Me, me, me

29 04 2021

Readers might be interested in a story at Yahoo News/The Daily Beast that uses the Secret Siam work of Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

Titled “Thai Princess Shuts Down Koh Samui Beach For Private Vacation as COVID Surges,” the article refers to Princess Sirivannavari’s “less than impeccable timing” as she “decided it’s time for a diving vacation.”

Using Marshall’s reporting, it states that the “brilliant at everything” (our words) Princess has taken off to:

the island paradise of Koh Samui … as the country reels under a virulent third wave of the coronavirus, a disastrous vaccine rollout marred by cronyism, a complete shutdown of the pivotal international tourist trade, and a political crisis that has resulted in a jailed anti-monarchy and pro-democracy campaigner being desperately ill after a 42-day hunger strike.

Of course, she’s already jumped the line and had her vaccine.

The report adds that “Sirivannavari has been gaily sharing images from the holiday on her private Instagram account, which have been published by subscription newsletter Secret Siam.”

It cites Marshall as reporting that:

orange flags bearing Sirivannavari’s royal crest have been raised around the island and that there is a heavy security presence with five naval vessels anchored off local beauty spot Crystal Bay. Sail Rock, between Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, widely regarded as the best dive site in the Gulf of Thailand, has been completely closed to all other boats, with local diving companies told to stay away during her trip.

Readers may recall the kerfuffle regarding her earlier trip to the islands, her great love for the islands, even wanting one named after her, and her political bet that celebrity royals can flaunt their prestige, wealth and power without much pushback in royalist Thailand.

Naturally, the lese majeste law and having an authoritarian royalist regime in power supports her chosen lifestyle.





Virus of double standards III

12 04 2021

As the virus surges across the country, even more double standards are revealed. One is highlighted in a Bangkok Post editorial that questions Thailand’s lagging vaccination program, where the king’s company, subsidized with taxpayer funds, is still several months away from producing any vaccine.

The program was, in principle, meant to target “frontline health workers [as]… the top priority, followed by vulnerable groups such as patients with acute and chronic diseases, people with possible exposure to Covid-19, those who live in particularly at-risk areas, and also people living and working in tourism destinations set to open for foreign visitors.”

But, as usual, the powerful are cutting in and grabbing the shots ahead of everyone else. The expected “celebrity” shots have included The Dictator and some royals – we guess that the rest of the latter have been vaccinated. When the execrable Princess Sirivannavari got her first AstraZeneca shot, the accompanying story “explained” that the shot was “suitable for those who have a high risk of infection from interacting with patients or those who travel frequently and interact with many different people,” suggesting an odd reason for the Princess jumped the queue.

But it is the generals and other junta-appointed supporters of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in the Senate who get the Post’s attention.

Japanese cats

Senators voting

The Post reports that “wrong priorities sparked an outcry from several MPs who raised the matter with House Speaker Chuan Leekpai, asking why MPs have not been vaccinated, like those in the Upper House.” This complaint revealed “that those 250 military-appointed senators have received their jab, while many more deserving groups have missed out.”

While almost everyone in the country thinks politicians should join others in getting the vaccine when it is due to them, the Post points out that elected MPs “who have to meet their constituents think they deserve early vaccination. That’s quite different from appointed senators who are not responsible to voters in any constituency.”

In fact, the unelected senators are responsible to The Dictator they dutifully selected as prime minister and to their bosses in the military.

Of course, there’s now considerable speculation that, “[a]s all Covid-19 vaccine distribution is controlled by the government,” there must be “someone powerful” who allocated “500 doses of the vaccines (two doses a person) to a group not on the priority list.”

The editorial concludes:

The privilege afforded this special political class is appalling…. It’s a shame that the 250 senators acted selfishly, taking supplies that would have been been saved for those on the frontline. And anyone who had a hand in this happening must also be condemned.

Indeed, but this is just another example of the double standards that infect the royalist-military cabal.





With a major update: Palace PR at full throttle II

22 11 2020

One of hundreds of pieces of graffiti attacking the king and royal family

As we said in an earlier post, the palace public relations machinery has long had to “manage” Vajiralongkorn’s mostly self-inflicted PR disasters, ranging from his erratic and vengeful behavior to rumors of violence, illnesses, philandering and associations with crime. These PR exercises have mostly involved strategies that had “worked” for his father.

King, queen and ultra-royalist

However, as popular criticism of the monarchy has reached levels that no one can recall in their lifetimes, what we have called the Hello! strategy has emerged, mostly revolving around the women currently closest to King Vajiralongkorn: Queen Suthida, Princess Sirivannavari, and chief concubine Sineenat.

The king is now almost always seen arm-in-arm with Suthida, as she guides her often shaky looking husband around crowds of royalist well-wishers, encouraging the “common” touch of selfies, autographs and statements of encouragement to selected ultra-royalists. The queen is seen as the one recognizing the ultra-royalists,  beaming and fist-pumping to supporters, and directing the king to them.

Sirivannavari as “one of us”

Meanwhile, Sirivannavari is high profile, fostering a kind of “people’s princess” image, seeking to link to younger people. This effort has not always been successful. Protesters know that Sirivannavari has been officially promoted and the recipient of “award” just because she’s the king’s daughter. And, protesters know that she’s cycled through a series of expensive “career choices” that have cost the taxpayer plenty. We recall she was the top student at university, a national badminton player, a diplomat, a Paris fashion designer, etc. That knowledge has led to the princess being spoofed by protesters.

Clipped from LA Times. Photo credit: Jack Taylor AFP / Getty Images

Sineenat has sometimes been seen making up the royal triplet in public, but has recently been off in the countryside, also cultivating a “people’s” semi-royal persona. Yet her troubled, on-again, off-again relationship with the king is well known and rumors of her role in palace and royal family tensions are also widespread.

The general idea seems to be to show that the palace is not really aloof, hugely wealthy, grasping, erratic and uncaring, but is really at one with the people. This is a strategy that carries high risk. After all, making the monarchy “popular” challenges the most basic premise of royals as special, divine, blue-bloods. It is blood and position that counts, not popularity.

But when a royal house is challenged, it is often a spur to make the royals “popular.” And the challenges are coming thick and fast.So strong is the anti-monarchism that even the Hello! strategy is having to be surpassed with publicity that shows the grasping king as “generous.”

In the most high profile PR effort to date, the Bangkok Post reports that the king will “give royal land title deeds worth ’10 billion baht’ to four educational institutes in a handover ceremony.” (That the Post puts the figure in quotation marks suggests a need for caution.)

Our first thought was that this declaration is a response to pro-democracy demonstrators having announced that their next rally will be outside the Crown Property Bureau on 25 November. The palace is trying to pre-empt that demonstration by showing that the king and CPB are “generous.”

Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation Minister Anek Laothamatas reportedly said:

… ownership of royal title deeds covering more than 100 rai of land along Ratchawithi Road in Dusit district would be handed over to two universities and two schools [Rachawinit elementary school and its secondary school] already located on the land…. Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University will receive title deeds covering more than 60 rai, while Suan Dusit University will be granted more than 37 rai, Mr Anek said, adding that the value of the land was estimated at about 10 billion baht.

That statement is not at all clear. Is there a difference between “ownership of a royal title deed” and ownership of land? How much is “more than”?

We recall that, in 2018, there were reports that these universities had been told that they would need to relocate. The CPB kind of confirmed this.

The Post claims, seeming to cite Anek, that the “land where the universities are located originally belonged to the King and the land is part of Dusit Palace, which is a complex of royal residences.” This means prior to 1932 for it was after that revolution that the new regime used (took over?) some of the land “for educational purposes…”. As Wikipedia has it: “In 1932 the absolute monarchy was abolished and part of the Dusit Palace was reduced and transferred to the constitutional government. This included the Khao Din Wana (เขาดินวนา) to the east of the palace, which was given in 1938 to the Bangkok City Municipality by King Ananda Mahidol to create a public park, which later became Dusit Zoo.”

It seems that the current king is the one who has had this land “returned” to him.

The zoo comes into the Post story: “Apart from the handover of the deeds, the royally-owned land where Dusit Zoo, the country’s first public zoo, was once located will be used for the construction of a public hospital.” It seems to us that this is a recent decision designed to reduce the criticism of the palace’s grasping. Add to that the “Nang Loeng racecourse in Dusit district [which did belong] to the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) … is now to be “transform[ed] … into a public park in commemoration of … King Bhumibol…”. Yes, another one. As far as we can tell, this is another new idea.

Clearly the ideological war is expanding.

Update: The Nation has a listing of the “grants”, saying the king “granted nine land title deeds to government agencies and educational institutions.” Hopefully there’s someone out there who knows more about this than PPT, but the PR on this story seems to overwhelm what seems to have been going on. And we are not sure we know, but we smell fish.

The report states that the “King and Queen arrived at Amporn Sathan Throne in Dusit Palace to hand over land title deeds of royal properties in Bangkok and other provinces to use as government workplaces and educational establishments.” That doesn’t quite sound like the land is changing ownership.

When one looks at the properties involved, it gets fishier still. There are plots of land that have long been occupied and used by government bodies, the military and the Border Patrol Police. Take the latter as an example. The report states:

Commissioner of the Royal Thai Police, Pol General Suwat Jangyodsuk, received a land title deed for an area of 185 rai, 1 ngan and 85.20 square wah, in Cha-am district of Phetchaburi province for use as a working place for Naresuan Camp Border Patrol Police headquarters.

Commander of the Border Patrol Police, Pol Lt-General Wichit Paksa, received a land title deed for an area of 275 rai, 3 ngan and 57.20 square wah in Cha-am district of Phetchaburi province to use for Border Patrol Police headquarters, Rama VI Camp (Maruekhathaiyawan Palace) in Phetchaburi, which was in addition to the land bestowed in 2017.

As far as we know, the BPP has been occupying and using these plots of land since the early and mid 1950s. It isn’t clear to us who owned the land back then, but one source states:

Before building Naresuan camp in Hua Hin, the camp site had been allocated to the army’s royal guard to provide security to the royal family but as soon as [the CIA’s] Bill Lair proposed the site for building a camp for PARU, both Phao and the royal family agreed to give the land to Lair and PARU instead of the army.

Lair and the king. Clipped from Amazon

That seems to suggest that the land might have once belonged to the royal family. It remains unclear to us whether there was any official transfer back then. Another source states that Lair “used an old Imperial Japanese training camp in Hua Hin to train a select crew of Thai police in guerrilla warfare, including parachuting.” It is clear that the king developed quite a jolly relationship with the PARU/BPP and with Lair.

So it seems like the king is acknowledging longstanding occupation and use, if not “ownership.” It remains unclear if receiving the title deed amounts to transferring ownership.





Palace PR at full throttle I

13 11 2020

The palace public relations machinery has long had to “manage” Vajiralongkorn’s “problems.” His explosive “divorces,” his erratic behavior and , and the rumors of violence, illnesses, philandering and associations with crime. Generally, the PR exercises revolved around strategies that had “worked” for his father.

The explosion of dissatisfaction with Vajiralongkorn that has been seen recently, reflecting tension over his neo-feudal absolutism, his bahavior and his preference for living in Germany, has seen a new twist on palace propaganda. This involves a rebranding of Vajiralongkorn and the younger royal family members as celebrities. This might be called the Hello! strategy. Obviously, this follows the model of royals in some other countries.

As PPT has said previously, we think this new PR strategy reflects the influence of the royal family’s younger women, including Queen Suthida, Princesses Bajrakitiyabha and Sirivannavari, and some of the harem.

After rousing the raucous royalists in Bangkok, and getting good PR in Thailand (always expected and demanded) but also internationally, with that CNN interview contributing to an image of “compromise” and “popularity,” ignoring the king’s unsteadiness and giving him an instant free pass on all his previous black marks, the palace “influencers” have decided to have the king do “populist tours.”

Reuters reports that “Vajiralongkorn wrote messages of national unity and love on Tuesday during a visit to the northeast of the country two days after protesters sent him a letter demanding royal reforms that would curb his powers.”

In a PR stunt, the king wrote a message to the governor of Udon Thani province: “We all love and care for each other. Take care of the country, help each other protect our country with goodness for prosperity and protect Thainess…”. Going full-on celebrity on a “picture of himself and the queen … the king wrote”: “Love the nation, love the people, cherish Thainess, real happiness.” Another message stated: ““Thank you for all the love and support. We love and care for each other. We must take care of the country, and we must help each other protect it with virtue for it to prosper. Preserve the marvel of Thainess…”.

If the protests against the king have been unprecedented, so is the palace PR response, seeking to create a new image for the king. Previous efforts at this kind of image making have been undone by Vajiralongkorn’s inability to stick with the PR plan and messages.

As these reports of “good king” are being managed, there’s also been “bad king” reports. Hype (Malaysia) had this”

King Maha Vajiralongkorn was married to his third wife, Srirasmi Suwadee, in 2001, before divorcing her in 2014.

Since then, the ex-princess is currently under house-arrest and has decided to take on life as a nun.

Back in 2014, Srirasmi’s uncle, parents, sister and three brothers were convicted with several offences, including “lèse-majesté”, which is defamation to the monarchy. They were all sentenced to prison with different offences and Srirasmi got her royal title stripped of the same year.

As aforementioned, Srirasmi is under house arrest as she hasn’t been seen in public ever since she was forced to leave the royal house. As per China Press, Thai royal experts have exposed photos of the King’s third wife in white robes with her head shaved, as a sign of her nunhood, at her house in Ratchaburi province in central Thailand.

In the photos, she can be seen living a simple life of planting seeds and sweeping leaves in her backyard, despite previously living as a monarch. However, it might not be so simple for her as her eyes tell a different story.

According to SCMP, she was forced to leave her son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, who is the next in line for the throne after the king. There are photos on the internet of Srirasmi’s last meeting with her son before she was forced to leave the palace.

We’re unsure of the exact reason behind her sadness but being under house-arrest while separated from your child can definitely drain one’s mental health.

But the PR/propaganda rattled on. In a Bangkok Post report it is stated that the king “has been told that many red-shirt villages that used to support former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra are now sworn to uphold the monarchy.” Apparently, the person doing the telling was the queen: “They are from the red-shirt villages to protect the monarchy…” she said as she and the king were “mingling with supporters at Wing 23 of the air force in Udon Thani on Tuesday night.”

Of course, many millions of red shirts never considered Thaksin an enemy of the monarchy, but the queen seems to have taken this position. How does she know? For one thing, the yellow shirts constructed this narrative and clearly Suthida has imbibed the yellow shirt kool-aid. She’s had this view reinforced by the fawning betrayers of the red shirts, Anon Saennan and Suporn Atthawong, both of whom sold out to the rightists long ago.

The king appreciates the turncoats. The regime has rewarded Suporn with legal cases dropped and lucrative positions.

As the report states:

Mr Suporn was prosecuted for disrupting the Asean summit in Pattaya in April 2009, but the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship member evaded the charges because police could not find him before the case expired in April last year.

An earlier Post report adds further detail, stating that Suporn:

a vice minister attached to the Prime Minister’s Office. His appointment to this political post is said to be a reward for his defection from Pheu Thai to the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party prior to the March 24 election.

We assume the regime and the military are pouring funds into the Suporn-Anon anti-red shirt campaign.





Bolstering monarchy

7 11 2020

The royal family’s younger women, including Queen Suthida, Princesses Bajrakitiyabha and Sirivannavari, and some of the harem, appear to be pushing for a new PR strategy and rebranding of Vajiralongkorn and themselves as celebrities – what might be considered the Hello! strategy. Obviously, this follows the model of royals in some other countries.

Sirivannavari’s photo clipped from Hello!

At the same time, the royalist dinosaurs occupying government seats continue to follow ninth reign strategy. For example, Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paojinda have “urged provincial governors across the country to help protect the monarchy and prevent fake news.”

During a video conference, Gen Prawit ordered governors “to promote the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy.”

This approach seems unlikely to mesh with the notion of royals-as-celebrities, pioneered by Sirivannavari and (more bizarrely) by big sister Ubolratana.

If we are to believe that Vajiralongkorn – who has recently appeared ill and unsteady – is to go down the Hello! celebrity path, then he’d need to also acknowledge that such a rebranding usually goes along with subjection to the constitution, the acceptance of criticism, and the ditching of ninth reign repression and “demi-god” status. So far, the evidence is of some leniency on criticism while also mobilizing fascist yellow shirts, which would seem to mitigate against a celebrity status.





Thinking about the ruling class I

30 10 2020

Often PPT is startled by some of the reporting we see in the mainstream media. Sometimes we are disappointed that some of that media simply cannot extract itself from regime and palace propaganda, from ruling class interests and from strangling self-censorship.

We reckon that the Bangkok Post has been particularly awful in the way it has reported many recent events. Its latest reporting on the king’s problems in Germany had this ridiculous, even laughable, line: “the King travels to Germany from time to time.”

Do they think its readers are morons? Every one knows that the king spends most of his time in Germany and that he ordered the junta’s constitution changed to allow him to conduct the affairs of state when in Germany. Everyone knows that royal minor wife Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi spends most of her time – since she was released from jail – in Germany. Every one knows that the queen spends most of her time in Switzerland. And, many know that Princess Sirivannavari spends much of her time in France. This is a European royal family. So why is the Post so hopeless?

Sirivannavari and boyfriend at Paris Open

Thinking about hopeless stuff, how about bail?

As we know, many of the “leaders” of the anti-regime protests are in jail, denied bail. THese are mostly young students.

How’s that work when a report in the same Bangkok Post tells us that “[s]elf-professed gambler Apirak ‘Sia Po’ Chat-anon was detained after showing up at a police station in Bangkok to be questioned about a shootout on Tuesday that resulted in two men being wounded.” Sia Po stands “accused of shooting and wounding two men in front of Saree Sauna & Spa…”.

When he showed up at the police station – they didn’t go out and arrest him – he arrived with  “his brother … accompanied by Santhana Prayoonrat, a former deputy superintendent of Special Branch Police…”.

Royal Household Bureau via Khaosod

We won’t go into how it is that a gangster and gunman has a retired senior policeman with him – the answer is too obvious. But we do note that Sia Po was “later released without condition by the Thon Buri Criminal Court after posting 350,000 baht bail.”

But the students who haven’t shot anyone or or engaged in any violence are denied bail. Fair? Of course not. It is all ruling class buffalo manure. Think of all the cops supporting the Red Bull who drove over and killed a policeman.

There was another Sia who accused of gangsterism. That was Sia O several years ago. Are they all in this together? Of course they are. It’s a ruling class.

Even if the royal family aren’t engaged in gangsterism, they plunder the taxpayer’s money.





Updated: Giving and receiving

20 04 2020

While giving is often considered a way of making merit in Thailand, there’s also a strong effort to use gifts to gain favors or to cement alliances. Giving away a daughter to a powerful royal or aristocrat was one such strategy.

This makes the storm over Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s dealings with the richest – the Sino-Thai tycoons – interesting. As the first linked story observes: “Donation culture in Thailand has never been about altruism or humanitarianism.”

Pointedly, that linked article asks:

Do you think politicians and the rich elite call newspapers or post on Instagram every time they donate because of notions of the greater good? No, it is to satisfy a PR need or to show the world what a great person they are.

How else would you explain personal or party branding on hand sanitizer bottles?

In case you are wondering who is doing the branding look to one princess. Princess Sirivannavari is a shameless self-promoter. Her brand is given all kinds of preferences.

That story continues with this observation:

So if Prayut is really going to approach the 20 richest families in Thailand, the question he will have to ask himself before doing so is whether or not he is giving them anything in return.

It doesn’t have to be anything as overt as tax breaks or special zoning rights, it can merely be an opportunity for the super-rich to super-flaunt their super-niceness for those super-likes.

Thailand has one of the largest rich-poor gaps in the world with the top 1 per cent owning more than the bottom 90 per cent combined.

If Prayut goes bearing no gifts then he will unlikely get anything in return. That is not how donation culture in this country works.

Gen Prayuth has recently been “receiving” these donations from the filthy rich. He is reported to have “witnessed the delivery ceremony of cash donations from the private sector.”

And what did he see? The “Mall Group has donated 20 million baht, and the Thai Bankers’ Association has donated 50 million baht…”. Let’s get some perspective on this. The Mall Group is not publicly listed and so reported profits are more or less secret. However, Supaluck Umpujh and her family are said to be worth $1.6 billion. In this context, 20 million baht is loose change. The 50 million from the TBA is similarly a drop from their huge bucket. The TBA represents a bunch of Sino-Thai banking families and their money-making machines. Just one, the Bangkok Bank made a net profit of over $1 billion in 2019. Add in the other banks and the contribution is trifling. But it gets publicity, gratitude and is menat to make them look somehow generous. They aren’t.

It is reported that the “donated funds are to be distributed to King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, Ramathibodi Hospital, Rajavithi Hospital, Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute, Siriraj Hospital, and the Thai Red Cross Society.” That’s less than 12 million for each hospital and institute.

Still, the groveling general “thanked the private sector for its contribution and the help given to hospitals and medical staff, enabling the government to work more effectively in the present health crisis.” Pennies from heaven perhaps?

Did someone mention the king? Despite his almost continual absence from the country, Thailand’s Kibosh “makes” what are called “donations.” All media tell us that the king and his major wife “have graciously distributed relief supplies to members of the public who are affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) situation, in Bangkok.” The poor people receiving these small gifts are expected to be grateful and to show their gratitude and loyalty for ever and ever. This is part of the palace’s propaganda to make Thais subservient to the monarchy. They have been doing it for decades.

Update: Gen Prayuth has sent letters to the rich list. He says he wants them to propose “projects” to assist Thais in need. He reckons these richest should also be bright. If the proposal by Forbes lister Prasert Prasattong-Osoth is anything to go by, Prayuth’s got it wrong. Prasert proposes a project that’s been going on since he was a kid. Then there’s the CP mask factory, built in just five weeks and already operating, donating masks. Great you would think, only to learn that it is fully automated and operated by just three persons. No work created there. And, as we have heard on the grapevine, it is likely to get BOI support and not pay tax for several years. Maybe instead of “projects,” Prayuth could consider ways of getting the filthy rich to pay tax and to stop hiding wealth offshore.





With a major update: Re-feudalization and repression

26 01 2020

Somsak Jeamteerasakul has posted another before and after picture of the destruction of symbols of the 1932 revolution and the People’s Party. This time at the Field Marshal P. Phibulsonggram House Learning and History Center in Chiang Rai:

Meanwhile, yet another critical report seems to have been removed from the Khaosod news website.In this case, an opinion piece by Pravit Rojanaphruk titled “Opinion: The Talibanization of Bangkok’s Architectural Heritage” about the erasing of post-1932 architectural style from Rajadamnoen Avenue, has gone.

When one looks for the article at the site, the return is:

It was there.

And it was circulated:

And it was re-posted in Thailand:

Frustratingly, PPT didn’t copy the article before it was taken down. If any reader has a copy, please email us.

The last time this happened it was a news story about the trouble caused by Princess Sirivannavari when she and some rich friends had a holiday in the south and officials closed land and sea to allow her to have fun with “security.” Ordinary Thais lost income and work while taxpayer funds were burned.

As far as we can tell, in neither case has Khaosod explained why the articles have been disappeared. We assume the management and owners came under pressure. But from where? From notions of self censorship? Or from the regime? Or from the palace?

The fear about commenting on anything royal is reinforced. The erasure of memory and history gathers pace.

Update: Thanks to readers, including @barbaricthais and “a republican reader,” we have located the deleted Khaosod op-ed by Pravit. It is clear that the equating of royal vandalism and Talibanization annoyed/scared/worried some. The op-ed is reproduced here, in full, but without the pictures:

What struck me as rather disturbing as I met with people along the Ratchadamnoen Avenue to discuss the upcoming renovation is their sense of fear.

Very few whom I interviewed wanted to be identified. Some even said they did not want to talk at all about what could be the most significant change to the landscape of the historic avenue in 80 years.

The reason is rather straightforward. All of the ten art deco buildings along the avenues are to be replaced with a new “neoclassical” pastiches per instruction from the Crown Property Bureau, who owned the structures since the time when it was still under the oversight of a civilian government that overthrew absolute monarchy in 1932.

In the present time, the agency is a different kind of entity. Following a vote in 2017 by the junta-appointed rubber stamp parliament, the Crown Property ceased to be under the control of state and was placed under the supervision of new monarch, King Vajiralongkorn.

In early 2019, the Crown Property Bureau invited tenants of these art deco buildings along the 1200-meter stretch of the avenue to a meeting, and informed them that a decision has been made to replace the structures with a neoclassical façade.

Words of the meeting were relayed to me by one of the participants, who was apparently at a discomfort of discussing the topic, but I assured him there was nothing to worry; what he told me was perfectly in line with the Crown Property’s very own announcement of the plan on Jan 17.

Not everyone is thrilled by the makeover. Critics like Chatri Prakitnonthakan, an expert and author on buildings from the era of the revolution that toppled the absolute monarchy, told me the new façade will be “fake” because it’s more like applying a veneer on art deco architectural structure which is fundamentally different.

He also suspected a deeper agenda. Chatri said art deco architecture in Thailand symbolized a break from feudal absolutism. He believes there is a sinister attempt by some people to exact revenge on the long-dead revolutionaries by removing any relics related to their memories.

No matter what your political ideology is, Thailand has lost enough architectural heritage when its old capital Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese in 1767; the city was also subject to a series of looting and vandalism by both Thais and Chinese merchants in the centuries that followed.

Bangkok is relatively new, anointed as the capital in 1782. Why, then, are we defacing and deconsecrating the few architectural legacies and monuments that we have?

Let us not Talibanize our tangible heritage, our past, our history – lest we end up not knowing who we are, where we came from and surrounded by Disney-like environ.

In the fast-developing megacity of Shanghai, the Chinese managed to preserve many buildings constructed by former colonial powers despite the bitter history. Thais should also learn to cherish material cultures, buildings included, that speak about a crucial portion in our history, instead of trying to deface what we do not like.

Many have given up, resigned to the fate that one of the most historic landmarks in Bangkok’s Old City will be Disneyfied with the shallow neoclassical veneer.

Some even fear that Democracy Monument, the most visible memorial to the birth of parliamentary democracy in 1932, might be either altered or removed altogether eventually. Some have begun taking selfies with the symbolism-filled monument in a half-nervous jest. Just in case.

And if the renovation is truly inevitable, I hope they save at least one art deco building on Ratchadamnoen Avenue: the imposing Royal Hotel at the southeastern end of the avenue.

It was opened in 1943 by none other than the revolution’s co-leader Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram, and has since played a role in several key moments of Thai political history. Like when it was a safe haven for protesters in the May 1992 uprising against the military rulers, until soldiers invaded it, beating and forcefully arresting those inside.

I wonder if anyone will launch any campaign to save these historical relics at all. Given the current climate of fear and sensitivity of the issue, I wouldn’t be surprised if many will think more than twice before lending their signature – or even change their mind afterwards.





With 3 updates: Model king? Model family?

2 01 2020

The king recently delivered his New Year homily with a straight face. The report of it implies that it was a live statement, but it may well have been pre-recorded as the king seems to prefer being in Europe.

Self-crowned

The new year message is something that his father did and Vajiralongkorn recognizes its propaganda value.

In this message he entreated Thais to:

have wisdom, faith and awareness while adhering to virtue, righteousness and appropriateness, and to be determined to contribute to national and public interest.

It is well known that Vajiralongkorn has difficulty meeting these standards in his own life and he seemed to recognize this, saying “that mistakes and flaws were natural in any kind of work.”

But in saying that such mistakes and flaws “should serve as lessons to enhance experiences and wisdom to prevent recurrences and to create development” seem to be contradicted by his repeated “mistakes.”

His high-profile promotion of his mistress to official concubine, only to throw her in prison months later, while obliterating her from media and even demolishing her family house seems a re-run of earlier failed relationships.

Royal Household Bureau via Khaosod

2019’s fall of Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi (Niramon Ounprom) had sad resonances of his terrible treatment and public shaming of earlier wives, Yuvadhida Polpraserth and Srirasmi Suwadee.

He seems unable to find “righteousness” in dealing with wives and mistresses. Wisdom seems to avoid him.

The king also produced advice about “keep[ing] up … morale and physical health while remaining mindful of their conduct.” He added that he “hoped people would live their lives with decency, righteousness and in moderation…”.

Vajiralongkorn places great stock in fitness and physical appearance, having ordered special haircuts, uniforms, physical regimes and fingernail inspections for his staff and the forces he has taken over. That regimen has been adopted by the hopelessly monarchist military brass. But “decency”? That seems a quality lacking in the current palace.

In yet another message, the king encouraged Thai children to apply “knowledge and morality” to “build a better society.” This is a pre-recorded message as it is for Children’s Day on 11 January.

The king is said to “care” about children and their future.

We wonder why one of his favored children – Princess Sirivannavari – is currently in the unusual situation of being criticized and having to be defended for shockingly selfish. But that’s also a pattern seen in the king’s own life.

It is probably not remarkable that monarchs and their family behave badly. But in Thailand, it is unusual for this behavior to be criticized. And, a king who seems to favor absolutist ways is unlikely to notice the hypocrisy and double standards of his speeches and exhortations.

Hopefully Thais do not see the king or his family as role models.

Update 1: Khaosod removed the story on Princess Sirivannavari, so here it is in full:

Netizens Furious at Authorities Closing Down Popular Islands

BANGKOK — Twitter is up in flame on Thursday following a decision to shut down tourist islands in the south over the New Year holidays to provide security for a group of high-profile visitors. The hashtag #IslandsShutDown appears to be trending on Thai Twitterverse by Thursday afternoon, where many users criticize the local authorities for causing disruption to the public. One of the trip delegates later acknowledged the criticism and apologized for the inconvenience.

National park and marine officials closed off the islands of Bi Da, Pan Yi, and He from holidaymakers on Dec. 29, Dec 31, and Jan. 1, respectively, according to internal memos sent to government agencies in Krabi, Phang Nga, and Phuket provinces.

The memos said Princess Sirivannavari was traveling to the islands on a private visit. Local officials were instructed to prevent fishermen and divers from entering the area due to security
concerns.

After backlash made its rounds on social media, a celebrity who accompanied Princess Sirivannavari on her trip said she wasn’t aware of the protocols adopted by security officers who guarded those attractions.

Writing on her Instagram account, ML Songlak Svasti also apologized for the inconvenience, and said she was willing to listen to feedback from the public.

“Our group is not being idle about this issue, and we sincerely acknowledge the criticism you have written,” Songlak wrote in reply to one of the critics.

Update 2: Clips from Khaosod added above.

Update 3: A correspondent at The Royal Forums reports on events since October 2019 that have seen residents complaining about the monarch and his family. It implies that this large rise in criticism represents a decline in the royals’ “popularity.”

Implicit in all of this is the fear among royalists that the monarchy remains under attack. Watch Gen Apirat Kongsompong who has been criticizing all kinds of “opponents” but zeroing in on Future Forward Party and its leaders. Is a showdown coming?





Rich royals seldom in Thailand

16 07 2019

We suppose that if one has all the loot in the world – well, perhaps just a paltry $50-60 billion – one can choose to live wherever one wants and maybe in more than one place.

It is known that King Vajiralongkorn has resided in Europe for quite a few years, with a preference for the area around Munich and with a recent penchant for Switzerland. He appears to enjoy biking, strawberry picking, buying antiques, hiking, skiing, mountains, fast and expensive cars and so on. Very European. Very expensive.

It seems the king’s second daughter shares her father’s love of Europe and for spending money. Society magazine Thailand Tatler devotes lots of space to Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana with its latest story on her most recent residence in Paris. It breathlessly writes of her “elegant surroundings of her Bougival residence, the accomplished designer, sportswoman and patron of the arts tells Thailand Tatler about her passions for fashion, horses and high culture.”

Clipped from Thailand Tatler

All very expensive.

The Tatler describes her as an “archetypal young person with ambition, drive, a zest for life and the determination to do something positive with it.” Positive seems to mean living in a mansion in Paris and living like, well, a princess of yore. Despite living the life of a wealthy royal she is said to “work hard.” Unfortunately, the article neglects to say what work she actually does apart from a bit of “fashion design” or bobbling along on expensive horses, which sounds rather unlike real work. The story is of a princess spending a fortune doing what she thinks is fun. The “training” in horsey stuff must cost a princess’s ransom.

What the story does do is recycle all the guff that has previously appeared in making her “princess narrative” that dedicated royalists soak up.

The article concludes that “[r]oyal duties and work notwithstanding, she is also a globetrotter. ‘Greece and the South of France are at the top of my favourite destinations list,’ she smiles. And I love Paris, so I visit all three quite often’.” It must be great to have all that loot and to spend it with gay abandon in places other than Thailand. What fun. What are the plebs doing?