Taxpayers and official glorification

11 02 2020

We were struck by yet another big dip into taxpayer’s pockets for even more glorification of dead King Bhumibol.  The military-backed regime has decided to shovel 864 million baht (US$27 million) to “build a museum dedicated to the royal cremation of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej … in Pathum Thani’s Klong 5…” to be run by the Fine Arts Department.

The new 7,200m² “royal museum … will resemble the royal crematorium…” and will “be located on a 32ha plot of land, it will also house the Supreme Artist Hall, the King Rama IX Archive, and the national museum warehouse of the department…”.

It is planned to “consist of five major zones to exhibit every angle of the royal cremation” and “will display art pieces and materials used to construct and decorate the Royal Crematorium, including the royal urn, royal coffin, and 132 sculptures used to decorate the royal crematorium.” It is expected to open in 2022.

864 million baht is chicken feed in the billions of baht used for all kinds of taxpayer-funded glorification. Yet it adds to other museums that maintain the elements of royal cultural hegemony: the supposedly largest museum in Southeast Asia, the Rama 9 Museum, the National Museum of Royal Barges, and the Royal Elephant National Museum, to name just a couple.

Every year, billions of baht flow into this kind of glorification of royals. Can anyone come up with the real figure on how much of the people’s money supports this feudal family? How much is wasted on palace propaganda?





With 4 updates: King disposes of another wife

21 10 2019

It was is July that King Vajiralongkorn “bestowed the title of ‘Chao Khun Phra,’ or Royal Noble Consort, to Maj. Gen. Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, one of his royal guards.” She had been his minor wife for several years, often photographed with the prince-cum-king in Germany.

Then, in August, Sineenat, as royal consort, got huge palace-arranged propaganda as the king’s favorite.

All of this seemed to be a part of re-establishing the absolutism that the king appears to crave.

But, today, Sineenart is out, gone, dismissed. The official announcement “accused Sineenat of attempting to prevent Queen Suthida from being crowned and abusing her royal status.” It goes on:

According to the announcement, Sineenat not only “expressed her opposition and exerted her pressure in every possible way” regarding Queen Suthida’s elevation to the throne as the Queen of Thailand, she also sought to have His Majesty the King appoint her to the role instead.

Improbably, the July promotion to official consort is “explained”:

When in favor, now disappeared

After her repeated disobedience and attempts of interference with the royal affairs, the statement said, … the King graciously bestowed her the title of Royal Noble Consort in July out of hope that Sineenat would “lessen her pressure” and change her tact [sic.].

Instead, Sineenat continued to display “ambition” and overstepped her authority by engaging in many royal court activities without … the King’s approval, which caused much confusion to the public….

The announcement concludes that:

Her actions are considered disloyal, ungrateful, and ungracious of [the king’s] kindness…. They caused division among the royal servants and misunderstanding among the public; these amount to acts of sabotage against the country and the institution [monarchy].

She has been stripped of all royal ranks, decorations, and her military rank. That’s happened before and the victim continues to be punished. We can’t help wondering what Sineenat’s fate will be. For that matter, what becomes of her family and friends? An absolutist king in a ridiculously royalist Thailand can do pretty much anything. He can be as erratic and as obsessive-compulsive as he wants.

Update 1: The Bangkok Post reports extensively on the announcement:

According to the announcement, Chao Khun Phra Sineenat had opposed the coronation of Her Majesty the Queen after the royal marriage on May 1, 2019. She had been openly against the ceremony, applied pressure to prevent the coronation from taking place and, driven by ambition, had tried ways and means to get His Majesty to appoint her instead, according to the announcement.

“Despite her expectations, the ceremony took place. She also breached royal authority by issuing orders involving Their Majesties’ activities.”

To alleviate the problem and prevent inappropriate actions that could affect the royal institution and the country, His Majesty appointed her as Chao Khun Phra Sineenart Pilaskalayanee, read the announcement.

Since then, His Majesty has kept a close watch on her behaviour and actions and found she did not appreciate his kindness nor behave in a manner worthy of her new position.

She was not satisfied with her new position and tried to act in ways that matched the status of Her Majesty.

“She did not understand royal traditions and acted defiantly towards Their Majesties. She also exploited her new position by issuing orders, pretending they were royal commands. In addition, she ordered people to comply with her personal wishes without accountability, saying she had received royal orders to act on His Majesty’s behalf.”

Her actions were intended to bolster her popularity and benefit herself rather than the public interest. She did all this in the hope that His Majesty would grant her a higher position that would match that of Her Majesty.

The actions of Chao Khun Phra Sineenart disrespected His Majesty, lacked gratitude and failed to recognise royal kindness. They created rifts among palace officials and misunderstanding among the public, as well as undermine the country and the royal institution.

When in favor, now disappeared

Update 2: Now the social media rumors begin to run wild. One says that Sineenat will be in the king’s personal prison for two years. This one is believable as the king has done similar things in the past. She’ll have her head shaved. Another says she will be under house arrest for two years. That too is believable given the way Srirasmi was dealt with (see link above). There is also a rumor connecting the cancellation/postponement of the king’s self-congratulatory boat show, suggesting that there was a palace battle over which woman got to sit next to the king. Some say this was a plot to undo Sineenat. Who knows? Thailand has made itself so ridiculously royalist that many will believe the unbelievable royal announcement while most will believe the rumors because that’s all they get that seems more believable. There’s a chance that the king may have more to say or do on this as, like a gangster, he gets furious when he thinks he’s been disrespected.

Update 3: Normally, on a story such as this, PPT would post a bunch of links to the international media as they discuss this case. The problem is, because of the censorship of all news related to the monarchy, the palace’s extreme secrecy, and the manner in which ridiculously royalist Thailand has been repressed by the regime, the only story is the announcement from the palace. Everything else is guesswork or re-packaging of the palace’s furious announcement, as can be seen in the following examples:

The Independent asks the right question but has no answer, “Thailand royal consort: Why was Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi stripped of her titles?” The Guardian, “King’s sacking of consort highlights power of Thai monarchy” recounts some of the king’s earlier great love for his consort and his trashing of former wives. So does a report in The Irish Times, “A sudden and brutal fall: Thai king’s consort stripped of her titles.” AP helpfully has a video report including when Sineenat was made official consort:

A story at an Australian news site has another interesting question and one that is somewhat easier to answer, although details remain secretive in “Who are the key players at the centre of the Thai royal feud?” The BBC asks the question everyone has: “Thailand royal consort: How did Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi fall from grace?” It has a nice and full royal family tree, including the exiled children. It also quotes Tamara Loos, professor of history and Thai studies at Cornell University, who  says:

… the king is sending a message that goes beyond just falling out with his mistress.

“The king is sending a signal that he can’t be touched and that once you’re out of favour with him, you have no control over your destiny.

“Each move of his, whether economic, military or familial, reveals his unfettered abuse of power,” she adds.

Yes on the latter, but he’s been furious before with wives, long before he was king. The message then was of rants and a childlike desire to have what he wants, when he wants it.

For all the pictures and video of the king’s misdemeanors and erratic behavior, try The Daily Mail: “Thai king, 67, strips his 34-year-old concubine of all royal titles over her ‘disloyalty to the crown’ and ‘misbehavior’ – less than three months after she knelt at his feet in bizarre ceremony.” And, finally, The Economist has this, under the sub-header “Beauty and the Beast”:

INGRATITUDE, MISBEHAVIOUR and disloyalty. These were among the failings of Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi detailed in a scathing royal statement on October 21st. Apparently the mistress of King Maha Vajiralongkorn wanted to “elevate herself to the same state as the queen”. The former army nurse also dared to issue commands and disobeyed her superiors. She has been stripped of all titles and honours. At one level, Ms Sineenat’s sudden fall from grace is stunning; it was only in July, on the king’s birthday, that he made her Thailand’s first officially recognised royal mistress in almost a century. At another, it is typical. The king has frequent, dramatic romantic bust-ups, with dire consequences for the women concerned.

The designation of a “royal noble consort” shocked Thailand. The elaborate ceremony saw Ms Sineenat prostrate herself before the king and Queen Suthida Tidjai, a former flight attendant whom he married in May. The silk and jewels on display were a far cry from the crop tops and fake tattoos that king and consort had been snapped wearing before. More official photographs of Ms Sineenat in camouflage and in cockpits appeared in August. The website hosting them crashed as curious Thais flocked to it.

Queen Suthida is the king’s fourth wife. He divorced and humiliated his first, a Thai princess who bore him a daughter. He has disowned four of his five children with his second wife, an actress, who fled abroad. And he imprisoned the parents and brothers of his third wife, who has disappeared from sight after he divorced her. Their son remains with his father. These dealings pass without comment in Thailand. The king supposedly sits above politics.

In any case, no one dares to criticise the king’s viciousness or caprice. Successive governments have long fostered public adulation of the monarchy—an easier task under the king’s mild-mannered father, Bhumibol Adulyadej. Since Vajiralongkorn came to the throne three years ago, he has exploited this reverence to demand sweeping formal powers. In 2017 he insisted the constitution be changed to make it easier for him to live abroad (as he does, in Germany) without appointing a regent, even though Thai voters had already approved the text in a referendum. Last year he took personal ownership of the Crown Property Bureau, an agency which has managed royal land and investments for decades. Its holdings are thought to be worth more than $40bn. This month the government issued an emergency decree transferring command of two army units directly to King Vajiralongkorn.

Thailand’s harsh lèse-majesté law curbs discussion of these manoeuvres. It promises between three and 15 years in prison for insulting “the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent”. Yet it has not deterred recent grumbling on social media over traffic jams made worse by royal motorcades. Nor did it seem to scare those who wrote about Ms Sineenat’s downfall. The hashtag #SaveKoy began trending, Koy being a nickname for the disgraced mistress. And despite the fulminations of the royal statement, every Thai knows that no one can beat the king himself for ingratitude, misbehaviour and disloyalty.

Update 4: The purge of all those associated with Sineenat has been quick. This is a pattern, with the king accusing people of using their royal proximity for personal gain. Interestingly, Khaosod observes:

The ex-consort Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi has not been seen in public since the announcement. It is also unclear whether His Majesty the King would rescind her royally bestowed surname.





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.