Royalists, academics and palace propaganda

10 01 2021

A couple of days ago we posted on advice to protesters. That advice was well-meaning. At the Asia Times Online, however, academic Michael Nelson of the Asian Governance Foundation, writes the protesters off: “[Gen] Prayut [Chan-ocha] does not seem to be in danger. The royal-military alliance seems to be unassailable…”. He adds: “The protesters, though big on Facebook, also have little backing in the population. And now, the government is getting tough with them…”.

That seems somewhat premature, even if the regime has the “benefit” of a virus uptick and can use the emergency decree to good ill effect. In any case, as far as support is concerned, we recall the Suan Dusit survey in late October that seemed rather supportive of the protesters. Things might have changed given the all out efforts by the regime and palace, but we think the demonstrators have had considerable support.

Another academic is getting into the fray to support the regime and palace. At the regime’s website Thailand Today, pure royalist propaganda by “Prof. Dr. Chartchai Na Chiang Mai” is translated from The Manager Online. For obvious reasons, the regime loves the work of this royalist propagandist who tests the boundaries of the term “academic.” But, then, Chartchai is “an academic at the National Institute of Development Administration or NIDA,” a place that has played an inglorious role in recent politics and where “academic” seems a loose term used to describe a person associated with NIDA.

Royalists ideologues posing as academics have been well rewarded. Chartchai is no different. His rewards have included appointment to the junta’s Constitution Drafting Committee and its National Reform Council. In these positions, he opposed any notion of an elected prime minister and supported the junta’s propaganda activities on its constitution. He has also been a propagandist for “sufficiency economy,” a “theory” lacking much academic credibility but which is religiously promoted as one of the “legacies” of the dead king.

Self-crowned

His latest effort is a doozy. Published in November 2020, “Resolute and Adaptive: The Monarchy in the Modern Age” is a defense of a neo-feudal monarchy. It seeks to dull the calls for reform by claiming that King Vajiralongkorn “has already been reforming the institution of the monarchy to adapt in a modern context, even before protesters were making their demands for reform. Moreover, His Majesty’s approach has always been people-centred.”

This sounds remarkably like the royalist defense made of King Prajadhipok after the 1932 revolution, suggesting he was thinking about granting a constitution before the People’s Party, a claim still made by royalist and lazy historians. In the current epoch, if the king is “reforming,” then the calls for reform are redundant.

Reflecting the good king-bad king narrative, in a remarkable contortion, Chartchai warns that the bad king should not be compared with his father. He declares this “unjust” and “unfair.” The bad king is “preserving those achievements, but to also work with all sectors of the country to extend these accomplishments even further, as he carries his father’s legacy onwards into the future.”

That’s exactly the palace’s propaganda position on Vajiralongkorn.

How has Vajiralongkorn “sought to reform the monarchy”? Readers may be surprised to learn that the king has been “adjusting royal protocol by closing the gap between himself and his subjects, allowing public meetings and photo-taking in a more relaxed manner which differs greatly from past practices.”

Of course, this is recent and the palace’s propaganda response to the demonstrations. Before that, the king worked to distance the palace from people. Not least, the king lived thousands of kilometers from Thailand.

A second reform – again a surprising construction for propaganda purposes – is the “reform of the Crown Property Bureau…”. The king officially taking personal control of all royal wealth and property through new, secretly considered, laws demanded by the king is portrayed as intending to “demystify the once conservative and disorderly system the King himself found to be corrupt. The Bureau is now made more transparent to the public and prevents any further exploitation of the old system.”

There’s been no public discussion of this CPB corruption and nor is there any evidence that there is any transparency at all. In our research, the opposite is true.

We are told that the king’s property acquisitions were also about corruption and “public use.” The examples provided are the “Royal Turf Club of Thailand under the Royal Patronage” and military bases in Bangkok.

The Royal Turf Club was a which was a “gathering place for dubious but influential people” and has been “reclaimed as part of the royal assets is in the process of being developed into a park for public recreational activities.” That “public use” is a recent decision, with the palace responding to criticism. Such plans were never mentioned when the century old racecourse was taken. It is also “revealed” that the military bases that now belong personally to the king will be for public purposes. Really? Other “public places” in the expanded palace precinct have been removed from public use: the zoo, parliament house, and Sanam Luang are but three examples. We can only wait to see what really happens in this now huge palace area.

Chartchai also discusses how “[r]Reform of the Rajabhat University system or the Thai form of teachers’ college, has also slowly and steadily been taking place, with the King’s Privy Counsellor overseeing the progress.”

Now we understand why all the Rajabhats have been showering the queen with honorary doctorates. The idea that this king – who was always a poor student and didn’t graduate from anything – knows anything about education is bizarre. How the king gained control of the 38 Rajabhats is not explained.

What does this mean for the protests? The implication is, like 1932, those calling for reform are misguided. Like his father, the king “is the cultural institution and must remain above politics and under the constitution.” Is he under the constitution when he can have the regime change it on a whim and for personal gain?

Chartchai “explains” that “the monarchy is constantly adjusting itself…”. He goes full-throttle palace propaganda declaring the monarchy a bastion of “independence, cultural traditions, and soul of the nation, is adjusting and fine-tuning itself for the benefit of the people.” As such, Thais should ignore the calls for reform and properly “understand, lend support and cooperation so that the monarchy and Thai people sustainably and happily co-exist.”

For an antidote to this base royalist propaganda, readers might enjoy a recent and amply illustrated story at The Sun, a British tabloid, which recounts most of Vajiralongkorn’s eccentric and erratic activities.





Further updated: Yuletide lese majeste

22 12 2020

There’s been quite a lot of commentary on the protests, some motivated by the avalanche of lese majeste cases and some by the fact that the end of the year begs for reviews.

One that caught our attention is by Matthew Wheeler, Senior Analyst for Southeast Asia at the International Crisis Group. It is quite a reasonable and careful rundown of events prompting the demonstrations and the call for reform of the monarchy.

The lese majeste cases pile higher and higher. In a Bangkok Post report on people turning up to hear lese majeste charges, eight are listed: Arnon Nampa, Intira Charoenpura, Parit Chiwarak, Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, Nattathida Meewangpla, Shinawat Chankrachang, Phimsiri Phetnamrop, and Phromson Wirathamchari.

We can’t locate the latter two on the most recent Prachatai graphic that listed 34 activists charged under 112, but that graphic does include five with names withheld. For us, this brings the total charged to 34-36, but it may well be more.

There was some good news on lese majeste. It is reported that, after more than 4.5 years, a ludicrous 112 charge against Patnaree Chankij have been dismissed. The mother of activist Sirawith Seritiwat, the Criminal Court on Tuesday dismissed the charge. Her one word “jah” in a chat conversation was said to be the cause of the charge but, in reality, going after her was the regime’s blunt effort to silence her son.

A second piece of reasonable news is that the Criminal Court also dismissed charges of sedition brought by the military junta against former deputy prime minister Chaturon Chaisaeng on 27 May 2014 six years ago under Section 116 of the Criminal Code and the Computer Crimes Act. This was another junta effort to silence critics.

As seen in recent days, equally ludicrous charges have been brought against a new generation of critics.

Update 1: Thai PBS reports that the Criminal Court acquitted nine members of the Pro-Election Group who had been charged in late January 2018 with poking the military junta: “Section 116 of the Criminal Code, illegal public assembly within a 150-metre radius of a Royal palace and defying the then junta’s order regarding public assembly of more than five people.”

The defendants were Veera Somkwamkid, Rangsiman Rome, currently a party-list for the Kao Klai party, Serawit Sereethiat, Nattha Mahatthana, Anon Nampa, a core member of the Ratsadon Group, Aekkachai Hongkangwan, Sukrit Piansuwan, Netiwit Chotepatpaisarn and Sombat Boon-ngam-anong.

The court ruled that:

… protesters complaining about the postponement of general elections cannot be regarded as incitement to public unrest. It also said that the protesters had no intention to defy the ban against public assembly within 150-metres of the Royal palace.

Of course, the charges were always bogus, but the junta’s point was to use “law” for political repression.

Update 2: The Nation reports that there were, in fact, 39 defendants who were acquitted.





Remembering 6 October after 44 years

6 10 2020

44 years after the massacre at Thammasat University, Thailand remains under a under a military-backed regime, under an emergency decree and with a monarch who cut his political teeth in the aftermath of this terrible event.

The 6 October 1976 attack on students and supporters by rightist and royalist vigilantes was supported and promoted by elements in the police, military and in the palace. The then king was pleased with the outcome.

Each year we post on this day, remembering those who were murdered, burned alive, raped and beaten. Some of our previous posts: 2018, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.6 Oct

This year we link to just a few of the stories that are available:





Leechs on the taxpayer

9 09 2020

The Nation has an interesting report on royal leeching on the taxpayer – those are our words.

It reports on Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Progressive Movement, and his call for “more transparency and scrutiny of the budget allocated to support the monarchy…”.

Thanathorn has posted comments on Facebook, following up on his earlier reported comments.

It is stated that the “proposed budget allocation for the highest institution amounts to Bt37.23 billion, up 25 per cent from fiscal year 2020…”. This is about $1.2 billion. And we are thinking that this is not adding up all the leeches suck from the taxpayer.

It “includes a direct budget of Bt20.21 billion and indirect budget allocated via other state agencies of Bt16.92 billion.” Almost 9 billion baht is “allocated to agencies under Palace supervision…”.

One item Thanathorn mentioned was the budget for “maintenance and repair of 38 aircraft and helicopters of the Royal Family in fiscal year 2021” which he said “amounted to Bt1.97 billion, compared with Bt1.58 billion, Bt1.46 billion and Bt1.29 billion in fiscal 2020, 2019 and 2018 respectively.” 38 aircraft! Wow. How many royals get to flit about in these aircraft?

Thanathorn complains that the funds allocated to the “monarchy was least scrutinised…”. As far as we are aware, there has been no scrutiny at all for several decades.

He made the sensible suggestion that “Palace agencies follow budget procedures just like other state agencies.”





Taxpayer billions for the palace

24 08 2020

A report in The Nation deserves (almost) full reproduction:

Amid increasing calls from student activists for reforms to the monarchy, the steep rise in the annual budget for Palace agencies over the years has drawn the attention of netizens.

Reproduced from The Nation

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Progressive Movement and former leader of the disbanded Future Forward Party, said the House committee vetting the national budget bill for fiscal year 2020-21 met on Thursday. The representative from the Budget Bureau spent only two minutes presenting the Palace agencies’ budget without giving much details, so he asked for more explanation.

Thanathorn made the revelation in a Facebook post on Friday.

The annual budget of Palace agencies has been pegged at Bt8.98 billion for the next fiscal year.

Thanathorn is an adviser to the committee and attended the budget scrutiny meeting on Thursday. He took notes and posted the details of the committee’s discussions on the Progressive Movement’s Facebook page on Friday.

Palace agencies have asked for Bt8.98 billion for 2021 fiscal year (October 2020 to September 2021. The amount was up 16.8 per cent from Bt7.68 billion spent in the current fiscal year, compared to a 3.1 per cent rise in the overall national budget, Thanathorn pointed out.

Thanathorn questioned at Thursday’s meeting about the wide gap between estimated and actual spending of Palace agencies from 2018 to 2021.

According to Budget Bureau records, the estimated spending for fiscal 2018 was Bt4.19 billion, but actual spending was 52.5 per cent higher at Bt6.39 billion.

The estimated expenditure for fiscal 2019 was Bt 4.69 billion while actual spending was Bt6.8 billion; the estimate for fiscal 2020 was Bt5.04 billion while actual spending was Bt 7.68 billion, and the estimate for 2021 is Bt5.41 billion, but Palace agencies are seeking Bt8.98 billion.

Viyada Chotrattanasiri, deputy director at the Budget Bureau, explained to Thanathorn that the government had issued an emergency decree last year to transfer security units from the Defence Ministry to Palace supervision, so that added about Bt2 billion to the Palace agencies’ budget in the current fiscal year. Excluding that amount, the budget was actually down by Bt833 million, she noted.

For fiscal 2021, the Defence Ministry had cut its budget by Bt1.3 billion while the budget for personnel of Palace agencies had risen by Bt1.29 billion, she said.

Thanathorn said that he had questioned the increasing budget allocation by the government to Palace agencies, which is on a sharp upward trend until fiscal 2024, with current estimates rising to Bt10.69 billion and the potential of actual spending overshooting the estimate.

He called for a cut in the budget allocation for Palace agencies in line with the overall national budget, saying he was concerned about the fallout of Covid-19 on common people, public debt and dwindling tax revenue.

As of Sunday evening, Thanathorn’s Facebook post on the Palace budget had got over 38,000 likes, 3,800 comments and 15,000 shares….





Updated: Flashback 6 October 1976

6 10 2019

As we do each year, we recall the events of 6 October 1976, where military, right-wing thugs and palace came together to murder protesters and unleash a rightist authoritarianism led by a palace man that was soon replaced by a direct military regime.

Those events have had sad resonances over the decades and the blood continues to drip from the hands of those who have been the military’s leaders and its ideologues.

This year we remember 1976 with a reproduction of a booklet that came out on 2008 from the Pridi Banomyong Institute.

Download the 16-page PDF here.

Update: For those who haven’t seen it yet, the article by Puangthong Pawakapan and Thongchai Winichakul, “The desecration of corpses on 6 October 1976: who, how and why” at New Mandala is well worth some contemplation.





Humpty’s men

3 07 2019

Marwaan Macan-Markar, at the Nikkei Asia Review, contributes a long and useful review of the remolding of the relationship between monarchy and military.

He claims that diplomats in Bangkok know which military leaders are closest to King Vajiralongkorn by a pin with an “image of Prince Dipangkorn, the king’s 14-year-old son” which are “pinned on the left breasts of a select few military leaders…”. (Dipangkorn is widely considered to be heir apparent, lives in Germany and seldom appears the full quid.)

Gen Apirat

One diplomat described those wearing the pin as “a small network,” with Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong an important bearer of the pin. Gen Apirat is known to present himself as “fiercely loyal to the king.”

Macan-Markar says that this “network” indicate “a major change in the relationship between two of Thailand’s most powerful institutions — the monarchy and the military” under King  Vajiralongkorn.

While his analysis, based on interviews with diplomats, pundits and academics, is interesting, it is one that is based on a kind of “Kremlinology” of military watching which can be somewhat misleading if the forest is obscured by the trees. Hence the interminable speculation over Queen’s Guard versus King’s Guard.

In our view, it is misguided to see the king’s faith in the “senior generals of the King’s Guard, a Bangkok-based faction” as representing a spurning of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and his junta. As far as anyone can tell from available evidence, the junta has done everything that the king has wanted and it is Gen Prayuth, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda who have put in place military succession plans that lead from Gen Apirat to Gen Narongphan Jitkaewthae, currently commander of the First Army region and Gen Songwit Noongpakdee, the leader of the Bangkok-based 1st Infantry Division.

That “defense analysts say the monarch’s choice of trusted lieutenants stems from his own military record” is no surprise, now. What they miss, however, is that the king’s succession was a long one, with his father incapacitated, and the then crown prince and his advisers long having had influence over the military brass.

Interestingly, and barely mentioned, is the ways in which the king revamped the Privy Council, the Crown Property Bureau and the palace administration over that period of long succession. In these moves, he made these institutions his own, bringing in junta loyalists and advancing those closest to him, including Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol, long the king’s private secretary and now, arguably, his most powerful adviser, heading the CPB, Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement Group, among other important bodies.

ACM Sathitpong Sukwimol (clipped from The Nation)

All of these rearrangements, promotions and not a few demotions and ousters do mean that a military man on the throne has ensured that he has the military under control. Just in case of problems, there’s some “insurance,” with ACM Sathitpong’s younger brother Pol Maj Gen Torsak at the head of a large force of “protectors.”

Naturally, Prawit remained a Prayuth confidant during the five years of the junta, serving as the deputy prime minister and defense minister. Gen. Anupong Paochinda, another former army chief from the Queen’s Guard, was also a key figure in Prayuth’s coup and junta.

That the king promotes the “King’s Guard, the faction he was part of, in the driving center of army power,” hardly seems a revelation. Yet there’s no evidence that the Queen’s Guard is in any way untrustworthy or disloyal. (It was King Bhumibol who placed his son in the King’s Guard.)

With little evidence, Macan-Markar discerns that the generals of Queen’s Guard is somehow more “politically ambitious” than those of the King’s Guard. There’s no evidence for this. In addition, there’s an amnesia for previous claims made. In the view of many pundits, it was the Queen’s Guard who conducted the 2014 coup in order to ensure the current king’s succession. What happened to that position? And, it was the Queen’s Guard coup masters who purged the military of those perceived as disloyal.

Former foreign minister Kasit Piromya is quoted as saying: “The king clearly wants a vertical hierarchy without any distractions and divisions that can cause splits in the army…”. That seems to have been the junta’s aim as well. To see this as a move against the Queen’s Guard ignores the fact that the junta’s role has been to “cleanse” the military, to immeasurably strengthen it and to embed it at all levels of society. That’s the important message, not the Kremlinology of watching factions.

It seems that “experts” on the military blame “factional rivalries” for “repeated coups.” We think the experts need to re-read the history of successful coups.

Former ambassador and new author James Wise is right to observe that “the monarchy and the military exercise authority in their own right, often without reference to the more familiar legislative, executive and judiciary…”. The big picture matters.

When Kasit predicts: “No more coups,” we think he’s in la-la land. It will depend, as in the past, on on perceptions of “threat” to the monarchy and the broader ruling class.





Updated: Prem dead I

26 05 2019

The grand old meddler in Thailand’s politics, from the 1980s to recent times, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda is dead, aged 98.

We expect the buffalo manure to be piled high for him as royalists and lazy commentators recall his time in power as an unelected premier as somehow better than now. In fact, Thailand’s politics seems strangely locked in the 1980s, and that’s largely due to Prem and his political and military meddling, promoting lapdogs and loyalists and refusing to accept the will of the people as expressed in elections. Others will not look beyond his “loyalty” to the throne where it must be acknowledged that he did much to promote the palace’s political role.

Update: Readers might like to reflect on Prem’s period as unelected premier. While not a great scan, Gareth McKinley’s 1984 discussion of a coup attempt is useful, with information on lese majeste and the monarchy’s political role. There’s an op-ed from The Nation (3 May 1988) “Prem’s rules of the game: A 1988 guide for laymen” which pokes fun at his leadership “style.”

And it is worth remembering how Prem was forced out in 1988 and “rescued” by the king, also from The Nation, when it produced an Afternoon Extra, from 28 August 1988:

On his 2006 coup role, WikiLeaks was useful. He also supported the 2014 coup, and New Mandala also commented. The BBC produced a profile in 2016, without too many of his warts. One of PPT’s most viewed posts “A country for old men?” is probably worth reading again.





How huge is the Royal Guard?

12 04 2019

Does anyone know how big the Royal Guard is?

We ask because a recent announcement in the Royal Gazette states that the king has “retired” 1,261 officers. It goes on to name every single one of them.

Almost all of those listed are Army Generals, Lieutenant Generals and Major Generals or their rank equivalents in the Navy, Air Force and Police. There are a few who have ranks lower than generals.

The announcement has no statement of the reasons, but some social media accounts are that these are officers who are being retired and who are old.

That may or may not be true, but the capacity to send more than 1,200 very senior generals to retirement from those allocated to the palace suggests that that force is huge.





Further updated: Media reprimands Gen Apirat

20 02 2019

Army commander Gen Apirat Kongsompong has been hammered by the media today. For example, the Bangkok Post had an editorial, two op-eds and a story all highly critical of his attack on campaigning politicians as “scum.”

In the story, it was reported that “[p]oliticians demanded … the army chief remain neutral in the lead-up to the … election after he rebuked them for calling for defence budget cuts and revived an anti-communist song…”.

Actually, it is a song that belongs to extreme rightists and ultra-royalists, most recently used by the yellow-shirted royalists People’s Alliance for Democracy and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee to attack pro-Thaksin Shinawatra groups and politicians.

In other words, Gen Apirat was reaffirming his ultra-royalism as an anti-democratic rightist. The notion that he will be “neutral” is farcical. The military is never politically neutral.

Commenting on this, Ploenpote Atthakor points out that one of the (false) justifications for the 2014 military coup was about eliminating political conflict. As she points out, Gen Apirat is promoting conflict. For PPT, it is clear that the military has been stirring conflict throughout recent decades. The military is the problem.

Even determined anti-Thaksinista, Veera Prateepchaikul points out:

Many people may love the song and call it patriotic. But for a person like me and many others who are old enough to have witnessed the horrors of the “October 6” massacre and heard it being blasted around the clock before that fateful day by the army-run Yankroh radio station alternating with the hateful phone-in comments against the students inside Thammasat University, this is unquestionably a far-right hate song for its association with this bloody history.

The Post’s editorial comes straight to the point:

The troubling response of the army commander to a rather benign political campaign promise has quickly escalated. Gen Apirat Kongsompong didn’t just try to refute the call to cut both the military budget and the number of general officers. He retaliated by reviving the most hateful song in Thai political history, and promised to flood military bases and the airwaves with it. It is a move with an ironclad guarantee of major political and national division.

It continues to condemn Gen Apirat, saying what was:

hugely disappointing and inappropriate was Gen Apirat’s instant and ill-formed leap into the political campaign. The decision of the highest ranking army officer to step into the election debate was questionable. What is indefensible is his order to revive and propagandise his soldiers with the noxious and odious 1970s song Nak Phandin.

Yet it is hardly out of the ordinary. Gen Apirat, like his predecessor Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha have made their careers by being palace loyalists, rightists, and murderous military bosses.

Perhaps the most interesting commentary, however, was at Thai Rath, which outlines Gen Apirat’s family story. His father, Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong, a diminutive rightist also known as “Big George,” was a corrupt leader of the 1991 coup. The paper points out that, following a dispute between Sunthorn’s wife and mistress in 2001, people were stunned to learn that the property under dispute was valued at over 3.9 billion baht.

Thai Rath goes through the whole story of this corrupt general, the father of the current military commander. Being a powerful military boss has been lucrative, but for the Kongsompong clan, the wealth siphoned was conspicuously huge. We have no evidence of who shared in that huge wealth.

Update 1: It is not just the media that has gone after Apirat. As Prachatai reportsAs Prachatai reports:

… student activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, along with other members of the Student Union of Thailand, also went to the Army Headquarters to read an open letter to the Army Commander in Chief protesting Gen Apirat’s comment on ‘Nuk Paen Din.’

Following that:

… political activists Ekkachai Hongkangwan and Chokchai Paibulratchata held a demonstration at the Royal Thai Army Headquarters in response to army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong’s order to broadcast the controversial Cold War anthem ‘Nuk Paen Din’ (‘Scum of the Earth’) on all army radio stations and over the intercom at military headquarters.

Update 2: As might be expected, the military and its rabid response to politicians has been defended by what the Bangkok Post describes as “Chulalongkorn University political scientist Panitan Wattanayagorn…”. Panitan is neither a “political scientist” nor an “academic” in the true senses of these words. Rather, he is a toady of the military and in its pay. He’s a propagandist for the military, lying that “army chief Gen Apirat spoke out in response to the proposed defence budget cuts because he intended to defend the interests of rank-and-file soldiers who would be affected by any spending cuts.” It is a ludicrous fabrication. Defending the murderous military is nit the work of serious academics.