Very (North) Korea-like

9 01 2019

It may be just us at PPT, but we feel there’s been a considerable uptick in royal propaganda in recent weeks. Perhaps it has to do with the cool season and the fact that royals seem to mainly be in-country and getting out. Or perhaps it is in tandem with the standoff over “election” timing.

PPT has tended to ignore most of this palace propaganda. As we have posted previously, much of it feels like a 1970s refrain: “Meet the new king, Same as the old king” kind of stuff. But the new king uses image and manufactured aura of the old king to his advantage, and as it is done, it continues mantras that seem cut from the North Korean cult of personality playbook.

The latest “report” is perhaps appropriately (North) Korean in that it is about the Navy and Korean vessels.

Remarkably, a serious newspaper actually parrots Family Kim-style propaganda in declaring it was “a day of overwhelming joy for the navy when Government House informed them early this month that two new ships were named by His Majesty the King in remembrance of the late King Bhumibol.”

The captain of the newly-named HTMS Bhumibol Adulyadej blubbered: “We were all overwhelmed. We never thought the vessel would be given a name that means so much…”. The ship, he said, was the “pride of the Royal Thai Navy.”

Like so many non-thinking royalists, the captain declared: “The name has been given by His Majesty the King and it means so much to the Thai people.” How does he know? He’s had it drummed into him from birth.

The fine print is that the new frigate had another name, selected by the Navy, but that’s now ditched. Of course, as many old salts know, changing the name of a vessel brings bad luck. We assume the Navy will perform all kinds of superstitious ceremonies to ward off the bad luck.

Boosting and boostering for the monarch

5 09 2018

Many observers, us included, were struck by the cult of personality that was constructed around King Bhumibol. A rather colorless, unemotional and intellectually dull man surrounded by sycophants, he was manufactured into something that royalists describe as “earned moral authority as a unifying and rallying symbol for the country.”

Many of those same royalists express the view that this “barami” attached to the man and not the position of the monarch. In making this point, they ignore how the adulation of the now dead king was carefully manufactured and was indeed attached to the position. To ignore this is to misunderstand what royalist restorationists have been doing since 1932: recreating a monarchy that transcends any constitution and reduces constitutional constraints on the monarchy’s political and economic power.

In fact, the new king has done much to further that project, being rather more energetic on these matters than his father had been in the last years of the previous reign.

Meanwhile, the military junta has been aggressive in subserviently supporting the king’s political and economic moves and in promoting him in ways that have been both repressive and bombastically propagandistic.

PPT has commented on the propaganda several times, here, here, here and here.

Reuters has a report that exemplifies the efforts being made to build a revised cult of personality for the king. It has a story about what it euphemistically calls “volunteers” who are pictured “cleaning up a clogged Bangkok waterway … wearing yellow foulards and blue hats, [who] are part of a volunteer program started by … Vajiralongkorn…”.

It is reported that 4 million have “volunteered.”

Clipped from the linked Reuters story

The blue and yellow is the new uniform for royalist Thailand.

Reuters states that the “Volunteer Spirit” scheme, “officially began in 2017, [and] has created a new army of civilians who have pledged allegiance to the king and are boosting the image of Vajiralongkorn ahead of his formal coronation at year-end.”

We haven’t seen any announcement about coronation, but The Dictator has long stated that the junta’s rigged election can only be held after coronation.

It is observed that “the deep relationship between the monarchy and the military helped facilitate a smooth royal transition following his death in October 2016.” In fact, that “smoothing” began well before succession.

It also cites unnamed “some observers” who believe that the king “may be seeking to distance himself from the military, which has been in power in Thailand since a 2014 coup.”

Really? Anything is possible, but there’s no evidence for this rumor, and why a military-trained king would want to do this is an open question. We recall an early attempt to promote the king as a kind of democrat. At the time we thought that a rather wild guess. If anything, that sort or guess looks even weaker today.

The author then was David Streckfuss. He’s also cited in the Reuters report, and his view seems unchanged by events since his earlier piece. Referring to the “volunteers,” he states:

If the monarchy is … to distinguish itself from the military and attempt to bring Thailand into a democratic constitutional monarchy, then we might look at this effort by the new monarch as creating an alternative power base….

Again, we see no evidence for this. Indeed, this effort has, as far as we are aware, full junta support. Every member of the junta has the new uniform in the cupboard.

As the report notes: “Vajiralongkorn however is thought to have a good working relationship with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha…”.

But, then, the king is erratic and idiosyncratic, known for becoming enraged by perceived sleights to his “dignity.” The junta bosses have to be on their toes in privileging the king. As far as we have seen, he has been satisfied in getting all that he wants. But in all of the secrecy associated with the palace, there are plenty of rumors and guesses.

As far as we can tell, the “volunteers” are in line with previous efforts to promote monarch and monarchy and reinforce and transition the cult of personality to the new guy.

The report seems to confirm this, but goes back to the absolute monarchy, citing Sulak Sivaraksa. Sulak, who disliked the now deceased king, has an affection for the new one not least because he credits Vajiralongkorn for getting him off a lese majeste charge. He compares Vajiralongkorn to Vajiravudh’s paramilitary force founded in 1911, the Wild Tigers. Sulak doesn’t mention it, but Vajiravudh nearly bankrupted the country and set the scene for 1932.

Boostering for the king, Sulak gets drippy with syrup, saying the king “wants the monarchy to serve the people, to protect the people, to do well for the people…”. He reckons the “volunteers are able to do things that the government might otherwise not be able to, because of their royal backing…. If the government asked them they wouldn’t do it…”. In a final bit of posterior polishing, Sulak declares: “The volunteer program is one of the great successes of the new king.”

The “volunteers” are trained in much the same way as other “volunteer” corps raised by the previous king:

Volunteers have to register with the palace and go through an initiation process that involves lining up and bowing in front of the king’s portrait before being given their yellow and blue uniforms – colors associated with former King Bhumibol and Queen Mother Sirikit, Vajiralongkorn’s mother.

Once they put on their new uniforms, the volunteers do a military-style salute to the king’s portrait and, in a completely new tradition [sic.], they must line up and salute the king’s portrait every time before starting a community activity.

It is all a bit North Korean, but not all that different from the palace propaganda for Bhumibol. Just a little more militaristic, reflecting the new guy’s training and mindset.

The ideological crisis

12 04 2017

Eugene Mark is identified as a Senior Analyst with Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS). He claims “a deep interest in Thailand’s political and security affairs.”

He writes in the Diplomat that “Thailand’s military-led reconciliation talks … have again wrongly perceived the country’s crisis as an elite competition played at the top of a hierarchical society.”

He thinks “the military elites are trying to seek a negotiated deal with opposing politicians while further entrenching their political control.” He sees this as a mistaken perception that may fit with the military’s past efforts to co-opt politicians while giving them little power.

Mark reckons the thing that’s really wrong with Thailand is a “fundamental ideological crisis.” This crisis pits a changing society against “official ideology, which forms the basis for the military elites’ authoritarian control.”

The threat is from electoral politics:

A demand for electoral democracy by the rural populace poses a significant threat to the ideological basis upon which the military elites can exist in the political realm. It essentially rejects the role of the King and his “few good men” in providing for the nation.

Mark thinks that this “ideological crisis can get more severe over time…” due, he asserts, to the end of the last reign: “In other words, the way in which King Bhumibol’s personality cult was formed set the military on the course of failure right from the start.”

The “attempt to strike a negotiated deal with politicians from the opposite end while entrenching their control suggests military leaders do not understand that their justification for authoritarian control has reached an expiration date.”

He predicts more instability unless the elite can come to terms with the people by coming up with a new social contract that is more than an elite arrangement for more exploitation and resistance to change.

Anti-cult of personality

5 12 2016

About a week ago, we posted on the mourning periods associated with the passing of Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the long period of official mourning for the late king of Thailand.

fidelAnother story, at Khaosod, reflects on this:

President Raul Castro announced that Cuba will prohibit the naming of streets and monuments after his brother Fidel, and bar the construction of statues of the former leader and revolutionary icon in keeping with his desire to avoid a cult of personality.

Cult of personality

5 11 2016

At Khaosod, journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk asks:

Excessive and incessant praise and veneration, growing rituals of worship will likely elevate the late King into a demi-god and produce a King-worship cult, and a climate where the only thing one could possibly say about the late King is how great he was and how much you loved him.

What will this mean for Thailand in the long run? I can’t help but wonder.

PPT’s answer is that we already know. Thailand today is seeing nothing that it hasn’t seen for the past 3-4 decades as palace propaganda grew in intensity and became highly politicized.

The cult of personality was a creation that began to be promoted in the 1960s as a political tool for counterinsurgency. By the time of General Prem Tinsulanonda’s never-elected prime ministership, the promotion of the monarchy was taken to new levels. Prem supported the king in ways never seen since the overthrow of the absolute monarchy. Prem picked up all of the royal projects and funded them all with taxpayer monies. Legends were created with taxpayer funds, promoting the king as a demi-god.

Prem was rewarded with political support, lucrative corporate sinecures and a house and job for life at the top of a royalist hierarchy he did so much to create.

Every royal idea has been promoted as the greatest this and that. The king was promoted as great and good. No facts were allowed to stand in the way. School books and even university texts were modified to meet the need for portraying the king as a demigod. And, as we know, laws were strengthened and used to shut up those who found all this cult creating just a bit too stifling.

So Thailand has had a cult of personality for some time. What we are seeing now is an outpouring of this treacly fairy tale compressed in time. That too is a creation, paving the way for a new reign.

Those who thought the death of the “father” might lead to something different in Thailand are probably going to be disappointed as his image will be “protected” as a means to embed the new regime. Royalists are coming on board for the new reign. The cult of personality will remain, for the dead king, but that will be used to protect the military-monarchy regime going forward.

North Thailand or North Korea?

19 06 2015

As we have mentioned several times previously, worshiping Dear or Great Leaders in Thailand and North Korea have some essential similarities.

As the National News Bureau of Thailand reports, in Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand – not North Korea – several “government agencies in Chiang Rai province have convened a meeting to discuss plans to promote the little-known Phaya Phi Phak Forest Park as an important historical attraction.”

Once the area was a site of battles between the Communist Party of Thailand and Thailand’s military. A memorial has been erected at 1,118 m on Doi Phaya Phi Phak to commemorate those who died in the battles. Some details are available in this book (it has a Google books preview) and there’s a CPT version of events available as a pretty slow download of a PDF. The Army was later involved in drug trafficking in the area.

It is apparently Army Region 3 that has led the planning “to develop the national park into a must-see tourist attraction in Chiang Rai, highlighting its forest landscape and historical importance.”

They are managing to convert a one-time battlefield into a royal and military revision of history. That revision commemorates a visit by monarchs: “Their Majesties the King and Queen visited the strife-torn area to boost morale for the soldiers and villagers. During his visit, HM the King also bestowed his footprints, which are now kept in Mengrai Fort.” Of course, this “project” is meant to “celebrate the 88th birthday anniversary of … the King.”

There are several items to be commented on here. First, the use of footprints is remarkable as this implies that the king is being commemorated almost as if he is a living Buddha. Second, the Army is fudging for the king’s footprints in cement are already promoted as a kind of anti-CPT memorial in an Army base in the mountains. And third, the king visited after the cessation of hostilities as part of a royalist ceremony.

But, heck, facts don’t matter when the cult of personality is at work.

A meeting of totalitarian minds

23 11 2014

A reader rightly points out that PPT should have noted a report of almost a week ago at Prachatai that was revealing of the mentality of military dictatorship in the era of the monarchy cult.

Prachatai reports on a remarkable meeting between Thailand’s Education Minister, Admiral Narong Pipatanasai, his Deputy Teerakiat Jareonsettasin, and Permanent Secretary Suthasri Wongsamarn with Mun Song Mo, the Ambassador of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea. The meeting took place at Government House on 14 November.

Cults meet

While it is a very brief report, the junta’s minister made clear that he is clear that, for his troglodyte regime, education in Thailand is about indoctrination and social control. As Asia Correspondent puts it, this is an education system fit for zombies.

The admiral agreed with his North Korean visitor that “the educational systems of both countries are similar.” He went on to propose that his “Ministry will talk with Thai universities with a view to an exchange programme with North Korean universities.” We suspect that some of the first exchanges will be with Chulalongkorn University, where anti-democracy is well understood by several “academics.”

Thai school

Given that the monarchy cult has been an ideological centerpiece of the military-monarchy-tycoon ruling triumvirate for several decades, the schools and universities have been critical for disseminating and enforcing ideological “correctness.”

Thai schools and universities are poor by both regional and international standards. Analysts often wonder why this is when so much of the national budget goes to education. The answer is clear: the system is not designed to educate but to indoctrinate for the ruling elite. In that sense, the comparison with North Korea has some validity.

Dictating IV

10 10 2014

Our earlier Dictating posts are here, here and here.

We pointed out that a dictator is a “ruler who wields absolute authority. A state ruled by a dictator is called a dictatorship.” General Prayuth Chan-ocha is Thailand’s dictator.

In a related post, we stated that while dictators were once considered an endangered species,dictators seem to be making something of  throwback-comeback. We noted that there were several “models” for the Thai Dictator to follow. We nominated North Korea where there is a cult of personality.Prayuth

Of course, as several readers have pointed out, that model could equally be the Thai monarchy, which has promoted a personality cult. While lacking any formal qualifications, the king is promoted as excellent at everything he tries, from arts to sciences. He’s also allegedly brilliant at governance and economics. Unbelievable, but if it is these are the only available messages, heard repeatedly, they become significant.

With the king clinging to life but in terminal decline, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is being promoted as a replacement “father.” In our earlier post, we noted that the Propaganda Ministry, also known as the Education Ministry, released a poem that lauded The Dictator’s simplistic “Twelve Values.” Students are now required to memorize these. The sycophantic Ministry of Propaganda wants to use these royalist “values” throughout the curriculum.

Propaganda - CopyJust to add another piece to the personality cult and the replacement of king by The Dictator, the military junta has announced that “announced … that it is planning to produce a dramatisation of Gen. Prayuth’s teachings [sic.] known as ‘Twelve Values,’ which he says all Thais should practice.”

Who better to promote The Dictator as king than a minor royal and Prayuth sycophant Mom luang Panadda Diskul, who doubles as permanent secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office. He met with “a group of film-makers and actors at the Government House,” stating: “This is our first effort to comply with Gen. Prayuth’s policy that called for a production of a film that promotes national identity…”.

north koreans cryingThe royal royalist said that the dictatorship “is looking to produce [using taxpayers’ money] a ’30-minute film’ based on the ‘Twelve Values’ preached by Gen. Prayuth, and asked the film-makers to submit ideas to the government.”

Panadda explained that once completed, this propaganda film would be shown at “all cinemas across the country…”. We imagine that The Dictator expects that there will be tears of joy from The Leader’s loyal minions.

Sycophant Panadda declared that the proposed film would “focus on Thai culture, peace and order, the national identity, and the adaptation of the Twelve Values” Remarkably, Panadda declared that “people of all ages can watch without getting bored.” Perhaps boredom will be outlawed in the pursuit of “happiness.”



Palace propagandizes for birthday

24 11 2013

With the king’s birthday approaching and with the current political crisis playing out, it is difficult to discern exactly why the palace propaganda machine seems to have kicked up a gear, looking more North Korean than usual. Perhaps it is both?

There are several items of news in recent days that suggest a degree of pressing in order to stay on course. At the Bangkok Post it is reported – by the scribe usually associated with military stories no less – that despite his recent and very long bout in a major hospital, years, in fact, the king is still tail up and nose to the grindstone for the country:

His Majesty the King is still working to alleviate the hardship of his subjects despite his illness, says Suwat Theparak, secretary-general of the Office of Royal Development Projects Board (ORDPB).

What’s he been up to? Here’s the example provided:

MR Disnadda Disakul, secretary-general of the Pidthong Lang Phra (Royal Initiative Discovery) Foundation, said the King received a petition from residents of Nong Loeng Poei village in Rong Kham district of Kalasin on Aug 14 2011, seeking royal help as their community was hit repeatedly by natural disasters.

Yep, two years ago, but the “King has [recently] ordered authorities to turn an area covering 886 rai of land adjacent to Lampao-Chi River in Rong Kham and Kamalasai districts into a a flood retention area.” PPT has no idea who currently occupies or uses this land, but if there are residents, they better start building treehouses like some folks in Ayudhya did a few years ago after a kingly intervention on flooding.

The king’s intervention this time will only “cost about 400 million baht, with work starting at the end of this month. Construction of the flood retention area will take five months, MR Disnadda told a press conference to announce the Nong Leng Poei flood retention project.” The Army is apparently chuffed to be involved as they can bask in the “reflected glory” of kingly intervention:

Assistant army chief Gen Chatchai Sarikalaya said army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has recruited six battalions of army engineers from the Second Army Region and four battalions of army engineers from the Ratchaburi engineer department to dig up land at the site.

Yes, that’s six battalions. At least they won’t be available for shooting demonstrators while they scrape about on orders from above.

This raises the question of health, always very touchy in Thailand, and may even land one in jail if seen to be “spreading a rumor.” As the royal birthday approaches, an aged and sometimes incoherent king does less speech making – not that the birthday speeches were always very coherent when he was well – but were essential to the aura of the monarchy as savior and for the personality cult. So health matters a lot at this time of the year.

Not more than a few days ago, The Nation reported that the king was now “in excellent health and enjoying his stay at Klai Kangwon Palace in Prachuap Khiri Khan, while Her Majesty the Queen’s condition is improving…”. After staying in Siriraj Hospital for some four years, the doctor now says “the conditions at the seaside residence … had contributed to the improvement in His Majesty’s health.” So why was he kept in Siriraj for so long? Superstition? Fear? Serious illness? Fear?

Readers will also be jumping for joy to know that the old schemer General Prem Tinsulanonda, of Privy Council and 2006 military coup infamy, is also in excellent health following a month or so ago. He reportedly “expressed concern at the political situation and praised the military for opting to refrain from getting involved in the conflicts.” Of course, privy councilors are meant to be neither seen nor heard, but that has never bothered Prem.

At the top of the post we mentioned North Korea and we just mentioned the personality cult. This music and several videos are now being played over and over again on television. What we are not able to grasp is why the effort to put this stuff out in English. It is hard to believe that resident foreigners or those abroad will buy this kind of molasses. We can only imagine that the images portrayed of a magical and god-like being will strike a chord with those who have been brought up on a diet of palace propaganda in film, on television, on radio, in schools, and so on. But even people in these circumstances are less likely to believe the nonsense these days.

It will only get increasingly syrupy over the next month.

Ethnicity, culture and political venom

17 11 2013

Yesterday, we added this as an update on a vaguely related post that we have now decided to make a post by itself:

While reading the newspapers today, PPT was also a bit taken aback to suddenly come across a couple of pieces raising race as an issue. We have already posted the story from The Economist, and in that it is noted that: “… Thaksin, an ethnic-Chinese billionaire, is an odd leader for a group dominated by non-Chinese Thais from the north-east. But they like the populist economic policies, such as a rice-price support scheme attacked this week by the IMF, which he and his sister have pursued.” Well, they are also claimed to like the king, and he’s Sino-Thai too, as are almost all of Thailand’s big business people and major politicians. Northeasterners were particularly attracted to Chatichai Choonhavan, and he was also Sino-Thai.

But it is at the Bangkok Post that the ethnicity line is used more mischievously. In an editorial, the Post states at length that Yingluck’s decision-making in government is driven by her ethnicity:

the Thai-Chinese community champions the family unit. Whether in business or politics, the family is ever present. Never underestimate its cultural importance. As a younger sister – youngest in fact – of a Thai or Thai-Chinese family, obedience to elder family members, especially the patriarch, is the norm, the honourable, time-honoured, expected and righteous thing to do.

It hammers this line and concludes:

Leadership means one must be made of stern stuff. If one can’t stand up for oneself, how can one stand up for one’s country? Between the choice of family and country, as the prime minster, Ms Yingluck must choose the country first, in every single decision.

It does seem odd that suddenly ethnicity is made to matter.

Of course, they could have mentioned the king as an example of a Sino-Thai who has put country before family. But perhaps that example is a bit difficult to deal with as he isn’t the youngest daughter in the clan and his family has done very nicely indeed, with various members of the family doing pretty much what they like with the benefit of taxpayer funding.

The reason we are elevating and update to a post is to continue attention to the Bangkok Post’s sudden and one-sided attention to culturalist explanations of behavior. While most of what Voranai Vanijaka says in his op-ed at the Post is seemingly a mixture of culturalist half-truths and smart-arsed cynicism, we must agree that this paragraph really struck a chord:

We are a society built upon cults of personalities, relationships and superstitions. As such, we have a difficult time differentiating personalities from ideals, and we tend to attach our loyalties and beliefs to personalities, rather than ideals. Democracy takes a back seat.

He’s right about this. And Thailand is less than a month from its really, really big enforced celebration of its biggest personality cult. The king’s birthday has grown from a relatively small affair in the 1940s to become (North Korea-like) a huge celebration of a deified individual, making his birthday a national day, father’s day and the embodiment of “Thai culture.” Of course, it is all based on half-truths, cynical marketing and the triumph of the palace’s political manipulators.

Voranai mentions General Prem Tinsulanonda’s period as prime minister in the 1980s: “After Gen Prem Tinsulanonda stepped down in 1988, Thailand began a new experiment with democracy. The result was one heartbreak after another.”

Of course it has been like this. As much as anyone since General Sarit Thanarat, Prem worked assiduously to promote and fund the monarchy. He is responsible, as much as Sarit and the king himself for creating a democracy that was doomed to fragility and the palace’s repeated intervention in politics. It is not going too far to say that democratic politics is weak in Thailand because that’s how the police power brokers like it.

Ethnicity and culture can be powerful, but they have little to do with this outcome. Instead look to the nest of political vipers – palace, military, judiciary and Sino-Thai tycoons – that have their political way and enrich themselves.

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