The monarchy and political campaigns

12 02 2010

PPT almost never agrees with Thanong Khanthong, one of The Nation’s hacks who seems to think that re-reporting extreme yellow-shirt views constitutes journalism. However, we do agree with one aspect of his latest op-ed where he notes: “The Thai Army is now in firm control…. [I]f the political situation gets out of hand … [i]t will roll out the tanks if the red shirts strike first. “ PPT guesses that this is the plan. Maybe it is even what the military and the Abhisit Vejjajiva government and its backers hope will happen. Maybe there will even be attempts to provoke such a “red shirt strike.” Or perhaps agents provocateur will maneuver a clash thus allowing a crackdown.

These are dangerous and confusing times. Talk of coups, new governments and so on are everywhere and it now seems almost inevitable that something will happen. There are more signs than just the reported events. There are threats against activists seen as pro-red shirt or anti-monarchy. Academics are being watched and some have been intimidated.

For PPT, however, a useful indicator of the likelihood of some kind of “final showdown” comes from the monarchy itself.

For the past three weeks and more the televised royal news has been dominated by long reports of the travels of Princess Sirindhorn in the north, south and northeast. You might think that there is nothing unusual about the jovial Sirindhorn’s visits but this looks much more like a politically-motivated schedule than her usual activities. In these visits, Sirindhorn is not just visiting “trouble spots” such as the deep south where she “inspects” Border Patrol Police schools and projects that emphasize making Malay-Muslim kids into Thai-Muslim subjects of the king. She is also shown visiting schools and projects in the north and the northeast in the heart of red shirt constituencies in Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Roi-et and Srisaket.

In our view, Sirindhorn is engaged on a highly political crusade. It seems that the she and the old men of the Privy Council have decided that one of the political problems in the red shirt heartland is that the monarchy has not been visible enough and that it is time to remind the “children” of the great benefactors from palace and the good works they do for the seemingly ungrateful “children.” Worse, it is clear to them that the current government is making no headway in these areas in winning back support from red shirts to the royalist political alliance.

It seems that their view is that since the king ceased his visits to these rural areas, the royal aura has declined and that it is essential to re-establish the monarchy in the minds of those who continue to support Thaksin Shinawatra. Within the current royal family, only Sirindhorn has the propaganda wherewithal to do that. She’s politicized enough to understand this, and the schedule for this now very middle-aged lady has been very demanding.

At the same time, the younger and more sprightly privy councilors have been keeping an equally demanding schedule of visits in these areas. They, like the princess, have been displaying royal benevolence and apparently trying to recapture a population that was lost to Thaksin, Thai Rak Thai and its successors.

It feels very much like General Prem Tinsulanond’s search for support prior to the 2006 coup. He was mainly campaigning for military support. The focus is now changed because the battle is now society-wide. Or, for those with long memories, think back to the royal campaigns for rural-based support in 1975 and 1976. In PPT’s view, these are not normal royal visits. There is an apparent urgency to the whole exercise and the political implications are also clear.

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