Updates on Jitra Kotchadej and on the red shirt petition

22 10 2009

Jitra Kotchadej: Jitra was the subject of lese majeste accusations and action by her employer in 2008. A union activist and friend of Chotisak Onsoong, Jitra was fired by bosses at her clothing factory in August for appearing on a TV panel discussion wearing a T-shirt saying “Not standing is not a crime,” a reference to Chotisak’s on-going case. PPT does not know if she was charged. She has remained active in the Triumph International case of lockout and strikes. The latest update is from Prachatai (22 October 2009: “‘Try Arm’ underwear by the producers of Triumph”) and has photos of the some 200 workers sitting-in/occupying the Ministry of Labor in Bangkok and making underwear. Jitra is one of these workers and is a former president of the union and was the first worker sacked.

Red shirt petition: Readers will be interested in this English article by Smarn Lertwongrath, a former executive member of the People’s Power Party on the petition for a “royal pardon” for Thaksin Shinawatra. 2Bangkok.com has posted this and regularly provides summaries of the various red shirt publications.

Prem criticized, petition delayed

17 10 2009

Prem criticized: The President of the Privy Council General Prem Tinsulanonda has been called out by the Puea Thai Party on his accusations that the party is somehow disloyal or traitorous (Bangkok Post, 17 October 2009: “Gen Prem told to stop slandering PT”). This was in response to Prem’s statement that “he had warned former premier Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyuth to think twice before deciding to join the opposition party as it would be considered as a betrayal to the country.” A party spokesman “insisted that his party has a clear policy to develop the country democratic system and to protect the country’s high institution.” He added that Chavalit’s “decision to join Puea Thai Party was a personal right of each individual and it had nothing to do with the Privy Council’s president…”. The UDD rally (see below) also criticized Prem for his statements.

Thaksin royal pardon petition: The UDD has accused the Abhisit Vejjajiva government of deliberately delaying the red shirt petition that requests a royal pardon for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra (Bangkok Post, 17 October 2009: “UDD: Govt tries to drag out petition”). The current red shirt rally in Bangkok was called to put pressure on the government to move the petition forward. It is now “60 days since the petition was submitted to the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary.” The red shirts accuse the government of having “ignored the wishes of 3.5 million people who signed their names in support of the petition…”.

The monarchy and political awareness

22 08 2009

The Malaysian Insider (22 August 2009: “Thaksin petition puts elite in a quandary”) comments on the “royla pardon” petition and “the elite.”

Calling the petition “unprecedented,”  it is claimed that the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship action has thrown the “country’s establishment in a quandary. But the quandary is partly of its own making.”

The “establishment” has many legal and other reasons for wanting to prevent the petition and for fearing an unlikely pardon. One of these is said to be that “pardons are granted on humanitarian grounds or to people who have been jailed for lese majeste … — a law that many among Thailand’s elite find embarrassing.”

PPT wonders about this. If many in the “elite” find the law “embarrassing,” they seem to have no embarrassment about using it against political opponents. As the article rightly points out, it is the central reason for rejecting the petition/pardon; in other words, Thaksin’s challenge to the monarchy.

Thaksin’s challenge was to a “cultural norm by refusing to go quietly. In accusing Privy Councillors — especially elder statesman General Prem Tinsulanonda — of plotting his downfall, he broke a longstanding taboo against criticism of the august inner circle.” Against Thaksin’s denials, “the elite suspect he is a republican intent on overthrowing the monarchy, an institution virtually synonymous with Thailand’s identity.”

But the monarchy’s position in the ongoing political conflict is partly a result of decisions made by the “the august inner circle.” For example, from the “beginnings of the movement against Thaksin in late 2005, the monarchy has undeniably been at the centre of the political conflict. The latest book [a second edition] by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit, titled Thaksin, details how the army’s top brass in 2007 talked openly of the need to ‘win the grassroots back for the King’.”

PPT would add that the People’s Alliance for Democracymade the monarchy central to its anti-Thaksin politics from the beginning. And we should also point out that the creation of Thailand’s identity has been intimately bound to the monarchy is a royalist manufacture, and recommends Michael Connors at Sovereign Myth.

The Malaysian Insider also makes the mistake of considering that the monarchy is above politics when writing of the legalities of the petition and pardon, but PPT thinks that this is meant to refer to perception and propaganda rather than reality. In any case, as the article points out, “the legal process is not at issue here. What is at issue is the symbolism of the petition.” And it is here that the “ruling establishment had played into the hands of the red-shirted United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) by over-reacting.” Indeed, “Red shirts and their sympathisers — not all of whom necessarily like Thaksin – are delighted that the petition has placed the establishment on the defensive. If it were to reject the petition, it will be seen as ignoring the wishes of over three million Thais.”

The article states that the “large number of those who signed the petition indicates that there is a new political awareness among the masses. They have been awakened by the turmoil of the last three years.” The final comment is: “How the elite deal with this latest move in the high-stakes chess game over the future of Thailand will indicate if they remain in step with a county that is in rapid transition.” PPT agrees.

Gossip, innuendo and conspiracy (or “journalism” at The Nation)

20 08 2009

On this post in Thai, see การนินทา การแดกดันและการสมคบคิด (กับ “สื่อ” อย่างเดอะเนชั่น) – วันอาทิตย์ 23 สิงหาคม 2009 — chapter 11.

About 10 days ago PPT blogged on The Nation’s remarkable plot story. There we said that some of its stories and columns would not qualify as journalism, pointing out that personal attacks and unsupported allegations have been too common.

The Nation editorial we commented on constructed a grand and imaginative conspiracy. To cut a long story short, it was claimed then that Thaksin Shinawatra, the red shirts, the supposed blue camp of General Pravit Wongsuwan and Army Chief General Anupong Paochinda, together with a few “suspect” privy councilors, were conspiring with police and traitors in the Democrat Party (most especially Deputy Premier Suthep Thaugsuban) in a behind-the-scenes power play against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (who was allied with Sondhi Limthongkul and his People’s Alliance for Democracy) that would somehow use the Thaksin “royal pardon” petition and the predicted violence to do something…. maybe a “People’s Revolution” or a coup.

PPT saw no evidence for the claims made. We suggested that even if there was something to rumor and conspiracy theory, serious questions need to be asked of this style of “journalism.” PPT was left wondering why The Nation was intent on such tabloid journalism (a journalism that  sensationalizes and exaggerates often using gossip, repeating scandal and relying on innuendo).

Now Thanong Khanthong, the Nation’s leading propagator of this style of “journalism,” gives its readers a new sensational read (21 August 2009: “One crisis averted; more to look forward to”). Apparently made breathless by his own conspiracy theories, Thanong claims that the “Abhisit government narrowly survived the crisis of the royal petition.” With the military was on full alert, the only thing that saved the government was that the damn red shirts were non-violent!

So what happened? The red shirts made “yet another attempt to intimidate the monarchy.” In fact, “the petition can be interpreted as nothing more than a sheer act of provocation and arrogance, with a hidden political agenda.” Hidden? Yes, because Thanong guesses that “the petition was designed as an act of provocation against the monarchy so that the military could have the justification to come out. To justify an intervention, the military could have conveniently blamed the red shirts for committing lese majeste. The plot was very similar to an incident that sparked the violence of the October 6, 1976 tragedy at Thammasat University. If, after a gesture from some key red-shirt strategists, the military had come out, then the red shirts would have become the victims of military suppression.”

For Thanong, the “red shirts are easy pawns that can be sacrificed any time by their leaders, who selfishly crave a military intervention so that they can return to power.” More than this though, Thanong explains that the red shirt leaders were rewarded because they “got more than Bt1 billion for their labour and expenses in the royal petition operation.”

Thanong provides no evidence so a reasonable reader must believe he has made this up. He makes no effort to tell us why the conspiracy failed. Why was there no violence? But never mind, he has another conspiracy that can see the same result!

Fearing that their leader Newin Chidchob will get convicted in the rubber sapling case, the Bhum Jai Thai has proposed an amnesty for  “politicians affected by the 2007 military coup.” PPT must have missed that coup. Maybe Thanong means 2006? This move, Thanong claims, will be the cause of more divisiveness and the military coup he claims the co-conspirators want. This time, it would be the yellow shirts who would be the pawns because they would protest such an amnesty. Thanong does not explain if the yellow shirts are also the pawns of well-paid leaders.

Thanong tells Abhisit that he “cannot sit still.” Thanong admits that he is not a great astrologer: “I predicted that his government might not last beyond August. Now it appears that the August crisis has been averted.” But beware!  “The prime minister can now look forward to the dangerous month of October, which he might or might not survive.” Of course, Thanong’s prediction can’t possibly be wrong this time! Why October? Who knows? But Thanong tells his readers that “the government is broke.” Because of this (and the grand conspiracy), the “knot is being tightened around our dear prime minister.”

Why should PPT even bother blogging about this kind of bottom-feeding journalism? A good question. As we said previously, The Nation was once a newspaper that wanted to be taken seriously. Is that possible now? Probably not, but even in a paper of declining standards and financial stress, there remain a some bright lights (e.g. Chang Noi, the currently sadly missed Pravit  Rojanaphruk, and some of the very basic reporting). But Thanong should be condemned for descending into the muddy swamps of sensationalism, exaggeration,  gossip, repeating scandal and relying on innuendo. Conjecture, divination,  fancifulness, writing on hunches and opinionated guesses don’t amount to journalism. Readers deserve more respect than this.

Petition day (with several updates)

19 08 2009

See several Updates below, including for 20 August 2009.

Reports of the red shirt/United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) presentation of the “royal pardon” petition for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra are becoming available. PPT summarizes some of them here.

Early reports in several newspapers said that thousands of red shirt supporters gathered at Sanam Lunag overnight and in the very early morning.

The Nation (17 August 2009: “Fears of clashes loom”) began by referring to the continuing fear of red shirt-blue shirt clashes (recall that justa few days ago the same newspaper reported that the two groups were allies) as the red shirts lodged their petition while the Supreme Court’s verdict in the rubber-sapling case against Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Newin Chidchob.

In the end, that latter case fizzled as the court postponed its verdict until 21 September (see the hour-by-hour details of the two events in The Nation).

The Nation reports People’s Alliance for Democracy co-ordinator Suriyasai Katasila, who seemed to warn of a “dark hand” that might benefit, pointing to the supposedly “impassive stance by military leaders” and claiming that “they will be the key factor wielding influence over the situation.”

Meanwhile, red shirt leaders are quoted as saying that blus shirts were being paid to disrupt the red shirt rally.

The Bangkok Post (17 August 2009: “Boonjong: No obstruction to UDD”) reports that Deputy Interior Minister Boonjong Wongtrairat denied that he had hired people to disrupt the red shirt rally. This refers to “third hand” rumors. He said: “The government is not trying to block the red-shirt supporters from different provinces from joining the mass rally in Bangkok…”. This followed claims that such disruption – a tactic used on several occasions since the 2006 coup – were taking place as police prevented rural people getting to Bangkok.

Boonjong did not think there would be clashes between petition supporters and opponents. He added that “More than 10 million people have signed their names to oppose the royal pardon petition for the fugitive politician…”, a claim which would be impossible to verify, but he added that “provincial governors, district chief officers and village headmen continued to explain the process to the locals in their areas…”.

Meanwhile, as thousands rallied, Thaksin phoned in (Bangkok Post, 17 August 2009: “Thaksin speaks to supporters”). He reportedly told his supporters “that he was a political victim, and has not been fairly treated as authorities adopt double standards in the justice system against him.” This is why he had turned to the king (see more below). Nothing new in either of these claims by Thaksin.

At about the same time, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban denied coup rumors (Bangkok Post, 17 August 2009: “Suthep: Silent coup just a rumour”). There would be no “silent coup” he said, adding, “The army officials I know follow the democratic system and they are not looking for more power…”. On the petition, flying in the face of the government’s numerous efforts to stop it, Suthep claimed: “We should not underestimate the situation but we should not be too apprehensive either…”. Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon supported Suthep.

The Bangkok Post and AFP have a background story on the delivery of the petition (17 August 2009: “Thaksin petition handed”), claiming more than 30,000 red shirts at Sanam Luang, with a picture of the petition (or part of it) being carried.

Bangkok Post photo

Bangkok Post photo

The red shirts claimed “they had collected at least five million signatures,” which the government has said they will check and scrutinize. The Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary was to transfer the petition boxes “to the government for inspection before deciding if the petition should be submitted to His Majesty.” Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has already said that the petition would be rejected by the government as unlawful.

This report has more on Thaksin’s phone-in, where he again appealed to the king: “We are here today to inform our father, the King of every Thai, that we want to see unity and reconciliation…”. Thaksin then went royalist, as he has often done, turning “to a portrait of Thailand’s widely revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the royal family and sang a traditional royal song.”

The petition was presented to the Royal Household offices at 1 p.m., with 10 boxes wrapped in  red cloth, led by 10 UDD leaders, including Veera Musigapong, and 5  monks. The Nation (17 August 2009: “Red shirts move to submit petition”) reports “dozens of monks” involved in the march to present the petition.


Nation photo

The report says, “After the petition was handed, the group dissolved peacefully and many had returned to Sanam Luang.”

In explaining the petition, this report notes: “Twice-elected Thaksin still enjoys huge support among Thailand’s poor, particularly in rural northern parts of the country, but is hated by the Bangkok-based elite in the palace, military and establishment.”

UPDATE: The Nation (18 August 2009: “Ex-PM pleads with HM, teary over devoted red shirts”) writes of Thaksin’s phone-in  and his royalist pleadings.

The report bgins: “Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, with tears in his eyes, pleaded with His Majesty the King to grant him royal amnesty and thanked his red-shirted supporters for submitting the petition on his behalf.” He is said to have proclaimed: “I, Thaksin Shinawatra, and my family will be loyal to the King and the monarchy forever.”

The Nation claims more than 20,000 red shirts marched to the Grand Palace and it is reported that thousands more assembled at Sanam Luang.

Thakin “said that he was turning to His Majesty as a last resort.” He is reported to have said: “We need to rely on His Majesty to bring back justice and peace to Thailand…”.  He said, “We are here to inform the father of every Thai that we want to see unity and harmony. We want to see the return of right, freedom and dignity to Thailand. We want happiness return to the country through reconciliation…”. He bowed to portraits of the king and queen before leading supporters in royal song and proclaiming “Long Live the King.”

Thaksin apparently phoned in again, after the petition was submitted, to thank his supporters. He “went on to thank the country’s citizens for being merciful and for their moves to restore peace, unity and prosperity in the country.” And he added: “If I am given a chance to return, the first thing I will do is pay obeisance to you all…”. He said that he would “wait for a miracle and hoped that peace would bring him victory.”

Finally, Thaksin is said to have proclaimed, “Although I’m being harassed, I will be patient and wait to return,” and then launched into a rendition of the royal anthem.

This report, while in the notoriously unreliable Nation newspaper, essentially sums up Thaksin’s problem.  As a member of the Sino-Thai elite, he owes allegiance to the (also Sino-Thai) monarch in order to demonstrate his “Thai-ness.” At the same time, his support comes from the people, who are more progressive than Thaksin. Whereas Thaksin sees the monarchy as a potential solution to his personal problems, many of his supporters already realize that the monarchy is one of the problems and an obstacle to a more thorough-going democratization.

If Thaksin is to return to Thailand with a political future, he will need to decide where his “salvation” really lies: with a reactionary and exploitative and fabulously wealthy monarchy or with the people.

If he chooses to align with the monarchy he will be betraying his supporters and will lose his political advantage and his potential historical role, becoming just another dominated capitalist in a system that remains essentially feudal.

New Update: New Mandala has an on-the-spot report on the presentation of the petition by photo-journalist Nick Nostitz, including many photos. Worth viewing.

Further Update: The Nation (20 August 2009: “Don’t stall petition: Juturon warns PM”) has a comment on the petition which is in line with other alarmist and irresponsible columns they have had recently. It asks: “Is the petition a bid to politicise the monarchy, and split the land?” And answers: “The country is going through a delicate phase as politics takes a dangerous twist – with the red shirts and Thaksin Shinawatra clamouring, even begging for a royal pardon. It could drive the country on the path to civil war” [emphasis added].

The Nation continues: “For many, the threat that Thailand will be ‘a nation lost’ is real. The division among Thais is clearly getting out of hand, taking into account actions from both the government and Thaksin’s side. The move to seek a royal pardon for Thaksin is clearly politically motivated and his possible motive may be to politicise the monarchy.”

It is simply disingenuous to keep claiming that the red shirts are politicizing the monarchy. The palace did this itself over a number of years and events, culminating in the planning and direction of the 2006 coup. Of course the “royal pardon” is political. The red shirts are using the palace’s politicization for their own ends and, judging by the frothing of the Nation’s editorialists and other conservatives, seem to have been successful.

Fears of clashes loom

Reds to present petition today; Newin supporters to meet outside court

Two gripping political dramas reach their climaxes today – the lodging of a petition to His Majesty the King seeking clemency for former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and the reading of the Supreme Court’s verdict in the rubber-sapling case against Bhum Jai Thai Party core leader Newin Chidchob.

The red-shirted supporters of Thaksin will march to the Grand Palace, where at Wiset Chaisri Gate they will hand the appeal to a representative from the Office of His Majesty’s Private Secretary.

At the same time, the blue-shirted devotees of Newin will turn up at the Supreme Court’s Political Division for Political Office Holders, which is located near Sanam Luang.

Since the two activities will take place very close by, authorities are afraid there could be clashes between the red shirts and blue shirts if they do not get the political results they want.

The red shirts will converge at Sanam Luang in the morning and Thaksin will phone in to their rally at about 10am.

The verdict in the rubber case against 44 defendants, including Newin, will be read out at 2pm.

Suriyasai Katasila, coordinator for the People’s Alliance for Democracy, warned of a possible political twist if a third party took the opportunity to create a scene for its own benefit.

He questioned the impassive stance by military leaders, saying they will be the key factor wielding influence over the situation.

The incredible Abhisit petition response

18 08 2009

Also available in Thai as เหลือเชื่อ กับคำตอบของอภิสิทธิ์.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is becoming a victim of his own discombobulating over the “royal pardon” petition for Thaksin Shinawatra.

In the Bangkok Post (18 August 2009: “Reviewing petition may take months, says PM”) Abhisit is reported to have said that it “would take at very the least two months to study the petition for a royal pardon for Thaksin Shinawatra before a decision could be made on what futher action to take on it…”. Just the day before submission, Abhisit stated categorically that the petition would be rejected as it did not conform to legal criteria.

Abhisit said that the checking of this petition would take a long time because of the it was “a complex issue and a large group of people had purportedly signed the petition.” Note the use of the term “purportedly.” Of course there is no questuion that 10 million signed up for the government’s anti-petition petition. Nor has there been any check on other letters written in the name of others by officials. Issues of forgery and abuse of power in, say, universities?

The premier has no credibility on this issue.

Even so, Abhisit put Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban in charge of overseeing the matter. It seems that there is not another member of the Democrat Party who has the capacity to overview any “difficult” issue for the government.

Abhisit also made the incredible claim that “the government would not obstruct the process.” He added: “I assure all parties that the government will treat this petition as other petitions,” and said “I promise that the government will not do anything to obstruct or buy time on this issue…”. PPT remains to be convinced on this. Abhisit has mangled the truth repeatedly in the past and especially on this issue that he is unbelievable.

Suthep said he favors a “panel of experts to review the petition.” Presumably he will disqualify all academics who have already claimed that the petition is illegal? Or maybe not…, especially as Justice Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga has “said that the process will go no further if the petition failed to meet legal criteria.”

Revealingly, though, for the all the government and conservative huffing and puffing and threatening on the petition, the minister states: “I do not know at this stage whether this petition is actually seeking a royal pardon, or just filing a complaint…”.

UDD core leader Jatuporn Prompan responded that”If the government tries to scrap the petition, it will be a reason for the red-shirts to hold a major rally…”.

Government claims 5 million sign anti-Thaksin pardon petition in a week

17 08 2009

An interesting sidebar on the presentation of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship’s campaign to petition for a “royal pardon” for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra relates to the government’s “data” and its presentation.

On 11 August, the Bangkok Post reported Deputy Interior Minister Boonjong Wongtrairat claiming that 5 million had signed up to the government’s anti-petition petition.

The deputy minister said that “the Interior Ministry would continue to accept people’s signatures for an indefinite period.” He added that the names on the government’s petition would not be “submitted along with the UDD petition because the ministry only wanted to let the people see how big the opposition was to the petition.”

Today, the very same deputy minister is reported again in the Bangkok Post (17 August 2009: “Boonjong: No obstruction to UDD”) stating that: “More than 10 million people have signed their names to oppose the royal pardon petition…”.

He is supported by Interior Minister  Chavarat Charnveerakul also in the Post (17 August 2009: “Chavarat: 10m oppose Thaksin petition”) who also claimed that “more than 10 million people throughout the country have signed in opposition against the petition for a royal pardon for Thaksin Shinawatra.”

The minister said that “the highest number or 4.7 million was in the Northeast – the traditional stronghold of the UDD.”

Chavarat also “insisted that those who signed the opposition had not been forced to do so” and then stated that his “ministry had no intention to compare the number of the signers to that of the UDD but to tell them of correct procedures regarding a petition to His Majesty the King.”

PPT finds it difficult to believe these ministers when they make such ludicrous claims about voluntary signing. The numbers claimed are also questionable. Could it be true that the governors, district chiefs, kamnan and village heads have really collected 5 million signatures in a week?

More of the minister’s non-pressure is applied by his statement that he had “ordered the permanent secretary for interior to put the names on the websites of every provinces and the Interior Ministry…”. Why would the government want to do this if it is not pressuring and not comparing?

Violence predicted?

15 08 2009

The Bangkok Post (15 August 2009: “Police plan response for UDD petition handover”) appears to be predicting violence when the red shirts present their petition for Thaksin Shinwatra’s “royal pardon” and when a Supreme Court rubber saplings corruption case is decided.

Acting police chief Wichien Potposri has asked “demonstrators to maintain order and warned them not to approach the Grand Palace in huge numbers.” At the same time, police will “not block red shirt demonstrators from approaching the Grand Palace but will form a line to separate them from blue shirt protesters who are likely to show up at the adjacent Supreme Court.”

The blue shirts will be at the Supreme Court to support their founder and godfather Newin Chidchob.

The police have “asked the armed forces to have soldiers on standby in case Bangkok police seek their assistance on Monday.”

Meanwhile, red shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship “said the Royal Household Bureau contacted his group to coordinate the submission of the petition and this contact proved people had the right to petition for a royal pardon for Thaksin.”

The red shirts expect 100,000 supporters to gather at Sanam Luang. They claim to have invited former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and some privy councillors to attend.

Readers will recall that the blue shirts, directed by Newin and officials from the government coordinated the police and military with the blue shirts in Pattaya in April. This led to attacks on the red shirts that developed into the Songkhran Uprising, put down by the military.

Update: The Nation (16 August 2009: “Thaksin petition will be thrown out: PM”) reports that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has stated (yet again) that the red shirt petition will be rejected. More interesting is his comment on potential violence. It is reported that Abhisit does not call on his ally Newin’s blue shirts to avoid violence and act lawfully. Rather he calls on the “red shirts to rally within the frame of the law after a report that they planned to stage a protest outside Government House.”

Meanwhile the military has declared that it is “ready to help police if they needed its support to keep the peace in the capital.”

These stories predicting violence might be justified given the events of April, but it is (yet again) a one-sided story being told. Hopefully the government will control third hands such as those reporting to Newin rather than unleashing them.

The government, the monarchy and the politicization of the bureaucracy

14 08 2009

PPT has never thought of the bureaucracy as “apolitical,” but readers may remember that Thaksin Shinawatra was accused of politicizing the bureaucracy. Now the Democrat Party-led coalition government is similarly engaged.

It is reported in The Nation (14 August 2009: “29 top permanent officials against Thaksin petition”) that all “29 senior-most officials at the level of permanent secretary issued a statement opposing the [Thaksin Shinawatra] pardon petition [by the red shirts] and calling for an intercession for the document not to reach the King.” Apparently these senior officials consider the “petition was designed to involve the monarchy in the political struggle.” They seem to think that the petition raises “doubts will remain about the impartiality of the monarchy,” and they urge that it is “a duty of every citizen and the civil service to uphold the monarchy above and beyond politics.” Finally, they add that the “petition, if allowed to proceed to reach the attention of the King, will cause irreparable damage to the country’s revered institution.”

This is no more than a reiteration of the monarchical ideology. However, all of this anti-petition action suggests that the government and its conservative backers are panicked but also raising the potential for conflict and perhaps even motivating it. This is dangerous.

Royalism protected and promoted

12 08 2009

Prachatai has two stories of note on royal and royalist topics.

The first (11 August 2009: “Manager distributes complaint form for filing charges against red-shirt leaders”) reports on Sondhi Limthongkul’s ManagerASTV and the People’s Alliance for Democracy running a campaign against the “royal pardon” petition for Thaksin Shinawatra. PAD lawyer Suwat Aphaiphak claims the petition is a “violation of the Criminal Code, subject to many years in jail on charges of assisting a culprit and contempt of court.” The Manager website has a copy of a document that can be downloaded in order to bring charges against the “bad reds.” Suwat believes that the petition is “a political ploy to pressure the King.” Of course, there is no mention of the PAD attempt to pressure the king back in 2006, also by petition and also political. Suwat stated that he was “preparing to file charges against the red-shirt leaders…”.

The second Prachatai story (12 August 2009: “Government sponsors epic movie ‘Naresuan’ to urge Thais to worship the monarchy”) refers to the heavy publicity Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has recently had in announcing that the government would sponsor ‘Naresuan’, an epic movie about the ancient Ayutthayan king who saved the kingdom from Burma four hundred years ago.”

This is a second part of a nationalist exercise begun by the royalist director Chatrichalerm Yukol who carries the princely moniker of “Mom Chao.” He was also responsible for the boringly long ‘Suriyothai’ in 2001 (see below).

Abhisit claimed “that the legend of King Naresuan was meaningful in Thai history and to the Thai people.” He said the “movie is in honor of Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her birthday on Aug 12, and to promote and worship the great king for his bravery, endurance, sacrifice, patriotism and military genius which have contributed to Thai sovereignty up to today, as well as to raise the awareness among Thais to unite and love the country.”

Abhisit seems to have lost his ideological way and is reverting to the standard royalist ploys of hyper-nationalism tied to royalist myths about the past. Abhisit seems set on banging the royalist-nationalist drum, having the Ministry of Culture “give support to the production.” Sounding more royalist than ever before, Abhisit apparently wanted this support to translate into “Thais worship[ing] the monarchy which has contributed so much to the benefit of the Thai people.”

The Minister of Culture Teera Slukpetch explained that the cash to support yet another royal scheme would be from Abhisit’s so far ineffectual “Strong Thai Project.” And how much support? The Minister was going to consult Sirikit’s princely relative Chatrichalerm on this and then seek Cabinet approval.

One might hope that someone in Cabinet would have sufficient courage and/or intelligence to see this as another plot to subsidize royal ideas of little merit, but probably not, and more taxpayers’ money will go down this very large rat hole. Of course, being the wealthiest royal family in the world makes them deserving of even more support than they already get (and no one dares say how much that is).

The Suriyothai venture is worthy of some comment, and the Wikipedia entry has some interesting details. The director says that the “film was originally the idea of Queen Sirikit” and film was “financed by Queen Sirikit.” This support may have cost the queen as much as US$20 million. In addition, Sirikit’s backing, the Army and Navy were called on to provide several thousand film extras. At the time, it was rumored that the film was the most expensive Thai film ever made, but because of the queen’s involvement, no accurate figure is ever possible.

Perhaps that’s why the government is being brought in to fund this new movie

A media report claims that “Some of the queen’s contributions may be less fortuitous. Discerning filmgoers will not be surprised to learn, for example, that M.L. Piyapas Bhirombhakdi, who plays the title role, is not an actress. In fact she is Queen Sirikit’s royal dresser, or lady in waiting, handpicked for the part by her majesty.”

The rumors on why the queen got involved in this movie say that the queen sees herself as a reincarnation of Suriyothai. Paul Handley in The King Never Smiles (2006, p. 385) is more polite, but the underlying rumor remains.

While some might point out to Abhisit and his Democrat Party that there are contradictions involved in promoting sufficiency economy ideas while pouring cash into the vanity movie projects of some of the wealthiest royals on the planet. That would be a misconception, however. In fact, all of this goes together into rebuilding the shaken foundations of the Thai monarchy as the ideological core of nationalist-royalism.

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