Taking and “giving”

24 06 2017

A recent story at The Nation is useful for displaying how palace propaganda works.

Princess Sirindhorn has is reported as “graciously” granting (they mean she’s given) “30 tonnes of rice to the government for use during the Royal Cremation ceremonies of late King Rama IX.”

That means she’s handing over quite a pile of rice to be given away to spectators at the royal cremation. The family is supposed to do this. Its one of those  propagandized “traditions” that is meant to show the fabulously wealthy royals are “generous.”

The Dictator threw himself on the floor before her photo and dragged along a legion of his minions to a taxpayer-funded “ceremony at Government House to accept the rice from the Princess.”

How nice. But then the report explains that the “rice was previously collected by Community Rice Centres nationwide and was presented to the Princess when she presided over an annual Rice and Farmers Day event early this month.”

This is rice collected from others and given to her. The nonsense is that she’s not generous at all, she’s just passing on stuff she collected for being a princess who regularly collects gifts, checks and bags of cash.

Thirty tons is nothing and it cost her nothing. But that’s how palace propaganda works.

Meanwhile the taxpayer is forking out real money to pay for her father’s funeral. You’d think that as multi-billionaires the royal family might fork out a bit, but it seems not as they are deserving of propaganda and praise.





More “good” person nonsense

3 06 2017

One of the problems of Thailand’s politics is that there are a few aged men who think they know everything better than anyone else. Most of them have been cast as “liberals” but the fact is that most are royalists first and then conservatives second. Some of them are authoritarian, vile and nasty.

They are used to being heard partly because Thailand’s culture has respect for the aged, even when they are fruitcakes. They are often heard because they are aligned with the powerful, including the military and the palace.They think of themselves as “great” and “good.”

So when the Bangkok Post reports a meeting attended by executives of media organisations like “the National Press Council of Thailand, the Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, the Isra Institute and the Thai Press Development Foundation” coming up with ideas about “training members of the media to ensure they are not influenced by politicians or big business” you start to wonder.

You wonder first because several of these organizations have been remarkably biased in their reporting of political events in recent years. Second, that so-called prominent social thinker Prawase Wasi “has thrown his support behind a proposal to set up an institute” for this purpose suggests that it is just another old man’s nonsense idea that imposes views based on a hatred of people’s sovereignty.

The greatest control of the media is by business interests. After all, the media is a business and its mostly owned by businesses. So unless the proposal is to nationalize the media, this seems silly. The next most significant control of the media over time has been by the military. And then there’s the control over palace propaganda that prevents real reporting about that business conglomerate and social institution.

Prawase reckons an “institute to train at least 1,000 reporters to a high standard will be set up in three years…”. You can bet it will look like other “great” and “good” organizations like the King Prajadhipok Institute. KPI is a royalist joke and reality and history bending propaganda school.

Thai journalism has its ups and downs, but so does the media everywhere. Making it more royalist and more conservative is hardly a recipe for independence or better reporting.





No laughing matter

13 05 2017

The military junta has laid its bets on King Vajiralongkorn for ensuring the future of the monarchy and the system of hierarchy, privilege and wealth it underpins.

Nothing about the king can be a laughing matter.

Yet the junta knows the king is erratic and demanding, as well as odd in his demands and personal foibles. He’s also showing he’s a political neanderthal, which might be expected of a monarch, but when combined with his other traits and limited intelligence, that makes him dangerous and unpredictable.And probably not very funny.

Some of that may have said about his father, but that king was young and subject to controls by the military, mother and old princes. Once the palace propaganda was put in place for that king, in the popular imagination, he became a polymath and a savvy politician.

By the time the military was firmly in the hands of leaders who got to the top simply by their capacity for royal ego polishing, the king and palace became a locus of political power.

That’s why the dictators have been so desperate to ban and erase all of the foibles associated with Vajiralongkorn. That’s not easy when he spends a lot of time overseas, behaving oddly. Seeking a kind of Chinese firewall without the investment, the military junta is trying to bully ISPs and international corporations into doing their censorship.

Yet that is making the situation worse. Ham-fisted censorship makes a nonentity king reigning in a relatively small and unimportant country become international news of the tabloid variety.

Among a range of other channels, VICE News recently got interested, stating:

Facebook has blocked users in Thailand from accessing a video that shows the country’s king strolling through a German shopping mall wearing a crop-top revealing his distinctive tattoos, accompanied by one of his mistresses.

Asking what was in the video banned by Facebook, VICE posted it. The report states the king was filmed while shopping at:

Riem Arcaden mall in Munich on June 10, 2016….  The video shows Vajiralongkorn walking through the shopping mall, with a woman who is believed to be one of his mistresses, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, aka Koi. The king’s bodyguards are also visible in the video.

The junta “banned” Andrew MacGregor Marshall, Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Somsak Jeamteerasakul for posting some of this kind of material and then rushed about arresting seven people in Thailand and accused them of sharing posts or liking them when they were considered by the junta as defaming of the king. Odd that, for the king is the one dressing up as some kind of anime character and prancing about public places with a concubine.

This has caused even wider publicity to royal shenanigans and the junta’s remarkable desperation to defend the king’s “honor” and “reputation.”

The junta holds few good cards, but is betting even more of its treasure on the “protection” of the king. They prefer to show him dressed in full military uniform, accompanied by a uniformed woman who is, at least for the moment, his official consort or the No. 1 wife.

Meanwhile, in the king’s preferred home, in Germany, the publicity provided by the junta’s actions, arrests and threats to Facebook have brought considerable attention to the royal immigrant ensconced in Tutzing (when he’s in Munich).

That leads to television reports that make the king appear weird, guaranteeing even more scrutiny and sharing; exactly what the dopes at the junta think they are preventing.

Even without German, a viewer gets the message. The junta doesn’t. For them, covering up for the king is no laughing matter. It is protecting their bread and butter, and they want lots of it on their plates.





Supporting feudal monarchism

8 02 2017

We know that the military dictatorship has little sense of irony. It seems part of the UN has caught the lack of irony disease. That lack of perception means that, as it has done previously, UN offices manage to collude in creating and reinforcing feudal monarchism in Thailand.

pattyWe say this based on a report in the Bangkok Post that “… the King’s daughter … Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol is to become a goodwill ambassador for the rule of law in Southeast Asia, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime announced on Wednesday.”

The irony of appointing a royal, protected by a feudal law and from a country ruled by a military dictatorship that illegally seized power and now uses military courts and thumbs its nose at rule of law, in favor of rule by law, seems lost on this UN office.

In fact, UNODC regional representative Jeremy Douglas is quoted as stating: “She doesn’t see herself as above the law and is interested in helping out to advance justice reform…”.

In fact, she is above the law. While in its written form the lese majeste law does not apply to her, every Thai knows that, in practice, she is “protected,” just like dead kings and deceased king’s dogs.

How a feudal “princess would help to promote justice reform” in “Thailand as well as the rest of Southeast Asia” is not clear. After all, her experience is of Thailand’s compromised and politicized “justice” system.

Yes, we know she allegedly has “a special interest in prison issues, particularly women in prison,” but even the UNODC website has little about this since this “interest” was happened upon back in 2008-9.

In an earlier post, we speculated that palace’s need to reorient its propaganda to promote the new king and his (official) family. As in the past, UN offices are targeted in this effort to promote feudal institutions.





Things that make you think

15 01 2017

There lots of stuff that goes on in the junta’s Thailand that causes you to wonder and think about motivations and machinations.

PPT’s perusal of the Bangkok Post today produced two such moments.

The first Bangkok Post story had us wondering…

The first paragraph was pretty much palace propaganda-like, with the king reported as having “reiterated the importance of children, urging the government to enhance the education system as a key part of the country’s development…”.

Prayuth Puppetry

Who is the puppet?

That’s pretty standard. But then we learn that this is not the king speaking, but The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Speaking at a ceremony marking National Children’s Day, The Dictator becomes the voice of the king and explains an apparently close relationship:

“… the [k]ing told me many times to give priority to children both in terms of education and the country’s development. He also wants the government to enhance the discipline of Thai children, which will result in orderliness and knowledge development of Thai people….

That sounds a lot like Prayuth’s voice rather than the king’s.It does seem a little out of the ordinary for a premier to speaking for the monarch. Is Prayuth out of line? Or are he and the king best buddies?

Just for good measure, The Dictator invokes the dead king: “During the rest of my term in office, I want all Thais to do good to follow in the footsteps of the late monarch, who was always concerned about his people…”. That is more the invocation we are used to from prime ministers.

The second Bangkok Post story is a tale of two parties and had us thinking of double standards and political machinations.

The About Politics column reflects on the floods in the south.

(Naturally enough, these floods can’t be blamed on Yingluck Shinawatra was the case in 2011. This time the culprit is not a government or a party, but the weather.)

The story praises “recovery operations” and singles out the so-called Muan Maha Prachachon for Reform Foundation.

Who is the puppet?

Who is the puppet?

This is the “foundation” established by anti-democrat boss Suthep Thaugsuban, as a post-coup vehicle for the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) and others who temporarily or momentarily left the Democrat Party in order to engage in street activism to prevent elections and bring down an elected government.

Unlike the Puea Thai Party and red shirts, the Democrat Party and the Muan Maha Prachachon for Reform Foundation have not been sued, harassed, arrested, jailed and suppressed by the junta. After all, they did a lot to foment the coup that brought the military thugs to power.

Suthep and other “key leaders of the now-defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) have sprung into action, including Chitpas … Kridakorn [Bhirombhakdi], Chumphol Julsai and Isara Somchai” have been active in the region.

Most important has been Witthaya Kaewparadai, described as “Suthep’s right-hand man in this operation.”

As is well known, Witthaya is a former Democrat Party MP for Nakhon Si Thammarat. This former MP is said to have been an asset in relief operation having “helped boost the efficiency of distribution of essential supplies.”

Like us, many readers will wonder at this. The junta doesn’t like “politicians” meddling in anything. But, then, Witthaya is also a “member of the coup-appointed [puppet] National Legislative Assembly (NLA),” and this “secures coordination among state agencies and the military which need a go-between to bring help to where it is needed.”

Readers are then told that:

Since the PDRC protests, Mr Witthaya has remained active in his constituency, but his focus has been on community work. He has founded a cycling club where members do the necessary legwork to keep fit and the brainwork by discussing problems facing their community. This cycling club is said to be the biggest in the region.

The reports goes on:Kissing soldiers

The Muan Maha Prachachon for Reform Foundation’s contribution to flood rescue and relief operations can be no less; most of the flood victims are the very same people who kept the group’s street protests going in Bangkok during 2013-2014.

In other words, the PRDC-Democrat Party are catering to their members and supporters.

Imagine what would happen if a former MP from Puea Thai who was also a red shirt was doing something similar in the north or northeast. Sedition charges would be pending!

We learn more about these double standards when the report states:

While the former PDRC leaders are out there working in flood relief operations, the Democrat Party which has a political stronghold in the region is helping quietly, staying out of the spotlight due to a political ban by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

But they are indeed working there, with the PDRC. An unnamed source says: “People think the PDRC and the Democrat Party are no different. It doesn’t matter who leads the flood relief efforts…”.

“Election” preparations and electioneering are permitted in the south. Indeed, the military and junta facilitate them.

Double standards? You bet.

These double standards are reinforced in another story, in the same column, about the problems facing Puea Thai.

The party has few resources left and former party MPs are complaining that they are being left to their own devices and resources, with little help from the party or the “party’s heavyweights.”

Party leaders are tied up in a myriad of legal actions – hundreds of them – brought by the junta.

The longer the junta delays an “election” – some now suggest 2020, only partly tongue-in-cheek – the worse it gets for Puea Thai. And don’t think the junta doesn’t know this. All the talk of cremations delaying the “election” or the king making changes will be used as excuses for no “election.” However, one thing the junta wants is for Yingluck Shinawatra’s case and related cases against Puea Thai to be concluded this year.

The junta believes these cases will cause the collapse of Puea Thai. Once that happens, the junta can better control the “election” outcome.





New year reading

1 01 2017

Unfortunately, 2017 doesn’t look as though it is going to be very happy for any of those who want expanded political space in Thailand. We can be sure that there will be continuing political repression by the military dictatorship. We can also be sure that online surveillance will deepen. Lese majeste cases may decline, but this is simply a measure of the intensification of the use of the draconian law by the junta and the fear this has spread.

The new regime in the palace seems to have changed little. The alliance of palace and military is especially strong and the new king is well-behaved for the moment. He seems likely to continue with the palace propaganda that relies heavily on “inheriting” the “legacy” of his father. How long this lasts for a king who was an unpredictable and erratic prince remains to be seen, but we may be sure the junta has been working hard to close leaks and prevent discussion of errant behavior when it occurs.

In the meantime, we thought that readers might like to peruse a couple of academic papers that reflect on repression and political contestation in Thailand, available for free download from the Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies:

  • Mass Surveillance and the Militarization of Cyberspace in Post-Coup Thailand – Pinkaew Laungaramsri
    DOI 10.14764/10.ASEAS-2016.2-2
    pdficon_small Download PDF
  • New Social Media and Politics in Thailand: The Emergence of Fascist Vigilante Groups on Facebook – Wolfram Schaffar
    DOI 10.14764/10.ASEAS-2016.2-3
    pdficon_small Download PDF




Updated: New king and palace propaganda

30 12 2016

A new king means that the palace’s propaganda needs to be realigned. It has a network of tame authors and journalists who are prepared to continue their work of mythologizing the monarchy.

These lackeys are being mobilized to produce saccharin stories that seek to “correct” the negative stories that appeared around the time of accession. This palace propaganda goes hand-in-hand with the efforts of the military junta to suppress the negative accounts – and there are a lot of them – about the king and his foibles and faults. That includes the use of the draconian lese majeste law.

One of the trusted palace-connected journalists is Dominic Faulder, perhaps best known for his work as “senior editor” of the palace’s “semi-official” King Bhumibol Adulyadej. A Life’s Work. That was a lengthy, expensive and faulty response to Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles. In the palace handbook, Faulder is listed as having been a correspondent for the defunct Asiaweek magazine, a former president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand and an editor of another piece of royalist puff, The King of Thailand in World Focus.

Now listed as an associate editor of the Nikkei Asian Review. where he has authored a series of monarchist articles that reproduce much of the palace propaganda about the deceased king.

pattyThe most recent contribution to appear at Nikkei Asian Review is a puff piece that is the first that begins the reorientation of international “journalism” to the new king. In a series called “Agents of Change 2017,” Faulder fawns over Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol.

Who? Yes, plucked from relative obscurity (except for the royal news broadcast each day in Thailand), she “qualifies” because she is the new king’s first daughter.

Faulder describes her as holding “a unique position in Thailand, both by birth and from her life experience,” and trawls for something to say, quoting an unnamed diplomat from 2009 as saying  she had “an increasingly high profile and a reputation for being perhaps the sharpest of the royal family members.” That diplomat, if he or she really existed, was disingenuous.

Part of the reason for highlighting “Patty” is to do a bit of royal laundry. She “is the daughter of Princess Soamsawali, the first of three wives [we count 4] of then Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. Her mother, a niece of Queen Sirikit, remains one of the most active and visible members of the royal family, despite being divorced in 1991.”

That refers to the queen’s desire to promote her “line” by having her son marry a first cousin. The deal on the messy divorce was that, unlike more recent women booted out by the prince, with noble blood and the queen a relative, she kept royal position and profile.

At 38, her life is said to involve “a lively social life among high society friends with a more serious side that sees her mixing with soldiers, officials, academics and diplomats.” Her hi-so lifestyle is “normalized” by the claim that she “likes to drive herself around in a red Mini Cooper S or a vivid green Volkswagen Beetle.” For those not in the know, driving oneself is considered “radical” for royals.

While she’s still single, Faulder lets on that there’s the “possibility of royal weddings after her grandfather’s elaborate cremation…”. Why is this relevant? Faulder doesn’t make the point, but as she’s the only offspring of the current crop of royals issued from the late king’s children who has royal blood on both sides of the family, Patty “is expected to play a leading role in support of her father, and in buffing the image of the House of Chakri, the Siamese dynasty founded in 1782.”

Like her royal aunts, she’s claimed to be well educated, having a law doctorate from Cornell University. (Has anyone seen her thesis?) That led to some promotion by the palace propaganda machine, with Faulder pointing out that “briefly joined the Thai permanent mission to the United Nations in New York as a first secretary,” before returning to Thailand to “work” as “a prosecutor in the office of the attorney general.” That seemed brief as well:

After returning to the Thai foreign ministry, she chaired the U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in 2011. She remained for two more years in Vienna as ambassador to Austria, a post she took up at the unusually young age of 34. She was concurrently Thailand’s permanent representative to the U.N. at Vienna, one of the organization’s four global headquarters.

Of course it is “unusually young.” Such things only happen to Thailand’s royals, who are all polymaths and where positions are created for them. No one dares complain that they are dull or unqualified.

Faulder loyally repeats much of the fawning that has already gone on about this princess. She “founded the Princess Pa Foundation with her mother in 1995 to help victims of flooding and natural disasters.” That is, when she was 17. She then “founded and personally funded with 300,000 baht ($8,600) the Kamlangjai (Inspire) Project for women imprisoned with their children…”. Recall that she’s now an heir to a fortune of about $50 billion and she gave this paltry amount. But that investment allows lackey journalists to claim this “gift” is meaningful.

odd-nationalismNothing much has changed in Thailand for the “work” of the foundations and women prisoners are abused and prison conditions in Thailand remain horrendous.

Faulder explains that one of her roles “is putting an engaged and contemporary face on Thailand’s time-honored institution.” This seems to include sharing the media space with her father as she did in the Bike for Mom event earlier in 2015. True to palace propaganda, Faulder adds that the event “showed a resilient, more youthful side to the royal institution, and revealed the future king in evidently robust health…”.

Like her father, she’s portrayed as fit and well exercised. We are told that in “September, she led a mixed party up Fansipan, in northern Vietnam — the highest mountain in the Indochina region.” She took the cable car and then, quite oddly, planted a Thai flag at the concreted summit.

Now that the old king has gone, the queen is sick and senile and the new king is her dad, get used to the idea that she will be promoted and that the propaganda machine will whitewash the new king’s past.

Update: Readers may be interested in Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s take on this story about Patty.