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.





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.





King and consort

12 01 2021

Quite a bit of material is appearing that displays King Vajiralongkorn and his official no. 2 wife Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi.

In the most remarkable of these events was reported by Reuters. It states:

King and consort. Clipped from Daily Mail

Thailand’s palace has released photographs of King … Vajiralongkorn visiting prisons with his royal consort … as the royal family steps up public appearances following mass protests demanding reforms to the monarchy.

In a segment on the nightly royal bulletin on state and private TV channels on Saturday, the king and his consort – restored to her position last year after having been disgraced and stripped of her titles – are shown inspecting projects in jails across Thailand.

They are photographed sweeping floors and speaking to officials during the last two months of 2020, and the segment also featured interviews with inmates speaking about the benefits of the projects.

The odd thing about these images and reporting is that the king had previously jailed his love interest declaring her a terrible woman. It was only in September 2020 that she was reinstated and publicly declared “untainted.”

Clipped from Daily Mail

The Daily Mail refers to these appearances as “a publicity stunt for a new documentary” and published several unflattering photos of Sineenat.

PPT has seen a video that looks like a documentary, but missed the royal news. We have to say that the video we saw looked odd, with prisoners shown moving and working, but with all images of the king and consort being stills, some of which looked suspiciously like the images might have been constructed. That might be by the palace, but it’s impossible to know.

 

Clipped from The Straits Times

A couple of things are clear from this palace propaganda. One is that Sineenat is completely rehabilitated and roughly in the position she was back in mid-2019, before her temporary erasure. Second, it is clear that the demonstrations and protests have done nothing to alter the king’s neo-absolutist desires.





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.





Mad, sad or manipulative?

14 12 2020

In another curated PR effort, the palace’s propaganda machine has had King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida meeting with regular people(“subjects”) and speaking about things that make them seem more human.

The Bangkok Post dutifully reports the king expressing his humanness: “I’m just like other human beings.”

This is a strategy that was well-tested with the king’s dead father, who sometimes spent time in the countryside, with the photos of him perspiring and walking, “just like other human beings,” were recycled for decades as part of image-making.

Classic palace propaganda photo

Today, the task is to make an erratic, spendthrift, and egocentric king appear “just like other human beings.”

In this instance, the king mixed “humanness” with royalist propaganda: “On some days I feel despondent. On some days I feel sad. On some days, I almost don’t want to fight the bad things.”

For a “human” who has long been treated as a “god,” with minions on their knees doing his bidding since birth, the notion of “normalness” lacks credibility.

We do know that the young Vajiralongkorn was distant from his father, who sent him away to school in order to toughen and brighten him up. As a report earlier this year reported, “… Vajiralongkorn had received only the occasional phone call and three letters from his father during the first three years at Duntroon.” Perhaps this why Vajiralongkorn surrounds himself with compliant women and is beastly in his behavior to minions.

Perhaps he is despondent that demonstrators are objecting to the power and wealth he has accumulated in recent years while living the high life in Germany? If past form is any measure, though, we’d guess he’s furious rather than despondent. Hence, lese majeste is being wielded like a royal club, even against children.

An indication of this is in his complaint that the youth of today have “forgotten” his father’s “efforts” for the nation:

We should think about the country and think about how the institution of the monarchy and the people are inseparable. We need only look at what His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great accomplished during his 70 years [reign]. Our younger generations may have forgotten about him.

In making these claims, Vajiralongkorn was speaking to 200 high school students. Interestingly, this context was symbolic of his accumulation of power. The students were at a training camp for “volunteers” at the Royal Thai Volunteers School, held inside the 11th Infantry Regiment (King’s Guard) base, which now belongs to the king, “given” to him by the Army, and publicized by the now notorious Jit Arsa Facebook page.

As usual, sweeping aside his wealth, political power, and his preference for Germany, where he spent most of 2020, the king declared he “would not abandon Thais and would do everything for them…”.

This is classic palace PR.





On a few things royal I

5 12 2020

There are a number of royal “stories” that caught our attention today.

The first was a gaggle of stories about the dead king. Of course, 5 December – the dead king’s birthday – was made especially important by palace propaganda and before he became ill, on his birthday eve, the palace would round up the great and the good and the captive audience would sit through the king’s often incoherent ramblings. It would be left to the media to try and interpret the meaning of these sometimes long homilies.

The Bangkok Post outdid most other media that we looked at, with four lengthy propaganda pieces. One was a PR piece about the Bangkok arm of the former junta, the BMA, recalling that the day is also father’s day. That came about after an order from military dictator and double coup leader Sarit Thanarat who made the king’s birthday National Day in 1960. Then there are almost obligatory stories on the late king’s interventions in the nation’s water policy, including his backing of huge dams, sufficiency economy, reproducing all the usual blarney from the world’s richest monarchy, and education, in a country with what is now an awful education system, so bad that its students have revolted.

The passed king is said to have “spent decades trying to combat the twin crises besetting Thailand: droughts and floods,” yet these problems persist and plague the nation every year. Chalearmkiat Kongvichienwat, a deputy director-general for engineering with the Royal Irrigation Department describes the late king as “a great hydrological engineer.” We should recall that the king only had a high school diploma and that his “reputation” as an “engineer” was manufactured by palace propaganda and RID, which gained huge amounts of cash for its projects.

RID observes:

… there are 3,481 royal water projects in which the department is involved. Among them, 3,206 projects are already complete.

They comprise 1,277 projects in the North, 758 in the northeastern region, 498 in the Central region and 673 in the South. These royal projects when completed will provide water to 589,000 households living on 4.90 million rai. The projects can store a total of 6.771 billion cubic metres of water.

Some 87 of the 275 remaining projects are expected to be completed by 2024 and 188 are in the pipeline.

That’s a lot of money. We wonder how many continue to operate and at what cost to environment, locals and taxpayer. The propaganda value for the king and palace was inestimable.

There’s no mention of the dead king’s support for dictators, coups, or the military.

A second story line that is appropriate for today is from Bloomberg at The Japan Times. It is focused on royal wealth: “Thailand’s taboo-breaking demonstrations are about more than the right to criticize the monarchy without fear of going to prison: Protesters want taxpayers to control investments and real estate worth tens of billions of dollars.” It has some of the existing information, but there is some additional information.

On the current king’s PR efforts, a third story line caught our attention. As is usual, there are royal pardons and sentences are cut for thousands of inmates. Also usual is the handing out of bags of charity goods to victims of natural disasters, said to be from the king, and usually accompanied by royal portraits. In this case, it was flood victims in the south. The Army claims that “[m]ore than 300,000 households in 90 districts in 11 southern provinces have been affected by flooding…”. The king “donated 10,000 relief bags to flood victims in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, where at least 13 people have died in recent flooding.” Clearly, a symbolic effort by the world’s richest king.

Then we saw, at The Nation, a series of photos about a recent royal outing-cum-PR exercise. It has the king and queen, accompanied by Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendira Debyavati, the Princess Rajasarinisiribajra and Chao Khun Phra Sineenat Bilaskalayani,” attending a religious event for the dead king “at the Royal Plaza in front of Dusit Palace…”. Given all the recent social media attention and some news reports of rifts in the palace, between queen and consort and between princess and consort, we wondered if they didn’t look rather happy together in this photo, suggesting that some of the speculation might be overcooked:

Happy family outing? Clipped from The Nation

Finally, we want to suggest that readers might want to watch a BBC video story about the students and their revolt against the monarchy.





Royalist and palace trolls II

3 12 2020

Pavin Chachavalpongpun has an interesting piece at Asia Sentinel, showing how very deeply involved the palace has become in Royal Thai Army and state “Information Operations” or IO. There was already a whiff of this in recent days. Pavin’s use of documents leaked from inside the palace confirm it.

In referring an “IO under the royal patronage,” Pavin has a leaked Line chat from Maj Gen Jakchai Srikacha, the palace’s information chief, to various teams working to limit anti-monarchy social media and media reports while promoting fake news and pro-monarchy “information” on social media.

Maj Gen Jakchai “has issued instructions to start a new operation to undermine critics of the monarchy.” The particular stimulus appears to be the dripping of compromising photos of royal consort Sineenart Wongvajirapakdi that may be from phones she has owned.

The details of the orders are worth quoting in full, based on Pavin’s translation:

“Urgent, I instruct Team 3.2A to report to Facebook the account of Pavin Chachavalpongpun and that of the Royalists Marketplace Facebook group, especially reporting the publication of the leaked photos of the Royal Noble Consort [Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi] and reporting any references to all members of the royal family. This is an urgent task.

“Please do not use just one account to report them. Use several accounts to avoid being banned by Facebook. I instruct Team 3.2B to support the work of Team 3.2A by refuting the originality of those photos of the Royal Noble Consort.

Please say that they are all fake/photoshopped, done by those who wanted to overthrow the monarchy….

“Then Team 3.2C must attack the Facebook account of Pavin, attacking him for wanting to overthrow the monarchy, running away from charges (by questioning that if he thinks he is innocent, then why did he run away?), being a dangerous person, and being a homosexual.

“I stress here that you must try to infiltrate and express your opinion in several ways. Do not write the same things over and over. Follow my instructions closely. You already took a course on how to write this kind of messages. So do not repeat your messages on social media. I ask all teams to build up your own credible account. Tell your story too, and not just posting attacking messages so as to raise the credibility of your profile.

“I order all of you to do this. And for Team S3, please keep the records of any public Twitter accounts with more than 10,000 followers that tweet more than 5 times a day in support of the protests. We will deal with them.”

Pavin concludes:

The leaked Line chat fits this analysis of the non-compromise strategy. In cyberspace, the palace and its proxies are taking an aggressive approach. But this approach will eventually be counterproductive, since social media users today, mostly in their youths, have access to alternative information about the monarchy and refuse to be “brainwashed” by the state, like their predecessors.

For more on Sineenart and the leaked photos, see this South China Morning Post story. While PPT is not yet convinced there’s an “ugly power struggle” going on in the palace, this is a pretty good rundown of the king’s (self-inflicted) Sineenart problem.





Updated: Palace PR at full throttle III

23 11 2020

It may be that the current palace PR effort is about to be undone (again).

Royal critics Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Andrew McGregor Marshall have both has posted pictures they he says are from phones that once belonged to Consort Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi. Andrew McGregor Marshall has confirmed the existence of the photos. Many of the hundreds of photos are said to show her naked. Both imply that that the leaking of the photos is a part of a continuing conflict between Queen Suthida and Sineenat.

In the past, the leak of naked photos of the crown prince’s/king’s women have indicated some kind of “partner crisis.” The king has displayed a penchant for erotic images of his women and PPT has previously seen photos of former wives Yuvadhida Polpraserth and Srirasmi and of current queen Suthida. Of course, the video of a naked Srirasmi has been widely circulated.

Pavin and Marshall, who don’t always see eye-to-eye, have begun leakeding some of the tamer photos this information with the latter claiming he’s had them for some time and initially decided not to make them public on moral and ethical grounds. It seems that several news outlets also have the photos, so it may be that they racier photos will come out sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, Marshall has posted links to German news media suggesting that the king’s troubles there are not over. One is an Ardmediathek video report and the other is a 2DF video report. Interestingly, Deutsche Welle reports that “Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn may be expelled from Germany if he issues decrees from his Bavarian villa, the Bundestag has said.” The report clarifies that the king has diplomatic immunity when he is in Germany, meaning that the “German state has very little power to prosecute the Thai king, despite recent threats by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.” Rather, Germany would need to expel “the king from Germany as a ‘persona non grata’…”.





With a major update: Palace PR at full throttle II

22 11 2020

One of hundreds of pieces of graffiti attacking the king and royal family

As we said in an earlier post, the palace public relations machinery has long had to “manage” Vajiralongkorn’s mostly self-inflicted PR disasters, ranging from his erratic and vengeful behavior to rumors of violence, illnesses, philandering and associations with crime. These PR exercises have mostly involved strategies that had “worked” for his father.

King, queen and ultra-royalist

However, as popular criticism of the monarchy has reached levels that no one can recall in their lifetimes, what we have called the Hello! strategy has emerged, mostly revolving around the women currently closest to King Vajiralongkorn: Queen Suthida, Princess Sirivannavari, and chief concubine Sineenat.

The king is now almost always seen arm-in-arm with Suthida, as she guides her often shaky looking husband around crowds of royalist well-wishers, encouraging the “common” touch of selfies, autographs and statements of encouragement to selected ultra-royalists. The queen is seen as the one recognizing the ultra-royalists,  beaming and fist-pumping to supporters, and directing the king to them.

Sirivannavari as “one of us”

Meanwhile, Sirivannavari is high profile, fostering a kind of “people’s princess” image, seeking to link to younger people. This effort has not always been successful. Protesters know that Sirivannavari has been officially promoted and the recipient of “award” just because she’s the king’s daughter. And, protesters know that she’s cycled through a series of expensive “career choices” that have cost the taxpayer plenty. We recall she was the top student at university, a national badminton player, a diplomat, a Paris fashion designer, etc. That knowledge has led to the princess being spoofed by protesters.

Clipped from LA Times. Photo credit: Jack Taylor AFP / Getty Images

Sineenat has sometimes been seen making up the royal triplet in public, but has recently been off in the countryside, also cultivating a “people’s” semi-royal persona. Yet her troubled, on-again, off-again relationship with the king is well known and rumors of her role in palace and royal family tensions are also widespread.

The general idea seems to be to show that the palace is not really aloof, hugely wealthy, grasping, erratic and uncaring, but is really at one with the people. This is a strategy that carries high risk. After all, making the monarchy “popular” challenges the most basic premise of royals as special, divine, blue-bloods. It is blood and position that counts, not popularity.

But when a royal house is challenged, it is often a spur to make the royals “popular.” And the challenges are coming thick and fast.So strong is the anti-monarchism that even the Hello! strategy is having to be surpassed with publicity that shows the grasping king as “generous.”

In the most high profile PR effort to date, the Bangkok Post reports that the king will “give royal land title deeds worth ’10 billion baht’ to four educational institutes in a handover ceremony.” (That the Post puts the figure in quotation marks suggests a need for caution.)

Our first thought was that this declaration is a response to pro-democracy demonstrators having announced that their next rally will be outside the Crown Property Bureau on 25 November. The palace is trying to pre-empt that demonstration by showing that the king and CPB are “generous.”

Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation Minister Anek Laothamatas reportedly said:

… ownership of royal title deeds covering more than 100 rai of land along Ratchawithi Road in Dusit district would be handed over to two universities and two schools [Rachawinit elementary school and its secondary school] already located on the land…. Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University will receive title deeds covering more than 60 rai, while Suan Dusit University will be granted more than 37 rai, Mr Anek said, adding that the value of the land was estimated at about 10 billion baht.

That statement is not at all clear. Is there a difference between “ownership of a royal title deed” and ownership of land? How much is “more than”?

We recall that, in 2018, there were reports that these universities had been told that they would need to relocate. The CPB kind of confirmed this.

The Post claims, seeming to cite Anek, that the “land where the universities are located originally belonged to the King and the land is part of Dusit Palace, which is a complex of royal residences.” This means prior to 1932 for it was after that revolution that the new regime used (took over?) some of the land “for educational purposes…”. As Wikipedia has it: “In 1932 the absolute monarchy was abolished and part of the Dusit Palace was reduced and transferred to the constitutional government. This included the Khao Din Wana (เขาดินวนา) to the east of the palace, which was given in 1938 to the Bangkok City Municipality by King Ananda Mahidol to create a public park, which later became Dusit Zoo.”

It seems that the current king is the one who has had this land “returned” to him.

The zoo comes into the Post story: “Apart from the handover of the deeds, the royally-owned land where Dusit Zoo, the country’s first public zoo, was once located will be used for the construction of a public hospital.” It seems to us that this is a recent decision designed to reduce the criticism of the palace’s grasping. Add to that the “Nang Loeng racecourse in Dusit district [which did belong] to the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) … is now to be “transform[ed] … into a public park in commemoration of … King Bhumibol…”. Yes, another one. As far as we can tell, this is another new idea.

Clearly the ideological war is expanding.

Update: The Nation has a listing of the “grants”, saying the king “granted nine land title deeds to government agencies and educational institutions.” Hopefully there’s someone out there who knows more about this than PPT, but the PR on this story seems to overwhelm what seems to have been going on. And we are not sure we know, but we smell fish.

The report states that the “King and Queen arrived at Amporn Sathan Throne in Dusit Palace to hand over land title deeds of royal properties in Bangkok and other provinces to use as government workplaces and educational establishments.” That doesn’t quite sound like the land is changing ownership.

When one looks at the properties involved, it gets fishier still. There are plots of land that have long been occupied and used by government bodies, the military and the Border Patrol Police. Take the latter as an example. The report states:

Commissioner of the Royal Thai Police, Pol General Suwat Jangyodsuk, received a land title deed for an area of 185 rai, 1 ngan and 85.20 square wah, in Cha-am district of Phetchaburi province for use as a working place for Naresuan Camp Border Patrol Police headquarters.

Commander of the Border Patrol Police, Pol Lt-General Wichit Paksa, received a land title deed for an area of 275 rai, 3 ngan and 57.20 square wah in Cha-am district of Phetchaburi province to use for Border Patrol Police headquarters, Rama VI Camp (Maruekhathaiyawan Palace) in Phetchaburi, which was in addition to the land bestowed in 2017.

As far as we know, the BPP has been occupying and using these plots of land since the early and mid 1950s. It isn’t clear to us who owned the land back then, but one source states:

Before building Naresuan camp in Hua Hin, the camp site had been allocated to the army’s royal guard to provide security to the royal family but as soon as [the CIA’s] Bill Lair proposed the site for building a camp for PARU, both Phao and the royal family agreed to give the land to Lair and PARU instead of the army.

Lair and the king. Clipped from Amazon

That seems to suggest that the land might have once belonged to the royal family. It remains unclear to us whether there was any official transfer back then. Another source states that Lair “used an old Imperial Japanese training camp in Hua Hin to train a select crew of Thai police in guerrilla warfare, including parachuting.” It is clear that the king developed quite a jolly relationship with the PARU/BPP and with Lair.

So it seems like the king is acknowledging longstanding occupation and use, if not “ownership.” It remains unclear if receiving the title deed amounts to transferring ownership.