not been under any restrictions during the pandemic, even though small and service businesses have been restricted, with many ordered to close, last year for a number of months on end. Many provincial hotels were forced to shutdown for months, with many never reopening….

The escalating pandemic in Thailand has focused attention of the double standards applicable to the elite in society and the others. This has been very evident in the vaccine rollout. The elite and privileged have been able to secure a vaccination before many of the vulnerable in society. While people have been suffering, the grounds and infrastructure of the [king’s] grand palace complex in central Bangkok has been enlarged, to become a city within a city.

The result of all of this is that “Thailand is now in a much deeper era of class division, where the poor have become poorer, over the duration of the pandemic.”

The Eurasia Review’s other piece is on feminism and protest in Thailand, authored by Wichuta Teeratanabodee. She notes that the criticism of royalism “has set this group of protestors apart from its predecessors.” It is a “youth movement” and a “network of many groups — including feminists, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, and environmental activists in addition to students.” Wichuta observes:

The conspicuous roles of young women in this ongoing wave of protests have put them in the spotlight…. Unlike in previous rallies, which were often led by males, women are now taking on leadership roles to call for democracy. Simultaneously, they have shared stories of women’s struggles in Thai society, focusing particularly on women’s status in politics — which has worsened markedly since the 2014 coup…. [F]eminists in the pro-democracy protests see themselves fighting a two-front war. On one front they demand democracy and an end to the current authoritarian regime, and on another, they fight for gender equality against fellow pro-democracy protestors who do not support feminist objectives….

Feminist and non-feminist protestors in today’s Thailand have a common enemy – the authoritarian regime, which — one prominent activist scholar contends —  has shown “no signs of …willingness to negotiate with democracy”….

We recommend both articles.





Gen Prayuth derided

8 07 2021

As the virus situation deteriorates further, there are increased calls for Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to go, including this at Thai Enquirer. Frankly, Gen Prayuth should have been jailed in 2014 when he led an illegal coup. Trouble was, he was supported by both monarchy and military, a seemingly difficult combination to defeat.

He’s still got diehard yellow shirt support, but is lampooned on social media and the pressure mounts.

Most recently, Rap Against the Dictatorship have made another powerful music video, deriding the regime and its costly alliance with the monarchy.





Monk gets 112 summons

7 07 2021

Via Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) , Prachatai reports that novice monk Saharat Sukkhamla, seen at some protest rallies, “has received a summons from Pathumwan Police Station on a[n Article 112, lese majeste] charge] … relating to a speech he gave at a protest on 21 November 2020.”

Saharat at a 2020 rally. Clipped from Prachatai

That summons was received on 5 July 2021. The summons states “the complaint against him was filed by Ratthanaphak Suwannarat, and that Saharat must report to Pathumwan Police Station on 12 July at 10.00.” Ratthanaphak’s complaint was about a “speech Saharat gave at a protest organized by the students’ rights group Bad Student on 21 November 2020.”

Earlier, “on 25 February 2021, special branch police officers tried to disrobe Saharat, claiming a consensus of the Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand … and an announcement from the National Office of Buddhism” that permitted him to be disrobed. At that time, the police “claimed that Saharat’s actions insulted the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand … and that he caused conflict within the order.” However, they were unable to locate Saharat.

The total number of people now charged since last November is claimed by TLHR to be at least 103, eight of them minors. Saharat seems to be the first monk charged under Article 112.





Updated: Virus cock-ups

6 07 2021

As the complaints about the regime’s cocked-up vaccine rollout mount, we can only say that regular readers will probably have noted these failures months ago. The criticisms go back to last year when questions were raised as to why the regime “decided” to back the king’s inexperienced and relatively tiny company Siam Bioscience as a manufacturing hub for AstraZeneca in the region.

Many felt this was yet another deal for the monarchy, to make it look good, and now it has backfired. Siam Bioscience and the monarchy have not gained the propaganda value expected, and the regime is looking cracked, hopeless, and arrogant.

Begging for vaccines to replace the undelivered Siam Bioscience lots and rushing via the tycoons to Sinovac is also looking like a poor bet now that questions are everywhere about Sinovac’s efficacy. It is obvious that public confidence in regime and its once quite good handling of the virus are plummeting.

Clipped from The Rand Blog

In recent days, the big issue has not just been the 5,000-6,500 infections per day, but as The Nation reports, “[s]ome senior doctors are worried that the arrival of the mRNA Pfizer vaccine will make recipients of the Sinovac vaccine believe they have been given an inferior product…”.

The views were included in leaked “minutes of a meeting about Pfizer vaccines that will be donated to Thailand by the US…”. One comment was: “If we give Pfizer vaccines to medics, it will imply that the quality of the Sinovac vaccine given to them earlier is low, and it will be difficult for us to find a reasonable excuse.”

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul confirmed that the minutes of a 30 June were real but claimed the comments were “only an opinion and that no final decision has been made about the use of Pfizer vaccines.”

Thai Enquirer also discusses the leaked document. It considers the “leaked document … revealed that government officials and academics wanted to downplay the ineffectiveness of the Sinovac vaccine…”. It was an admission that “Sinovac was not effective.”

The government has reportedly fully vaccinated “679,276 medical workers, around 95 per cent of the country’s medical workers, have received both shots of mostly Sinovac vaccine.”

Thai Enquirer wonders why the “government still insists on ordering more Sinovac doses, with millions on order for 2022.”

It seems to us that the regime’s vaccine royalist cock-up is becoming increasingly dangerous.

Update: A reader points out that we missed a rather major cock-up. That’s the reporting of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha going to Phuket and now having to self-isolate. It will be recalled that The Dictator showed the country that he can arrogantly ignore expectations regarding being virus-safe when he was in Phuket. Remember that Anutin defended his boss’s behavior. Now, however, Gen Prayuth “will self-isolate at home for a week after he came into close contact with a person who later tested positive for Covid-19 during an event held to mark the Phuket Sandbox scheme to bring in vaccinated foreign tourists.” It was Veerasak Pisanuwong, the chairman of Surin Chamber of Commerce, who was later confirmed as positive for the virus.

We are also reminded that The Dictator is at “home” in his Army-supplied and paid home on an Army base, which we continue to think is a violation of the constitution. That he was in Phuket to promote virus-free travel and one of his companions is virus positive can only count as a major cock-up.





Targeting Facebook on anti-monarchism

5 07 2021

About three weeks ago, it was reported that the regime’s No. 2 had ordered the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society to crack down on “fake news.” We assume he got his orders from higher up because the DES immediately ordered dozens of URLs closed within 48 hours. Many of the sites were not really fake news sites, but gambling or pornography sites. But the real target anti-regime and anti-monarchy sites.

Three weeks later and not much has happened apart from the regime getting ever more twitchy, again suggesting that there’s very high-level pressure on them.Facebook-Dislike-Button

As Thai PBS has reported, the regime has resumed its battle with Facebook, over the content it still deceptively claims is “fake news” when they mean sites that provide information about the monarchy:

These accounts – all operated from overseas – are registered to Pavin Chachavalpongpun, his discussion page Royalist Marketplace – Talad Luang, Andrew MacGregor Marshall, Suda Rangkupan, Pixel Helper, DK Ning, Aum Neko, and Kon Thai UK. Several of the account owners are wanted in Thailand for lese majeste.

Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn is flustered, saying: “Despite negotiations, Facebook has refused to follow orders to block eight accounts. I will bring legal action against Facebook in Thailand and its headquarters…”.

He demanded that Facebook “show responsibility towards Thailand’s issues and comply with the country’s regulations, given the fact that Facebook has many users in the Kingdom.”

There’s two things to note here. First, the minister demands that the whole of Facebook follow royalist norms and the regime’s illegitimate use of draconian laws. In other words, he seems to be going beyond the usual demand for geo-blocking of popular anti-monarchy  sites. Second, he seems to be threatening Facebook with exclusion from the Thai market, which would require that the regime descend further down the Chinese road and come up with state-approved, state monitored social media platforms.





Opposing an absolutist monarch

3 07 2021

Security forces fired gunshots and tear gas to disperse pro-democracy demonstrations that saw people burning tires and barricading streets. The demonstrations were against a repressive government with loud calls for reform. They accused the king of feasting on public coffers to fund a lavish lifestyle.

Not Thailand and King Vajiralongkorn, but Eswatini (previously Swaziland) and its absolutist King Mswati III. King Mswati is said to be Africa’s last absolute monarch.

PPT thought this uprising says something about absolute monarchies, monarchs who prefer absolutism, and their opposition to political reform. Their responses to calls for real democracy tend t be met with violence. In Eswatini, according to reports, authorities have “imposed a strict curfew to contain the unrest…”.

Mswati has ruled for more than three decades, and “[a]nger against … King Mswati III has been building for years in the country. However, protests against him are rare.” They are rare because of his regime’s political repression and an ideology that protects the monarchy.

Another despot

Clipped from the Mail & Guardian

Like Thailand, the monarch’s Prime Minister said the “government has been following these protests” and had “heard their demands.”

But “Eswatini’s Youth has had enough of its king…”. One focus of their anger is the king’s “lavish lifestyle enjoyed by himself and his 15 wives…” who “occupy several state-funded palaces.”

Protesters are calling for change: “People want a democratic government where they can elect their own leaders, in particular, they want a republic so that the country can be led by a president…”.

They are also “demanding that all businesses owned by the royal family be seized or destroyed.”

The response from the king has been violent repression, calling out the military, and with the toll of deaths and injuries rising. One of the king’s daughters is rallying royalists, and saying that the protesters are inspired and infiltrated by foreigners.

Absolutist monarchs have much in common.





Updated: Ultra-royalist cartography

29 06 2021

In recent days there has been justified alarm regarding royalist vigilantism mapping the names, addresses and photos of about 500 people, many of them children.

Reuters reports that in this Google-based mapping some of the photos showed students in their university and high school uniforms.

Google has taken “down two Google Maps documents on Monday that had listed the names and addresses of hundreds of Thai activists who were accused by royalists of opposing the monarchy…”. According to Reuters, a spokesperson for Alphabet’s Google said “the issue is now fixed”, adding: “We have clear policies about what’s acceptable for user generated My Maps content. We remove user generated maps that violate our policies.” But these maps had received at least 350,000 views while they were available.

The maps showed the “faces of those named had been covered by black squares with the number 112, in reference to the article under the country’s criminal code [lese majeste] which makes insulting or defaming the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in prison.”

Songklod as Fascist

Rightist vigilante Songklod

Reuters located one ultra-royalist, rightist, activist claiming to be running this vigilante operation. “Retired” army captain Songklod Chuenchoopol said “he and a team of 80 volunteers had created the maps and planned to report everyone named on them to police on accusations of insulting the monarchy.”

Songklod said that he and his team “sought to highlight those they accused of breaking that law.” He said that his “volunteers” hunt “something offensive posted on social media,” and they then log it to the map. He referred to his vigilante work as a “psychological warfare operation,” was meant “to dissuade people from online criticism of the monarchy.”

He described his “operation targeting opponents of the monarchy” as a “massive success.”

Songklod has a history of rightist/royalist activism. He was previously reported as being the “founder of the right-wing ‘Thai Wisdom Guard’ [and] spends most of his day trawling for evidence to file a case under the strict computer crimes act or other laws.” He was said to have then brought a case “against more than 100 people for sharing a post he deemed critical of the Constitutional Court.”

His history suggests that he probably has support from military groups like ISOC, which has a history of supporting rightist/royalist vigilante groups.

These vigilante operations are meant to silence critics through fear of attack and violence, an outcome seen several times in recent years.

Update: A report at Prachatai links Songklod to the so-called Thailand Help Centre for Cyber-bullying Victims. THis seems a reasonable link to rightist, royalist, child abusers.





AstraZeneca and the king

19 06 2021

The Financial Times has a story on its problems with Siam Bioscience. We don’t include it all, but all of the bits that focus on that relationship.

AstraZeneca’s Thai deal brings new controversy
Drugmaker has found good intentions only intensify public scrutiny

AstraZeneca’s foray into vaccines is becoming a cautionary tale for companies that proclaim the intention to do the right thing. It … has been dogged by controversy, over side-effects and EU supply delays. Now it is embroiled in another: over its contract in Thailand with a company owned by the Thai king, and production problems that have delayed the vaccine roll-out there and across south-east Asia….

As well as its no-profit pledge, the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker … conclud[ed] agreements with manufacturers around the globe, including in emerging markets, to boost supplies.

Its contract for Thailand’s Siam Bioscience to produce up to 200m vaccine doses a year as its south-east Asian production hub was one of two dozen worldwide….

… [T]he Thai deal has raised questions over AstraZeneca’s management and communications. It has not fully explained how it partnered with Siam Bioscience, which had never manufactured jabs before and was not on a Thai government list early last year of companies with the right knowhow.

Thai critics say the Anglo-Swedish company should have been alive to the reputational risks of associating with a business ultimately owned by the billionaire head of state, after pro-democracy protests last year featured rare criticisms of the monarch’s power and personal fortune. An opposition figure, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who voiced doubts about the choice of Siam Bioscience was charged by police in January with “computer crime” and under the lèse majesté law that criminalises statements that may be seen as an insult to the royal family, and which carries a maximum 15-year sentence.

AstraZeneca says its Thai deal took into account global supplier capabilities, and its focus on “local manufacturing where possible”; Siam Bioscience “emerged as the best option” due in part to its modern facilities and technical expertise. But the drugmaker has given little details of its production deal, or the cause of supply hold-ups….

The case highlights the care global pharma companies need to take in finding local partners, both in terms of reputation and the speed of getting jabs into arms….

AstraZeneca has discovered that lofty intentions can only intensify the scrutiny, and the criticism when things go awry. In a global health emergency, consumers will forgive some missteps. But when they happen, companies need to be open over exactly why.