Another royal hobby

5 08 2019

Being honest, we have to say that we had never heard of the Chulabhorn Royal Academy until a reader sent us this story from an Australian source.

To be sure, we had heard of the  Chulabhorn Research Institute, which is said to be headed up by (a now very ill) Princess Chulabhorn. The latter’s website in English looks dated, although there are bits and pieces that seem updated, and its Facebook page has been unused since 2013. Has there been a loss of interest?

The Chulabhorn Royal Academy is said to have been established in January 2016 with a royal decree making it “an advanced research and higher educational institute, and the HRH Princess Chulabhorn College of Medical Science to be a college within the academy specialising in medicine, nursing and health sciences. PCCMS admits about 30 students per year in the MD course…”. It is claimed that it “consists of the School of Medicine and Public Health, School of Nursing and the Sonographer School. It is an academic institution affiliated to Mahidol University…”.

This Academy’s website is more up-to-date and interesting, not to say professional when compared with the Institute.

Both the Instiute and the Academy appear to have had considerable funds poured into their buildings, we assume at taxpayer expense.

To the Australian story. It is reported that the University of Newcastle, a relatively low-ranked Australian school “plans to partner with a royal Thai academy to offer a dual med engineering degree…”. It reports:

VC Alex Zelinsky has signed an MOU with (deep breath) Dr Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol of Thailand, to develop a dual degree with HRH’s Chulabhorn Royal Academy.

The four-year programme combines medical innovation and engineering degrees. Students will start with 18 months in Thailand, followed by two years at Uni Newcastle and a final six months on business and entrepreneurship at Chulabhorn RA.

It adds that this arrangement:

will be a bolster for Uni Newcastle’s med science standing in SE Asia. In April it was one of three Australian and 100 overall international med schools whose graduates were dropped from the Singapore Government’s approved for practice register.

The Academy appears set on partnering with a range of second and third tier universities world wide. At the same time, it seems to be operating as yet another palace propaganda outfit. We guess no one dares ask about its worth or its cost to the taxpayer.





With 3 updates: Constructing the monarch

29 07 2019

As we have pointed out previously, when succession came in 2016, there were some commentators who had been predicting a crisis and an unraveling of the monarchy. Part of the “crisis” had to do with King Vajiralongkorn’s vengeful, thuggish and nasty persona, well known in Thailand. Those characteristics, along with his lust for women and loot, defined his life as crown prince. He was also known to think of himself a military man and imposed “military discipline” on those around him.

Self-crowned

There was no crisis, and King Vajiralongkorn has established his reign and palace in a series of moves that were marked by a legalism that saw him establish clear personal ownership of royal wealth, clear out those he distrusted or felt insufficiently supine, and establish greater constitutional powers for the throne.

Many international commentators regularly make the trite observation that the current king does not have the same esteem as his long-serving father. This is obvious, but this seems a way of pointing to the king’s checkered past and odd personality.

But, as this year’s king’s birthday demonstrates, the palace propaganda machine is hard at work, concocting an image for the still new king. 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 and it uses familiar and tried and true methods.

For example, he is now “our father,” just as his father was, continuing the paternalism that marks monarchy and which is, when required, used politically.

Yesterday, the newspapers were drenched in palace propaganda. In propaganda, that which is false and concocted can become “truth” if repeated often enough. And there’s plenty of that in the invention of Vajiralongkorn’s image. We won’t go through it all as there simply too much.

One example is the creation of the king as “sportsman.” Of course, this links to his father’s image, based on his making and sailing in tiny yachts for a time in the 1960s. Vajiralongkorn, who once played some football with minions and who, late in life, took up cycling. That, as far as the propagandists are concerned, makes the king “majestic in sports.” This concocted story will be repeated year after year and people will come to accept it and perhaps believe it.

The other thing to note in the current flood of propaganda that constructs the monarch is the king as military man. His father took on this persona in the 1960s and 1970s, but he was not military trained. The new king is, and is proud of this.

The propagandists say the king has “specialises in military affairs, thanks to his illustrious military background.” They mangle politics with claims that “Thailand is a democratic country with the King as the head of state and for a large part of the nation’s history, the head of the armed forces as well.”

The politics of this – in a country dominated by military politicians – is emphasized:

Thai soldiers hold His Majesty in high regard and are ready to give up their lives for his cause because there is no higher honour for a Thai soldier than to serve the country, people and the King.

We may be forgetful, but we do not recall these claims being made for his father. In an era of military and military-backed government, an armed forces drawn ever closer to the king means a more interventionist king. It also means that the military and bureaucracy are those at the top of the political heap and are ever more closely intertwined with the throne.

We have previously posted on the Jit Arsa 904 “volunteers” that have been created as a force for the king and to burnish and propagandize his image. A couple of the “tributes” to the king play up this group. Such activities have multiple winners, with the king seen as a great man and the “volunteers” getting reflected merit. But, another of the stories reveals – we don’t recall this in past reporting – that the Jit Arsa scheme is a military operation. It states:

The Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) serves as the coordinator of the project. It has set up a regional coordination centre in each of the four regions: the Central Plains, Northeast, North and South.

Given ISOC’s political role, taking over from the junta, and its history of political destabilization, surveillance, repression and murder for various military regimes and for the military itself, the overt linking to the throne is cause for considerable concern.

Update 1: As if there hadn’t been a succession, the king’s birthday message reflected his father’s mantra of “prosperity” flowing from doing one’s “duty.” The king was only addressing the already prosperous – “royal family members as well as senior officials led by the parliament president, prime minister and the Supreme Court president” – but the message is carefully relayed to the hoi polloi. The report also recounts that the king further elevated his first daughter, changing her royal title from the relatively undistinguished Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendiradebyavati to the breathtaking Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendiradebyavati Krom Luang Ratchasarinee Siripatchara Maha Watchara Ratchathida. Tucked into the end of the report is the news that the king also “granted Maj Gen Thanpuying Sineenart Wongvajirapakdi the title of Chao Khun Phra Sineenart Pilaskalayanee.” That’s his favored consort.

Update 2: The regime gave the king a very expensive birthday present. Reuters reports that the king “will be exempt from tax on some of his land property…”. It wasn’t that long ago that there was some fanfare when the Crown Property Bureau lost its tax-free status as its assets came under the king’s direct ownership. However, a new announcement now says “some of the king’s lands and establishments will now be exempt from tax…”.

Lands and establishments that are “used in state affairs, royal affairs, or used by agencies under the king” will be exempt as will properties “used in other affairs by the king or members of the royal family, for public interests, or used as religious places. Royal properties that “do not fit the above descriptions” will also be tax exempt for those “… parts that are used for non-profit purposes…”. Millions and perhaps billions will be kept in the royal pocket.

Update 3: Some time ago the then crown prince let it be known that he wanted to be a more “traditional” king. Since Vajiralongkorn has been king he’s been realizing that ambition, grabbing land and making royal wealth more obviously his, wringing increased powers from the junta and gaining command over thousands of troops and police. Now he’s gone a step further. When we mentioned above that he gave a title to his favorite consort, this act was more significant than we thought.

Khaosod reports that the title bestowed is “Royal Noble Consort,” making Sineenat the first official consort taken by a king since King Chulalongkorn Vajiravudh. That the event was televised, with the king anointing her while seated with the queen tells Thais that neo-feudalism is upon them.

Sineenat also received a bunch of royal decorations: “The Most Illustrious Order of Chula Chom Klao, 1st Class; The Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant, Special Class; The Most Noble Order of the Crown of Thailand, Special Class; and Rattanaporn Medal, First Class.”





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.