All masked up

20 03 2020

When we saw the video below, we were bemused that the royals were hard at the money-making venture known as graduation, but were all masked up and gloved.

A remarkable number of masks in evidence in this event.

Then we saw a story at Khaosod that might explain the precautions.

It says that Julie Jensen (known in Thailand as Princess Ubolratana) said “her daughter underwent a test for Covid-19 after she fell ill.” The result was negative

As far as we can tell, and we may have missed a lot in all the mayhem, this represents the first (semi-)royal comment on the virus. Julie stated: “The Covid-19 outbreak situation seems to be getting worse. [no kidding] There are probably many more people who are infected but not in the reports… [a criticism of the regime’s failures?].” She added layperson’s advice that “rigorous testing was necessary in containing the outbreak.”

That may be correct, but we would have thought that the usual royal role – even for a semi-royal – is to provide support for “the nation” and “the people” rather than engaging in unconstitutional activism.





The billion dollar monarchy

13 03 2020

Prachatai has a post on royal funding. One of the last freely available pieces of information on the billions that flow from public coffers – the taxpayer – to the royal family is in draft budget papers from the Budget Bureau that go to parliament.

The headline budget expenditure for 2020, for the “stability of the main national institutions” is about 5.35 billion baht. Yet this is misleading as funding to the royal family is scattered throughout the budget.

The headline figure is that the monarchy costs the taxpayer $1 billion.

Expensive

Prachatai comes up with a provisional additional expenditures of more than 29.72 billion baht. It finds “direct expenditures” of 19.68 billion baht and “indirect expenses” of 10.04 billion baht.

Direct expenditures are those made directly to the monarchy, such as the security budget, travel budget, and institutional protection budgets. Indirect expenditures are what might be called “related expenditures” which includes things like royal projects and the ubiquitous “public relations” expenditures for propaganda. Every ministry has “projects” that “honor” the royal family and monarchy.

Then there’s a third set of funds that cost some 1.26 billion baht. These are projects named for the monarchy, so also fall into the category of royalist propaganda. These expenditures include things like “training” for farmers in the dead king’s sufficiency economy “theory.”

All of this means that total expenditure is around 31 billion baht.

While Prachatai has considerable detail, we won’t include here. We do note that the report makes the point that this massive sum does not include budgets from universities, local government organizations, state enterprises, the budgets for constructing and maintaining buildings and infrastructure that “honor” the monarchy and the royal family.

In the detailed commentary, we did notice some interesting line items:

– Travel, flights and head of state operations: 6.52 billion baht.

– Ministry of Interior budget for “honouring” the monarchy: 2.38 billion baht.

– Ministry of Defense funds for honouring, acting on the monarch’s wishes and whims 1.71 billion baht.

– Royal projects: 847 million baht.

– Royal decorations: 505.5 million baht

– To Be Number One (non-Princess Ubolratana’s propaganda project): 17.4 million baht.

Let us know if we got any of the calculations wrong.





Updated: The military and monarchy post-Korat

17 02 2020

The criticism of the military is missing  an essential point: the role of the monarchy. More realistically, it is being censored and suppressed. This is the parasitic relationship between monarchy and military. It is a relationship that has been mutually reinforcing for decades, and both monarchy and military have reached their current political and economic power through this relationship. Neither can do without the other.

The previous king built that relationship.

Bhumibol promoted the military as the monarchy’s military and the military promoted itself as the “protectors” of the monarchy and royal family. The relationship remained strong from the late 1950s, with the royal family militarizing itself.

As Bhumibol and his acolytes gained control over the promotion of the top military brass, he populated his Privy Council with retired generals, allowing the growing aura of the monarchy to envelop the military and protect its criminality and corruption, while in times of political crisis, Bhumibol intervened in ways that prevented the military being brought down. Promotion came to those military men who could best satisfy members of the royal family.

King Vajiralongkorn was trained as a soldier from his earliest days and being a soldier has been one of the few constants in his life. He appears to love discipline, bullying and uniforms. As a fellow student explained:

what marked him most was his enthusiasm for the Combined Cadet Force…. Here, he so excelled in the meticulous wearing of kit, the parade-ground drills, the shouting and saluting that he was promoted to some sort of officer status, allowing him to lord it over the rest of us….

Like others whose sense of superior status is toxically combined with insecurity and isolation, Mahidol could suddenly drop his pretence of amiable normality and become a vile bully: indeed, his behaviour might now be described as bipolar….

With few academic skills, his training as a soldier continued at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. The Bangkok Post has the officially approved story of Vajiralongkorn as soldier, described as a “fondness for military affairs.” It adds that he has:

served as a career officer in the Royal Thai Army (RTA) and attended the Command and General Staff College in 1977. He also served as a staff officer in the Directorate of Army Intelligence, and later became head of the King’s Bodyguard Battalion in 1978.

Part of that military service has been lauded by Gen Apirat Kongsompong. In one of his more deranged haranguings he pointedly connected military and monarchy, saying the king had:

helped soldiers fight against communist troops in … Loei province on Nov 5, 1976…. His Majesty was in the operation base, ate and slept like other soldiers. His Majesty visited local residents, gave moral support and fought shoulder by shoulder with brave soldiers.

He added:

The royal institution, the military and people are inseparable. In the past, kings were on elephants surrounded by soldiers. Those soldiers were the people who sacrificed themselves in battles beside kings….

The point he makes is obvious: the military and monarchy are bound together. That obvious relationship is currently being ignored/avoided/censored.

Yet everyone knows that Vajiralongkorn holds the ranks of general in the Royal Thai Army, admiral in the Royal Thai Navy, air chief marshal in the Royal Thai Air Force and is constitutionally he is “Head of the Thai Armed Forces.”

The silence is deafening.

And Princess Sirindhorn should not be let off this particular hook either. She’s also a general in the Army, admiral in the Navy, and air chief marshal in the Air Force. As a uniformed instructor at the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy she has been an enthusiastic supporter and shaper of the current military-monarchy relationship and of the sordid mentality that allows Gen Apirat to consider the Army as “sacred institution.”

Her most recent military boostering was reported in Indian newspapers as she enjoyed yet another taxpayer-funded tour right after the Korat massacre. With a 20-member delegation, she visited the Indian Military Academy “to strengthen engagement and defence cooperation between the two countries.” Sirindhorn reportedly “expressed keen desire to take defence cooperation with India to the next level,” (This might have her Chinese sponsors a bit concerned.)

Interestingly, all the royal family seem to have been too busy to do much about Korat. In what should be a PR disaster – except that in feudal Thailand no one can gripe – the king skipped the funerals and ceremonies, sending “representatives from the Privy Council.

The king’s message seems to be that he’s either not really interested in dozens of deaths and injuries and/or that he’s throwing his support (again) behind the current belly slitherers who pass for the military brass.

But he did send his 904 volunteers for the clean up at Terminal 21. More accurately, according to the t-shirts in the picture, the Army deployed them for him.

Clipped from Prachatai

That all seems rather too mechanical and uncaring. But, then, the royal family and the king in particular are never keen for the military to get too much criticism.

Update: Prachatai has a summary assessment of 2019’s politics. Among other things, it says this: “Put concisely, the most important theme of 2019 is how the power of the monarchy and military in Thai politics persists or changes…”.





Royal infection

31 01 2020

It seems that in neo-feudal Thailand, any utterance from a royal is newsworthy. That apparently includes even Ubolratana, who “resigned” her royal status but still enjoys her “princessness” as a member of the royal family and the king’s elder sister.

As the regime arrests people for spreading “fake news” on the Wuhan coronavirus, perennial attention-seeker (non)Princess Ubolratana,

took to social media to question the government’s inaction as well as giving her own experience of trying to avoid the coronavirus in Bangkok. The government said the repatriation could begin by Feb. 4, but added that they have yet to secure permission from the Chinese authorities.

“I don’t know what the government is waiting for. They’re starving over there!” she wrote in response to a comment on Instagram.

“Starving” in Wuhan is not something that has regularly come up in reports from Wuhan, except from one tabloid story about a panicked Thai student.

In another report, another woman “all kinds of rumors online” and some shortages of food as people in Wuhan stocked up.

Other reports are of the Chinese government ordering

… farmers to step up vegetable production, opened roads for delivery trucks and is punishing those trying to profit in order to keep feeding residents of the locked-down city….

Why Ubolratana should be telling the government what to do is reflective of Thailand’s royalist fever. Should she be more careful in her public attention-seeking? Of course she should.

Evacuations are not easy, and returning people who may add to the infected population and require considerable forward planning and preparation as well as Chinese permissions. The BBC lists the countries evacuating citizens and it it clear that its really only Japan and the US that have arranged flights so far.

Many foreign nationals in Wuhan also hold Chinese passports, which further complicates things.

Until yesterday, “World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday that the UN health body “does not recommend the evacuation” of foreign nationals from virus-hit Hubei province as he called on the international community to remain calm.”

Like the average social media user, perhaps Ubolratanta should have a bit of a think before tweeting. Not least because the royal virus in Thailand means she’s an “influencer.”





One lane monarchy

14 01 2020

In recent months there’s been unusual online criticism of Thailand’s pampered, obscenely wealthy, tone deaf and protected (by law and censorship) royals. Essentially, average Thais have been complaining about the way shopping malls, islands, beaches and roads are closed for the pleasure and convenience of members of the royal family.

In October, the hashtag “#RoyalMotorcade became a top trending Twitter hashtag as netizens piled on criticism over road and shopping center closures for royals who seemed oblivious to the extent of their privilege and the trouble their privilege causes for hundreds of thousands of ordinary people. The video clip is from 2012:

This criticism appears to have brought a palace response. (Un)naturally enough, Khaosod publishes and lists the “new” rules but has absolutely no commentary, not even hinting why the “new” rules have appeared. For that (brief) background, an international report is necessary. In censored Thailand, all Khaosod seems willing/able to say is:

The new set of rules, 10 points in total, was compiled by the police after His Majesty the King called for a revamp in security measures that would cause minimal impact to motorists….

The more complete report states:

The process of adjusting the protection pattern during the royal motorcades of the King and his royal family by the Royal Thai Police is intended to provide security to … the King and royal family at the highest standard to be dignified and in accordance with the wishes of … the King.

In fact, these are not particularly new. Back in 2012, the last time the muffled criticism of the royal family’s motorcades became public, a new set of rules were issued. It didn’t take long for the royals and their minions to regress. We suppose 2020 will see the same backsliding into pampered privilege.





Royals bringing themselves undone

10 01 2020

As the “crisis” of the British monarchy hits the headlines and the actions of a couple of self-righteous twats are criticized, The Straits Times begins a story on social media criticism of members of the royal family saying, “No longer content to just whisper in private settings their views on the monarchy, Thais are now openly discussing, and at times criticising, the royal family despite harsh laws.”

The story is built around the recent activity criticizing shutdowns of shopping centers, whole islands and many streets in order to facilitate the Hello magazine-style lifestyle of the royals.

As the “authorities closely monitoring Facebook, more people in Thailand … are venting via tweets, while hiding behind fake names and photos…”.

From Wikipedia

The most recent incident was criticism of the king’s pampered and vain daughter Princess Sirivannavari’s new year jaunt with rich friends to the south for a bit of partying and sightseeing. Trouble was that no one else was permitted in the same areas – on land or sea – as “the authorities closed off parts of the popular southern islands…”. Even fisherman were ordered to go elsewhere or stay in harbor. The result was the “#IslandsShutdown hashtag was used about 382,000 times as of Jan 1 but has since been repeated more than a million times.”

An earlier hashtag “#RoyalMotorcade became the top trending hashtag on Twitter in October with over 250,000 retweets” as netizens piled on criticism over road and shopping center closures to satisfy the fabulously wealthy royals who seem oblivious to the extent of their privilege and the trouble this causes for hundreds of thousands of people.

The criticism is considered “unprecedented,” which is not quite accurate, but Soraj Hongladarom, a philosophy professor at Chulalongkorn University is quoted as saying this represents a “macro-level structural change of Thai society which has already been set in motion” as attitudes to the monarchy change under the grasping reign of King Vajiralongkorn.

In fact, though, the most recent bouts of outspoken criticism of the monarchy have their origins in King Bhumibol’s support of military dictatorship and especially of the 2006 coup and then the brutal crushing of the red shirt rebellion by royalist military leaders, most of whom have run the government since the 2014 military coup.

It looks very much like the current king’s own behavior is abominable as he jets about, using taxpayer money to spend most of his time away from Thailand. He has that in common with Prince Harry who also seems uncomfortable in his own country.





Updated: Fear of the palace

4 10 2019

PPT has been following the social media discussion of massive traffic jams and delays caused by processing royals. Only one English-language outlet has reported on this and the mainstream media seems reluctant to mention it. As usual, the reason for this reticence is fear.

Khaosod reported a couple of days ago that a royal blockade last Tuesday had “[c]ommuters frustrated with police’s traffic blockade during … rush hours…”. On social media, the commuters are “seething with anger over the blockade, which shut down a number of key roads and intersections in downtown Bangkok for a royal motorcade to pass through.”

Several posts are not just frustrated but expressing anti-royal sentiment. One social media post reckoned that there were now close to 750,000 angry tweets and posts. This is probably why the mainstream media is running in fear.

How things have changed. Just a few years ago, a palace official claimed: “The royal family never meant to bother the public.” Of course, the motorcades had been a fact of unpleasant urban life in Bangkok for decades, but politics and rising anti-monarchism back in 2012 caused the then king to issue “new rules” for the “treatment of royals on the roads” and in shopping malls.

Back then, “authorities distributed 25,000 handbooks to police and other officials with guidelines for directing royal convoys and new protocol for public appearances by the extended royal family.” The report added: “The manual overturns several practices that had quietly irritated the public in a country where open criticism of the royal family is illegal, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.”

For the malls, it was stipulated that they no longer had to “turn away shoppers if a royal family member shows up.”

It seems that these changes were simply too much for the current crop of royals and they are now happy to irritate the public.

Update: One fear, it is worthwhile reading an op-ed at Khaosod. Pravit Rojanaphruk writes of what is probably a hoax but demonstrates the effectiveness of intimidation associated with the monarchy. Royalists work in mysterious ways but all to “protect” the world’s wealthiest monarchs in a Thai world that is looking remarkably feudal. Interestingly, a recent photo of blocking entry to malls for royals is reproduced. We clipped it below.





New queen, new positions

16 06 2019

The royal couple may never be in Thailand all that much, preferring Munich, Tutzing and Zurich, but that doesn’t stop the royal tank grinding on.

The Bangkok Post reports that the king has “commanded” – oh, so feudal! – that six royal agencies be placed under new queen Suthida:

Suthida in the uniform, earrings and makeup of a General

The six agencies are Her Majesty Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother’s Private Secretary Division; Her Majesty Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother’s Royal Household Division; Supplementary Occupation Programme Division; Sirikit Institute; The Foundation for the Promotion of Supplementary Occupations and Related Technique of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand; and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother’s ladies-in-waiting.

With Sirikit incapacitated for several years, this is generational change but it also represents the rise and rise of Vajiralongkorn.

Suthida also carries an multi-syllable name, Bajrasudhabimalalakshana. Quite a change from the family name Tidjai or even from the previous Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya.

Showered with “honors” and having moved up from second lieutenant to full general in just six years of military “service,” she holds military command positions with the Royal Thai Aide-de-camp Department and the large force that “protect” the king and royal family.





An anti-democrat defines the junta’s “election”

3 03 2019

We at PPT earlier posted on how the abysmal notion of nominating a member of the royal family as a prime ministerial candidate for a pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party meant the anti-Thaksin lot could campaign for the “election” around imagined notions of loyalty.

Thai PBS reports on campaigning by Suthep Thuagsuban, founder of the pro-junta Ruam Palang Prachachart Thai Party or the Action Coalition for Thailand Party, former deputy leader of the Democrat Party when he ordered red shirts shot down and also proud leader of the anti-democratic People’s Democratic Reform Committee. Suthep has declared that the junta’s election “is not a vote between democracy and military dictatorship, but a vote between Thailand and fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra…”.

Suthep said “he saw the need to remind the Thai public of the misdeeds allegedly committed by the Thaksin regime.” That means he also sees that the pro-Thaksin parties are looking very strong in campaigning. Hence his response is to emphasize Thaksin as the disloyal criminal.

He says there’s a “straightforward question for the Thai people:  Which side they will choose?  Should we allow the Thaksin regime to stage a comeback?” The question carries with it an implied threat: re-elect a pro-Thaksin government and face the consequences. In the period since 2001, the consequences have been street demonstrations and violence leading to two military coups.





Analysis of recent events

15 02 2019

PPT has refrained from mentioning much of what passes for analysis of the events of the past week. One reason for this is that most of it has been highly speculative and bound in rumor.

Some self-styled analysts and quite a few academics have produced speculative accounts. Several managed to come up with different interpretations of the same events. Some have seemingly reproduced other accounts. Some of the more careful have come up with possible scenarios, allowing readers to choose the version that suits their perceptions and biases.

Perhaps that’s why PPT found New Mandala’s “Q&A: Supalak Ganjanakhundee on Thailand’s week of chaos” useful. Supalak is editor of The Nation. We highly recommend reading it, and we only present some highlighted bits and pieces here.

Supalak says that both Thai Raksa Chart and Puea Thai are under threat and the former will be dissolved by the Constitutional Court according to the so-called Royal Command:

The court will probably rule against the law, as the courts often do—the appeal to something outside the law, to make judgements on the law. If we are to make a clear argument, there is no legal status to the royal command.

The “election” campaign will now be dominated by the junta’s party attacking the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties as disloyal:

[Palang] Pracharat will try to create a political discourse against the Thaksin camp, by arguing that he brought the royal family into Thai politics—this is a dirty thing in Thai society. It’s not appropriate to have high society running in dirty politics. Now Pheu Thai is in a very awkward position indeed.

It is noted that Thaksin’s gambit was  not supported by many progressives who believe that there’s no place for royals in democratic politics. Supalak doesn’t rule out a pro-royalist alliance between Palang Pracharat and the Democrat Party.

The comment that “Thaksin underestimated the King” seems self-evident:

the royal command on Friday night was not a law. A royal command can only be applied within the [royal] house, not to people outside the house and particularly not in the political sphere. So it was logical for Thaksin. He might have calculated that this outcome was possible, but he underestimated the King. The other possibility is that the King changed his mind—otherwise Prayuth might not have shown his confidence by jumping into the game.

Later Supalak adds:

The royal command is an interpretation of the law…. The royal command has implied that if you’re born into the royal family, you cannot resign. I think that’s a very ambiguous interpretation to establish the monarchy above the law.

Supalak dismisses analysis that has the king commanding the military and opposed to the junta:

I don’t buy the theory that the King is so strong. I understand that he is trying to build the influence of his faction in the military…. His power is not—well, he could not have consolidated his power already. It will take time to have everything under his control. From my understanding, the military wants to have their own voice…. Now we live in a situation where the monarchy and the military are in tension over who will control who. It will take a few years for a clear picture to emerge….

The King commands loyalty from some factions of the military but people like Prawit and Prayuth want to be like people like Prem—middlemen between the palace and the military. They’re building their own regimes but this might also take time as they each hedge their bets.

In moving forward, Supalak is, in our view, making a good point in observing:

If you combine the idea of network monarchy and the deep state together, we might say that the overall effect is the emergence of some new regime that combines the military, the monarchy and capital. Big capital is always willing to support the monarchy, willing to support the military. Pracharat is the perfect model for combining royalty, the military and capital. The difficulty [in consolidating a model] is the unpredictable character of the King.

On the king’s politics:

… the monarch is not interested in institutionalising its power, working through laws, custom, norms and tradition. We cannot simply say—refer to the constitution for the role of the monarchy. Every constitution in recent history has been designed to enhance, not limit, the role of the monarchy. The trend is towards a direct form of rule. The people surrounding the King are not trying to institutionalise the monarchy.

On the future of free and open discussion:

The trend will not be an opening up [of discussion]. It will be a closing. Look at what the King has done since he took the throne—the message has been that he wants the country to be in order, disciplined. Look at the way he dealt with the constitution. He amended the constitution after the referendum—that’s the standard by which he exercises power. It’s not the rule of law. I really have little hope and will be pessimistic that our country will be ruled by the rule of law…. We are living with fear.