Explaining ownership of the royal billions

16 06 2018

In the past, during the previous reign, several governments and palace propagandists have sought to “explain” that the Crown Property Bureau’s wealth is not the king’s personal property to do with as he sees fit. Some have even suggested that the CPB is some kind of fund for the nation. Ambassadors have frequently made this point when defending one of the world’s wealthiest monarchies.

Yet this ruse used by royal and royalist propagandists is no longer possible.

An AFP report at The Japan Times states that the CPB has issued an “explanatory note” that makes it crystal clear that King Vajiralongkorn “has been granted full ownership of the palace’s billions of dollars of assets under a law passed last year…”.

This was a point made in earlier accounts, and some argue that in practice this has been the case for decades, but now it is official.

The assets of the CPB are probably now about $60 billion, “although the monarchy does not publicly declare its wealth and is shielded from scrutiny by a draconian lese majeste law.” The CPB has “a vast portfolio that includes massive property ownership and investments in major companies.”

Last July’s amended a royal property law means “all ‘Crown Property Assets’ are to be transferred and revert to the ownership of His Majesty, so that they may be administered and managed at His Majesty’s discretion…”.

The “explanation” is not dated but is widely available, including at the CPB’s website.

It states that “all of the CPB’s shareholdings will also ‘be held in the name of His Majesty’.”

It also states that “previously tax exempt CPB assets will now be liable to taxation ‘in line with His Majesty’s wishes’.” We wait to see how this develops.





Updated: How’s the new king looking?

7 04 2018

Each year, the academic journal Asian Survey has articles which provide brief country summaries of the previous year’s significant events. For 2017, well-known analyst and commentator Duncan McCargo has completed the article on Thailand (opens a PDF).

The article is necessarily short but has some comments on King Vajiralongkorn that merit posting here, not least because they mesh with some of PPT’s comments a few days ago.

In the abstract, McCargo states that “…King Vajiralongkorn is untested and lacks popular legitimacy.” True enough, although it has to be said that almost all those who succeed to thrones are largely “untested” and that popularity is no qualification for monarchy, where it is bloodlines that matter. Like a few other commentators, including some who are anti-monarchists, there’s a tendency to unfavorably compare Vajiralongkorn with his deceased father. Unfortunately, some of these comparisons required considerable retro-acceptance of palace propaganda about the dead king.

When he deals with the new reign, McCargo observes:

New King Vajiralongkorn’s detractors have long dismissed him as a playboy who takes little interest in serious matters, but since ascending the throne on December 1, 2016, he has proved to be an activist and interventionist monarch.

This is an important point. The areas where he has intervened, however, have been mostly about the monarchy and its privileges and the control of the palace. Clearly, Vajiralongkorn has been planning his succession maneuvers for some years. McCargo continues:

King Vajiralongkorn apparently pays very close attention to government policies and matters of legislation, especially where they may affect the legitimacy or privileges of the monarchy, or touch on matters of religion. He carefully monitors promotions and transfers inside the bureaucracy, especially the upper echelons of the military and the police force.

His interest in religious matters goes back to the 1990s and we know about his intervention in police promotions. Readers may recall that the last police intervention was in favor of Pol Gen Jumpol Manmai. Later Jumpol was made a Grand Chamberlain in Vajiralongkorn’s palace. That didn’t go well and, as far as we can recall, nothing has been seen or heard from Jumpol since…. Which reminds us, if legal infractions cause the king to disgrace a senior aide, can we expect that Gen Prem Tinsulanonda will soon be sacked from the Privy Council by the king?

Presumably the upcoming military reshuffle will result from a junta-palace consensus. One report reckons the reshuffle buttresses The Dictator’s position.

But back to McCargo’s commentary. He says:

… the new king remains neither popular nor widely respected; crucially, while his father never left Thailand after 1967, King Vajiralongkorn spends much of his time in Germany. His private life is the topic of constant gossip and speculation. The prospect of his coronation—and a raft of associated symbolic changes, such as new banknotes, coins, and stamps—fills many Thais with apprehension.

In fact, Bhumibol visited Laos in April 1994 (an error also made officially), but this slip doesn’t diminish the point about Vajiralongkorn’s extensive periods away from Thailand. On the bit about gossip, that’s been true for several decades and the king seems to have accepted that he is a “black sheep.” That there is “apprehension” over symbolic changes may be true, but if a report in the Bangkok Post is to be believed, that apprehension seems to be dissipating. It says:

Large crowds formed long queues at provincial offices of the Treasury Department to exchange cash for the first lot of circulated coins bearing the image of King Rama X on Friday, the Chakri Memorial Day.

Palace propaganda continues apace, the military junta has crushed republicans, and monarchists are remaining adhered to the institution if not the person.

Update: Another measure of apprehension dissipating might be seen in the report of “traditional” clothing sales. While the report refers to the influence of a hit soap opera, the influence of the king’s efforts at a revival of all things pre-1932 are having an impact too.





The royal(ist) mess that is Thailand

3 04 2018

The success of palace propaganda, reinforced by decades of fascist-military domination, promoted by a royalist lapdog media, both state and private sector, and buttressed by draconian laws and belligerent royalist agencies like the military and ISOC, has been so sweeping that there’s little overt opposition these days (we note the linked article is no longer free to download). That which does exist has been firmly under the military boot in recent years.

Some wondered if the succession would temper there would be some cutting of the strings that tie Thais to the palace. Wonder no longer. Almost nothing has changed. As evidence, we cite two news stories from the last day or so.

The Nation reports that “Thai Heritage Conservation Week” is upon us. Like the recent noe-feudal celebration of the repression under pre-1932 absolute monarchy, this week royal posterior polishers get another chance to dress in feudal style – “traditional costumes.”

The useless Culture Ministry “kicked off the week with Thai Heritage Conservation Day on April 2…”. That day “has been celebrated annually since 1985, honouring … Princess … Sirindhorn, who was born on April 2, 1955, and her contributions to the conservation of the nation’s heritage.”

We can’t immediately recall her “contributions” but there must be plenty claimed for her by palace propagandists.

More worryingly, The Nation also reports on the kerfuffle in Chiang Mai over the mansions being built on forested – now deforested – hills that will be handed out to judges and others in the Ministry of Justice.

What do the people opposing this project do to protest? They “will petition … King … Vajiralongkorn for help.”

A network of those opposed to the project will gather signatures before petitioning the king.

Why? Get publicity? Look doltish? Look loyal? Who knows and who can blame them in the current ideological straitjacket of royalism.

Apparently they “would also lodge a complaint with the Administrative Court in early May,” which seems far more grown up.

Yellow shirts among the opponents blame Thaksin Shinawatra and his clan for the problem. Perhaps that says something about the feudal fawning.





Updated: The impacts of lese majeste

25 11 2017

Somehow we missed an article by journalist Delphine Thouvenot who writes for AFP. “Trading Softly in Thailand” is interesting because it is an attempt to cut through the palace propaganda and show the impacts of the lese majeste law. It is worth reading in full, but here are some interesting bits:

In many ways, I should have been moved when some 300,000 people poured out on the streets of Bangkok in October for the days-long funeral of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol….

But as a foreign journalist, I was well aware of the other side of the monarchy, which is protected by one of the strictest lese-majeste laws in the world. People have landed in prison for posting an unflattering BBC portrait of a new king on Facebook, or posting comments deemed insulting to the late king’s dog (seriously)….

On the funeral: “All other coverage vanished from newspapers and television.”

When I first got to Thailand, I, like most Westerners, was also fascinated by the ceremonial rituals of the land….

But after four years of living here, the initial fascination had worn off….

I did not see anyone questioning whether the year-long mourning period, or its cost or impact, was justified….

Well, we had some comments, but back to the story:

Because of the lese-majeste, news outlets like AFP have to tread carefully about what they write about the royals. So reporting in Thailand has been tricky at times….

A few days before the funeral, I went to interview Sulak Sivaraksa…. He is a rare intellectual who dares to speak out, but still with extreme caution. The only thing that he accepts to have on the record is that, if past kings are also protected by lese-majeste laws, historians won’t be able to do their jobs….

Ahead of the cremation, I tried to find analysts to speak about the significance of the event. I got one refusal after another. Finally one, David Streckfuss, based in Thailand, agreed. He dictated his quotes to me word by word, changing them here and there to make sure the formulation was not too daring. Normally I would have found this nitpicking ridiculous. But here, I could understand his caution.

One of the things he told me is that other monarchies, like the one in Britain, could evolve because they were open to criticism from civil society. There is nothing like that in Thailand. On the contrary, the Thais are always careful what they say about the royals — there have been instances of people being denounced by a brother, a taxi driver, a neighbor….

Britain’s Daily Mail has been blocked in Thailand for years, after publishing embarrassing material about the new king….

The royal palace is a well-oiled [propaganda] machine. There are no news leaks here. Messages are transmitted in circuitous ways….

That’s not entirely true as there are leaks (think of the naked Srirasmi video), but the general point is true. And, under King Vajiralongkorn, expect efforts to prevent leaks as he attempts to control his image ever more carefully.

To understand what’s going on in Thailand, you need to become adept at reading nearly subliminal signals at times. For example, on the day of the cremation, I see a woman get down from the new king’s Rolls Royce. She is dressed in red, like the new king, and is a familiar face at official ceremonies, but newspapers never write her name or title. (Like they never write about sons who were products of the new king’s second marriage and who currently live in the US.)

A video colleague who had come from Hong Kong to help with coverage asks who the woman is, so that he could put it in the script accompanying his video. Thai colleagues get uncomfortable and tell him to forget it. We all know who she is, but we can’t write her name without official confirmation.

So I call the palace spokeswoman to ask this young woman’s title. After a long pause, she directs me to the office of the new king…. which never answers the phone. The identity of the mystery woman will remain for our clients just that… a mystery.

Of course, there was more than one consort-concubine involved.

Needless to say, neither I nor any of my colleagues have interviewed the new king. I made a request to do so last year, when he was still a crown prince. I was told to go directly to his palace, Ambarasathan, to deposit my written request by hand. I’ll never forget the guards at the palace, all wearing a pin with a portrait of the prince as a baby on their uniforms. I never did get that interview, but the trip was worth it just to see those pins. To me they spoke volumes about the personality of the next king who will head this nation.

We are left to assume that Delphine Thouvenot has left Thailand. Otherwise there would be trouble. There would be trouble because of revealing nothing other than the secrecy of the palace and its machinations.

Update: A reader pointed us to an Australian radio report as an example of the pathetic approach still taken by some reporters based in Bangkok and for who the initial fascination has not worn off. The bit on Thailand must please the palace propagandists.





Updated: Making monarchy

19 11 2017

Sport360.com is not usually the subject of a post at PPT. Yet we felt there’s one point in an article about a middle-ranked Thai golfer that reflects something being seen more broadly in Thailand.

Readers will recall the widespread criticism of now King Vajiralongkorn as his father declined and his succession became a reality. There were suggestions that there was a succession crisis that might even split the country or bring down the monarchy.

We are not sure that the succession crisis was all it was said to be. Even so, thanks in part to the repressive military regime and its displays of loyalty to the monarchy, and despite the king’s grasping and threatening personality, he seems to be settling in.

This isn’t all that different from his father’s experience in the period when the royalist General Sarit Thanarat grabbed power and managed the early period of the royal restoration.

Part of the process of creating this new monarch is making a public image that can be used in propaganda.

This process has begun. He’s a “concerned” monarch: he reportedly expressed concern for people waiting for the funeral; he wanted more done for flood victims. We have no idea whether these “concerns” were real or concocted; the point is that they become part of building the image.

So how does golf fit? Under the deceased king, it became almost mandatory for athletes to display excessive loyalty, often handing over their trophies to the king and dedicating their victories to him and his claimed “inspiration.”

Many royalist Thais have come to see this propaganda as “normal” and even expect such displays. Some athletes seem to understand the requirement for regular expressions of loyalty, contrived or otherwise.

So when golfer Kiradech Aphibarnrat turned in a reasonable score in a recent tournament, it became a monarchy story: “Thailand and its proud people have gone through emotional turmoil this year [apparently because the king died last year] – but one of the country’s most beloved sportsmen has risen above it.”

The article claims that Kiradech “has flown the Thai flag high” and hopes for a good score in an event “to honour the late king’s memory.”

That’s all about the dead king, but then this from the golfer: “I’ve tried to do my job. It hasn’t been a good year for Thailand after we lost the king, even though we have a new, fantastic one…”.

There it is. The more it is repeated, the more likely it is to ingrained. Vajiralongkorn has many traits that saw him ridiculed. The military has banned ridicule and has tried to limit the reports. More statements like Kiradech’s will pile on the propaganda that the military and palace hope will overwhelm the negative past.

Update: A reader tells us that we should have mentioned Khaosod’s story of about a week ago, on the king getting in on the charity run for hospitals by Toon Bodyslam. The king is said to be Toon’s “biggest fan.” It was reported that: “To show his appreciation for Toon’s ongoing runathon for 11 hospitals across the country, … the [k]ing has arranged gifts to be sent to the 38-year-old singer on Wednesday when he arrives in Surat Thani province…”. He sent one of his top officials, a general, to hand over the gifts. There’s no news on how much money Thailand’s richest man is donating…. There’s probably a reason for that.





Ultra-royalists on the warpath

4 11 2017

In a post on lese majeste just a few days ago, we observed that the dead king’s funeral provided another opportunity for ultra-royalism to reach yet another high point. Unfortunately, it only took a few days for this to be reinforced.

Watch this video of the BBC’s Jonathan Head as he speaks to Narisa Chakrabongse, the great-granddaughter of King Chulalongkorn, who was King Bhumibol’s grandfather. This was on 25 October.

According to some ultra-royalists, this interview constitutes lese majeste.

A youth group we haven’t heard of before, calling itself Young Thai Blood has demanded the dismissal of Head for what they consider was a questioning royalist propaganda (rather than reinforcing it).

We couldn’t help wondering about the rightist congruence on identification, from the Hitler Youth – “Blood and Honour” – to the Unite the Right rally in the US and their use of “Blood and Soil,” adopted from Nazi Party ideology.

Such references suggest the group probably has links with security agencies in Thailand and is likely a creation of those agencies. Interestingly, though, social media comment suggests that the original complaint came from a disgruntled expatriate.

As usual, when the boys of Young Thai Blood claim “Thai blood” for themselves, it is not clear that they really mean “blood.” Rather, it seems they mean a state of mind encased in a body located in the country now called Thailand.

These ultra-royalist dunces rallied on 2 November 2017, and “filed a petition at the British Embassy in Bangkok, urging the UK government to dismiss Jonathan Head, South East Asia Correspondent for BBC News.”

Obviously, these lads don’t are confused and understand that the “BBC is a statutory corporation, independent from direct government intervention…” and that they should have addressed the BBC rather than the Embassy. They blustered and made demands:

Young Thai Blood stated that Head’s question created a misunderstanding about the late King. The question [about the genuineness of love] allegedly reflected the BBC journalist’s lack of knowledge about Thai culture, despite Head having been stationed in Thailand for many years. In addition to calling for Head’s dismissal from the BBC, the group asked for an official apology to all Thai people for having disrespected their beliefs and culture.

“As young people who have Thai blood, we therefore call on the UK government to consider the action of the reporter of the BBC Thailand office and terminate his duty in Thailand, and for the office to publish a statement of apology to Thai people throughout the country,” said Petchmongkol Wassuwan, the group’s representative.

Like all ultra-royalists, they claim to speak for all Thais rather than themselves or their group.

Ominously, these ultra-royalist babblings were supported by M.L. Panadda Disakul, a prince and the Deputy Minister of Education, who says that “Head does not understand Thai history, culture or social etiquette, which should be basic knowledge for any correspondent working in Thailand.” He means that all foreign correspondents should shut up about the monarchy except when producing the same trip that emanates from palace and state propaganda agencies. The princeling called for Head’s expulsion: “He should go back and rest in his home country first…”.

Such rightist rants fit well with the monarchy-military alliance that is seeking to dominate Thailand well into the future.





Observing the funeral

27 10 2017

There’s now a ton of reports about the royal funeral. Much of it involves repetition of the kind of unduly reverential stuff we have posted on of late. Funerals don’t tend to get much critical attention.

While we haven’t looked at every report, one of the most bizarre from the foreign media was an Australian reporter’s effort to find a link with his country. Not the king having been to military school in his country. No, the link to the funeral was found in the horses, said to be from Australia.

Some international reports were visually interesting. A couple mentioned lese majeste, including one at Al Jazeera. Yet this report is schizophrenic in that it is headed by a wholly hagiographical video that is among the most hopelessly useless repetition of palace propaganda we’ve seen. The written report below it is at least a little more insightful. Much better is a BBC report that at least attempts to provide some critical assessment of situation and event (the report is difficult to find at the BBC website, but Andrew MacGregor Marshall provides the link via his Facebook page.

As the BBC report states, many who wanted to attend the funeral were kept out of the area. We assume that many watched the live broadcast of the funeral, which went at a snail’s pace and dragged on all day and night. It concluded by not showing the cremation at about 10 pm. In place of the cremation, well-worn footage of the dead king in the field was shown. Most Thais will have seen these exact images hundreds of times in recent years and more times over several decades.

One thing that was odd about this failure to show the cremation is that the live stream did not advise viewers that it would not be shown (at least that we heard, and we didn’t watch it all). It did repeatedly state the time of the cremation.

The Bangkok Post states: “Live broadcasts were not allowed for the real cremation among the royal family, scheduled to take place at 10pm after another religious rite at 8.30pm at the Song Dhamma Throne Hall.”

One can only wonder as to the reason for this. The cremation was a family event? There’s a taboo about it? Commoners can’t watch such royal events? Or, as some of the more scurrilous social media accounts have it, the  queen, who was not seen during the events of the day (at least not by us), was not to be seen in her sadly incapacitated state.

Whatever the reason, many Thais may well feel that, after a year of official mourning and calls to be “involved” in the funeral, they were short-changed.

Some other events of the funeral deserve mention.

It was noted that the “royal cremation ceremony organising committee” allowed “157,778 people” enter “the Sanam Luang area as of 1pm to attend the royal cremation ceremony.” These people “were separated from the invited VIPs and distinguished guests, who were in the inner area, by fences.” Apart from foreign guests, the VIPs were mostly minor royals, senior bureaucrats and military.

There was some social media discussion of the fact that the (dead) king’s body was not in the ceremonial golden urn. We were bemused by this discussion as this was well-known from the time of his death and reported several times. The urn has become a ceremonial throwback, not unlike the monarchy itself.

We also noticed that all of the officials involved seemed to have the now standard throwback short back and sides military-style haircut that the new king demands of all of his minions.

Meanwhile, we also noticed some of the king’s concubines in full military kit and heard several shouted orders to assembled troops from them. One, presumably (General) Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya, acting as head of the king’s guard, hopping in and out of his several cars as the king went to and from the ceremonial grounds.

The overall image of the funeral was its militarization. The funeral was essentially a military parade, including several iterations of the Colonel Bogey March. The king, all those of the royal family who could, and civilian officials all marched in military style, punctuated by numerous gun salutes from soldiers firing rifles and cannon.

Religious and ceremonial aspects of the funeral were subordinated to its martial tone. The Dictator and the king appear united on Thailand’s military future, just as the dead king appreciated the symbiotic relationship he had with military strongmen.