Junta, queen and Prem

2 06 2019

Politics seems remarkably quiet as the junta seeks to seal its stolen election victory (all of the last three words need inverted commas). As in many political deals, the junta’s machinations with various anti-democrat parties is going on behind closed doors.

How much all of this will cost the taxpayer is anyone’s guess.

Meanwhile, with yet another holiday for royal stuff, its a queen’s birthday holiday. As expected, this is the first opportunity for the palace propaganda machine to lumber into action to give the former consort a royal makeover.

This is a palace process that follows patterns set in the previous reign that seeks to manipulate public opinion with propagandized “histories” and “life stories.” Of course, within a couple years, barring a fallout with the king, she will be another super royal, at least in the propaganda.

And kind of related, for those readers who haven’t seen it, Pravit Rojanaphruk’s op-ed that holds a mirror to the sycophantic (part) memories of Gen Prem Tinsulanonda. Divided opinions on Prem are actually a fair representation of this divisive royalist figure. His efforts built on the work of disgruntled princes and royalists that have sought to roll back 1932. That effort continues in the current reign.


Coronation spending

1 05 2019

According to Reuters, the state’s official and announced budget – taxpayer funds – for the coronation is $31 million. But the true cost is likely to be several times this as various agencies are required to purchase stuff, ordering tens of thousands of officials to line the procession route, and all of the “advertising” for the king and what a great man he has already been in his 66 years. The latter is the manufacturing of image.

As an example of the massive cost, AFP reports on a small town mayor who spent “$6,400 and a 12-hour drive … to pick up the shrine and towering portrait of Thailand’s king which will stand in the centre of town — a small part of a massive palace publicity campaign for this weekend’s coronation.”

The mayor said: “Every government office across the country will do the same…”. Even villages are urged to have displays of loyalty.

Celebrating? Worrying?

The portraits of King Vajiralongkorn are now ubiquitous. Some of the images are large, “some several-metres high, and decorations are mandatory at every state office ahead of his three-day coronation…”.

The report states that the “most elaborate set-ups include the gilded-framed portrait, a large pedestal, flags, cone-shaped “pan phum” floral tributes and bunting in various shades of yellow…”. These can cost several thousand dollars.

As expected, roads throughout Thailand are “now flanked by the projection of royal power, intended to reflect the country’s devotion, loyalty and respect to the monarch.”

No questions can be asked about that devotion, loyalty and respect. As the report observes, “[c]ritics of the monarchy are rarely heard inside the country…”.

Because Vajiralongkorn is less known than his father was and because he “spends much of his time abroad,” the state makes the new king’s image ubiquitous and it “has slowly seeped into everyday life — on buildings, banknotes and stamps…”. And, of course, he now has his own “story” that is repeated again and again at the movies, in newspapers and on television.

Constructing the king’s image

12 03 2019

Since the succession, PPT has had several posts that have recounted how the royal image is being made by palace propagandists.

Not that long ago, we posted on one of the junta’s Deputy Prime Ministers, Wissanu Krea-ngam, talking about the coronation in May. He was reported as  stating that the “Prime Minister’s Office will issue a design prototype of the royal emblem for the yellow shirt” to be worn for the event.

Wissanu added that “seven designs of the royal emblem were submitted to … the King, who has since selected the final design.” The coronation committee was “waiting for a letter from the bureau to confirm details of the design so it can be used as the official logo for the ceremony…”.

Now it looks like the story has changed, presumably to polish the king’s reputation. Now Wissanu is reported as saying the “King … has created the new design himself and approved it for public use ahead of the three-day event from May 4-6.”

The next step is to laud the king as Thailand’s greatest graphic artists. That’s how palace propaganda worked for hi father too.

Palace propaganda and the new reign

28 02 2019

As PPT has mentioned in several posts, when succession finally came, there were numerous commentators who had predicted a crisis and even an unraveling of the monarchy. Part of the “crisis” was that King Vajiralongkorn, because of his checkered past and odd personality could not have the same palace propaganda that had made his father’s benign, deified image, even when the reality of his reign was quite different.

The period since Vajiralongkorn came to the throne have shown that for all of his personal foibles and the great fear associated with his erratic and narcissistic behavior, for the palace propaganda machine, nothing much has changed. The monarch is promoted using familiar and what the palace (and junta) considers tried and true methods.

These comments are prompted by a Bangkok Post story that has the junta “urging the public to wear a yellow shirt bearing the royal emblem of … the King from April until July as part of nationwide celebrations of the royal coronation in May.”

This yellow shirt wearing gimmick was really only widely adopted around the time of the dead king’s 60th jubilee which coincided with agitation against Thaksin Shinawatra. Yellow shirts became a symbol of loyalty and was taken up by the People’s Alliance for Democracy as it marked its territory as monarchists.

Even some who were to become red shirts donned loyalist yellow shirts.

When the military coup came in 2006, the troops marked themselves as loyalists by using yellow ribbons.

More recently, we have seen the creation of “royal volunteers for the king,” all of them decked out a loyalist uniform associated with the current king.

It was Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, speaking “after a second meeting of the government’s committee responsible for handling procedures for the ceremony” who revealed that the Prime Minister’s Office (The Dictators Office) “will issue a design prototype of the royal emblem for the yellow shirt.”

That design has already been approved by the king but the “committee is now waiting for a letter from the [Royal Householf B]ureau to confirm details of the design so it can be used as the official logo for the ceremony…”. Only that emblem will be permitted to be used.

That emblem will be reproduced in millions and will blanket the country and suffocate its people. Nothing much has changed. And, the events and displays of loyalty play into the junta’s political hands.

Very (North) Korea-like

9 01 2019

It may be just us at PPT, but we feel there’s been a considerable uptick in royal propaganda in recent weeks. Perhaps it has to do with the cool season and the fact that royals seem to mainly be in-country and getting out. Or perhaps it is in tandem with the standoff over “election” timing.

PPT has tended to ignore most of this palace propaganda. As we have posted previously, much of it feels like a 1970s refrain: “Meet the new king, Same as the old king” kind of stuff. But the new king uses image and manufactured aura of the old king to his advantage, and as it is done, it continues mantras that seem cut from the North Korean cult of personality playbook.

The latest “report” is perhaps appropriately (North) Korean in that it is about the Navy and Korean vessels.

Remarkably, a serious newspaper actually parrots Family Kim-style propaganda in declaring it was “a day of overwhelming joy for the navy when Government House informed them early this month that two new ships were named by His Majesty the King in remembrance of the late King Bhumibol.”

The captain of the newly-named HTMS Bhumibol Adulyadej blubbered: “We were all overwhelmed. We never thought the vessel would be given a name that means so much…”. The ship, he said, was the “pride of the Royal Thai Navy.”

Like so many non-thinking royalists, the captain declared: “The name has been given by His Majesty the King and it means so much to the Thai people.” How does he know? He’s had it drummed into him from birth.

The fine print is that the new frigate had another name, selected by the Navy, but that’s now ditched. Of course, as many old salts know, changing the name of a vessel brings bad luck. We assume the Navy will perform all kinds of superstitious ceremonies to ward off the bad luck.

International media on monarchy and military

23 12 2018

It’s the holiday season, so we at PPT felt that a bit of a round-up of what the international media is saying about Thailand. Unsurprisingly, the topics are monarchy and military.

The monarchy stories revolve around silly and sad notions. The silly is that ultra-royalists and others in Thailand have been so brainwashed by decades of palace and other propaganda over the claimed brilliance and alleged capacity of royals that no criticism can be made or implied. It is sad that the police and other elements of the (in)justice system accept complaints from a motley collection of royalist political activists, mad and corrupt military leaders, the palace itself and anyone else who shows up at a police station that can result in ridiculous secret “trials” for lese majeste and huge prison sentences.

The most recent case involves a blogger who commented on a frock “designed” by one of the king’s daughters, Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana. PPT couldn’t give a fig about the dress, but the controversy caused by a dopey royalist political candidate laying a complaint has caught the attention of the international media. Here are some of the stories:

The Guardian: “YouTube host faces charges for criticising Thai princess’s Miss Universe dress

TIME (via AP): “YouTuber Could End Up in Court After Criticizing Miss Universe Gown Designed by Thai Princess

Yahoo Finance: “YouTuber faces charges for calling a Miss Universe contestant’s dress ugly — here’s why

Ironically, as the police “investigate” the supposed slander of a dress allegedly designed by the princess, the senseless ultra-royalist has been arrested for a previous allegation of fraud.

On the military, the stories are about how the junta is intent on political longevity via its rigged election – no surprise for PPT readers. Here are some of the stories and op-eds:

EurAsia Review (via Bernama): “Thailand: Military To Retain Grip On Power Post-2019 Polls – Analysis

East Asia Forum has an op-ed by academic Kevin Hewison: “Another year of military dictatorship in Thailand

Deutsche Welle: “Will Thailand’s military step aside after elections?

Monarchy, bikes and dressing up

19 12 2018

There’s an avalanche of royal news this month, all of it meant to be flattering of the monarch. We can’t help but wonder how much this has to do with the junta’s “election.”

Readers will recall that the much-hyped royal bikeathon saw complaints, rumors, casualties, although not the politicized “deaths in custody” associated with the earlier iteration of this monarch-promoting propaganda event (see here and here). It seems that there has been yet another casualty, with the king, adopting a strategy from his father, and making “good” out of this by appearing as a benefactor.

The other event associated with the king and heavily promoted by the military junta is the dress-up festival celebrating the “good old days” of absolute monarchy. Called something like “Love and Warmth at Winter’s End, the River of Rattanakosin,” it is officially promoted as hugely popular, having “[t]hrongs of Thai and foreign visitors…”. The propaganda element for the monarchy is explicit:

Inspired by the reigning monarch, HM King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun of Thailand, the festival, the second of its kind, aims to cultivate love and unity among Thai people as well as illustrate the long-standing bond between the royal institution [they mean monarchy] and the people of Thailand.

This is also a junta mantra that is easily exploited in election campaigning.

There’s also some small commercial benefit, as the “festival features shops overseen by royal family members…”, which links to royal whims and some royal projects. These events are centered on the king’s still-being-created grand palace precinct. Then there’s the fact that even though taxpayer funds underpin the royal event, “[p]roceeds will be used to help the underprivileged and the needy in all regions of Thailand.” Of course this is another tried-and-true palace tactic to multiply the propaganda gains through the manufactured notion that the world’s wealthiest monarch is the country’s and the poors’ benefactor.

How successful the event is cannot be determined because of the lese majeste law and the junta’s repression. However, in another tip of the collective PPT hat to Andrew MacGregor Marshall, he shows how state agencies are ordered to send people to attend the event, each and every day and at taxpayer expense. Here we include clips from his post.

Not so flattering of the taxpayer-funded self-promoting royals is a story at Khaosod about a fashion blogger who has had to issue grovelling apologies for “insulting” a royal.

In recent years, the very mid-20th century Miss Universe parade of women has featured bizarre and nationalist “fashions.” Our vote for the weirdest goes to the 2015 Miss Thailand dressed as a tuk-tuk.

Internet TV show host Wanchaleom Jamneanphol  was criticized for asking why there was so much online “ridiculing [of] a poorly received red dress worn by Miss Thailand” but deafening silence “about another of her gowns designed by Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana”, one of the king’s daughters.

Over the years, she’s been credited with all manner of superhuman skills and abilities. Only diehard royalists believe this propaganda, but no one dares criticize a royal.

When Wanchaleom appeared critical, the ultra-royalists were outraged. Kitjanut Chaiyosburana, a member of the Mahachon Party lodged an official complaint with the police. Like all ultra-royalists, the candidate for the junta’s election saw no distinction between monarchy and nation, declaring:

I cannot accept that a well-known individual in the online world expressed negative opinions that affect the country’s reputation! I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. It’s irresponsible behavior.

Hardly anyone had ever heard of him or his junta-supporting party, but this leaping to the defense of a king’s kid who simply must be the best will get him attention.

Meanwhile, Wanchaleom immediately “wrote an apology addressed to the princess and said she had no intention to insult the monarchy.” She declared:

Your Royal Highness Sirivannavari Nariratana, I, Wanchaleom Jamneanphol, did not have any intention to insult or disrespect the high institution. I merely did not know the full consequences of my actions via my posts and comments, which caused damage to Your Royal Highness and the monarchy…. I deeply regret and feel guilty for my actions.

The king has been reluctant to allow any new cases of lese majeste prior to his coronation – bad luck and a bad image – but he has always strongly policed he and his family’s “reputation,” so it will be interesting to see where this little bit of ultra-royalist nonsense leads.