Making royal propaganda from the cave II

15 07 2018

While PPT refrained from commentary on the remarkably uplifting cave rescue, we have said a few things about its use for palace propaganda purposes (here, here and here). Our point has been to point out that the kind of royal propaganda is nothing new, but that this is an opportunity for the palace to boost the image of the new king in ways that are not all that different from his father. Royalism is so deeply embedded in the military and bureaucracy that there is a constant search for opportunities to make the monarch look good, kind, generous, loving of his people, etc.

The latest efforts have involved both a familiar pattern and one that strikes us as somewhat new. The familiar involves the promotion of the former Navy diver who died in the cave and providing a royally-sponsored funeral ceremony. If academic Serhat Unaldi referred to something called “working towards the monarchy,” this propaganda exercise kind of reverses the process, allowing the monarchy to gain credit from the death of someone considered popular, a hero or worthy in other ways. Such actions are not always simple and cynical efforts by the palace but invariably bestow considerable credit on the monarch.

Governor Narongsak

The less familiar involves something we noted in our first comment on the efforts in Chiang Rai. In that post we observed the dress of Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn. Initially in the search, he appeared in a “loyalty” outfit. Appearing appropriately loyal is required in royalist Thailand under the military dictatorship. At the time, we thought he might be wearing a sky blue Snoopy cap,along with a yellow scarf.

In fact, the cap bears the king’s rather childlike cartoon figures which also recently appeared on shirts. He wasn’t the only one wearing the outfit in the early days of the cave drama. Narongsak seemed to ditch the outfit as the search became very serious and he handled himself commendably. So did others.

However, after the huge elation following the successful rescue of those in the cave, the blue caps and yellow scarves are back in big numbers. As hundreds showed up to volunteer to assist in the cave area clean-up, it seems that they were all provided with these symbols of loyalty. Remarkably, the regimented volunteers all managed to show up in very similar yellow shirts.

This “uniform” was also on show in some of the very early pictures that came from the boating tragedy in Phuket where 48 persons seem to have perished. It seems that the idea of associating monarchy with a tragedy saw the “uniform” ditched.

The Bangkok Post has a some pictures from Chiang Rai following the joyous outcome there. The “uniform” is de rigueur. We clipped one of those here.

Way off in the distance in the photo is the picture of the king that the volunteers are saluting, all lined up in their identical outfits. It is clear that there’s a palace propaganda effort underway. Yellow and sky blue are the kings chosen colors.





Escaping the junta and rabid royalism

8 06 2018

Korean journalist Lee Jae-ho has written a poignant account of the plight of those hunted by the junta on lese majeste charges. It is a long story that deserves to be read in full.

After the coup, dissidents sought by the military junta and accused of various charges but including especially lese majeste, flooded across borders to Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. Laos and Cambodia may have seemed safe for a time, but seem less so now as the junta does deals with regimes there. The relationship between the military in Myanmar and in Thailand makes it less safe.

Some well-connected political refugees went to France, New Zealand, the U.S., Sweden, U.K. and elsewhere, but those in Asia have been living an often precarious life.

Lee’s story is of Chanoknan Ruamsap who arrived in South Korea in January this year.

She arrived in Seoul as a “tourist.” But she had a contact who took her to Gwangju.

She had been accused of lese majeste for sharing the now famous and widely known and widely shared BBC Thai article on new King Vajiralongkorn. It included truthful comments on his past and alleged “philandering, gambling, his extravagant lifestyle and his involvement in illegal businesses.”

It was that story that has Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa in jail. Chanoknan’s summons came two years after she shared the article, but she was targeted as a political activist with the New Democracy Movement that the junta wanted to silence.

She’s from a well-to-do family, so she may be better off than other refugees. She’s in South Korea, because UNHCR has a presence there and with a 90 day visa it gave her time to deal with international officialdom, hoping to end up in Europe.

In Gwangju, an extensive set of human rights groups helped her. The May 18 Memorial Foundation covered “her living expenses until she gained approval as a refugee.” That Foundation has a history of involvement on lese majeste cases.

Now she waits….





Nine years of PPT

21 01 2018

Yet another year has passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand.

After nine years, it is dispiriting that we must still post on gross authoritarianism, monarchy and political repression in Thailand.

PPT should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, being unnecessary as Thailand’s political prisoners would have been released and political repression replaced with a more democratic regime.

We began PPT on 21 January 2009, thinking our endeavors would be temporary. More than 7,000 posts and millions of views later, we are still at it, and Thailand is currently more authoritarian than it was when we began.

Thailand has now had an illegal military regime for almost four years. That regime was founded in nonsensical royalism and bound to a monarchy that remains feudal in its politics and grasping in its economic location. One king has gone and the new one is treading both a familiar path while adding his own peculiar positions and toadies. He has shown himself driven by the desire for wealth, power and to rid his kingdom of the vestiges of the 1932 revolution.

A better, more representative and more democratic politics remains a dream. The “reform” promised by the military junta and now embedded in a military-royal constitution promises that Thailand will remain dominated by an authoritarian elite for years to come.

The past year saw “enthusiasm” for an election, but without some kind of political slapdown of the junta, no election in Thailand can be free or fair under the junta’s rules.

When we sputtered into life PPT was as a collaborative effort to bring more international attention to the expanded use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws by the then Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and his anti-democratic Democrat Party. That regime’s tenure saw scores die and thousands injured in political clashes in 2009 and 2010 with hundreds held as political prisoners.

The royalism and repression that gained political impetus from anti-democratic street demonstrations that paved the way for the 2006 military coup and then for the 2014 military coup have become the military state’s ideology. That alliance looks weaker today as the junta and The Dictator seemingly prepare for post-election repression by a military-dominated regime.

Opponents of the military and the monarchy continue to be detained, coerced and threatened. Lese majeste has been used against them, silencing them and those who become fearful that they too might be whisked away into detention.

The 2006 and 2014 coups, conducted in the name of the monarchy, have seen a precipitous slide into a  political dark age. The current military junta has used the lese majeste, computer crimes and sedition laws as grotesque weapons of choice for its political repression.

Royalists have fought to maintain a royalist state that lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few. The military junta is seeking to institutionalize this control and power.

It seems forlorn to hope for the release of political prisoners under this regime.

Even so, we must remember that lese majeste is used in unconstitutional ways and the authorities demand “confessions” from those charged so that the courts do nothing but sentence. We should recall that brave individuals like Somyos Pruksakasemsuk and Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, now imprisoned for almost seven years and one year respectively, remain in jail. There are scores of others, workers, red shirts and activists, including the most recent inmate, a blind woman. Their continued imprisonment is a travesty of justice and their treatment has been inhumane and, in many cases, illegal.

In recent years, these lese majeste cases have grown exponentially. Military and civil courts have held secret trials and handed out unimaginably harsh sentences. And even worse than this,  the definition of what constitutes a crime under the draconian lese majeste law has been extended to include implied lese majeste and the “protection” of royals not cover by the law and even royal dogs and kings long dead.

PPT has now had more than 5.4 million page views at our two sites. We aren’t in the big league in the blogging world, despite an “award” ranking Political Prisoners of Thailand as one of Thailand’s top 100 blogs (in English). Even so, the level of interest in Thailand’s politics and the use of lese majeste internationally has increased. We are pleased that there is far more attention to the issue than there was when we began and that the international reporting and understanding of the issue is far more critical than it was when we began.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with us through the deepening attempts by the Thai censors to block us. Since mid-December, many of our readers in Thailand can only access PPT using a VPN.

We trust that we remain useful and we appreciate the emails we receive.

As in the past, we declare:

The lese majeste and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

All political prisoners must be released.

The military dictatorship must be deposed.





On Constitution Day

10 12 2017

Constitution Day remains a holiday, but most of the meaning of the event has been drained away by palace propaganda aided and abetted by decades of royalist governments.

Pravit Rojanaphruk at Khaosod asks: “what’s really left to really celebrate?” It is a good question.

Eight and a half decades after the 1932 revolt put the “constitutional” into constitutional monarchy, the kingdom has seen too many charters discarded. The current one is No. 20. Divide that by 85 years, you get an average lifespan for Thai constitutions of just slightly over four years.

An average car is more durable. A typical refrigerator is going to get more use.

He argues that almost no one in Thailand has “a strong attachment to the Thai constitution.”

That’s only partly true. There are those who have an attachment to the first 1932 constitution. That is the one that represented the spirit of 1932 before the royalists began rolling it back and replacing people’s sovereignty with royalism.

Of course, there’s no reason to celebrate the junta’s 2017 Constitution. This document is the spirit of military despotism, paternalism and anti-democracy. We at PPT would celebrate this military charter cast into history’s dustbin, along with the aged flunkies who crafted it.

One Bangkok Post story that caught our attention for Constitution Day concerns a group of political activists who “will petition the Constitutional Court to lift one of the junta’s orders on the grounds that it is an outright violation of the constitution.”

Violating constitutions is pretty much stock-in-trade for the junta.

The Democracy Restoration Group of the New Democracy Movement, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights and “representatives of people affected by NCPO Order No.3/2558 announced the move at Thammasat University on Saturday.”

That order “bans freedom of assembly and empowers soldiers to summon any person to testify and to detain people for up to seven days, among others.”

The activists seem determined to keep the pressure on the junta for its illegal rule.

And then there was another Bangkok Post story – indeed, an editorial – that seemed to fit Constitution Day for its gentle push-back on the royal re-acquisition of the old zoo, consolidating royal property and privatizing it.

It begins with what seems like a justification for the new zoo which is expected to begin construction around 2019. But then it carefully changes tack, referring to “a few concerns about the new site.” Distance, entrance fees,  lack of public transport. It then gets really interesting:

One key question remains about the future of the old Dusit Zoo after the relocation is completed….

But the [zoo] agency should be aware that any decision on the future of the zoo should be based on the history of the place.

Acknowledging that history, the Post calls for the old zoo to become “a botanical garden or a park for public use.”

That’s a rare call in a neo-feudal military dictatorship.





Economic wrangling and mangling

15 11 2017

Ryan Hartley is an Assistant Professor at the International Graduate School of Accounting Policy at Tohoku University in Japan. He has a piece at East Asia Forum that has an assessment of the military dictatorship’s economic policies. It is an assessment worth reading in full. Here are some bits from it:

The Thai junta is unhappy with Thailand’s current economic paradigm and is attempting to shift the fundamental base of the country’s economy. Various branches of the Thai state are attempting to create what is vaguely referred to as ‘Thailand 4.0’ by the government, the ‘next growth phase’ by the Ministry of Finance and the ’20 Year Strategy’ or the ‘6–6–4 plan’ by the Ministry of Commerce.

… Thailand’s Investment Promotion Act has been ‘reinterpreted’ into the Seven-Year Investment Promotion Strategy. Rather than offer broad incentives, the new approach is an attempt to ‘level up’ the economy into specifically selected sectors that are high-tech, high value-added and high creativity.

… this approach may not be working.

Japan’s investment in Thailand has historically been rock solid, representing on average 42 per cent of all foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country….

However total FDI in 2016 in addition to the current two quarters of 2017 has dropped to levels last seen in the wake of the Asian financial crisis….

Domestically, Thailand is in trouble. A fragile post-WWII political settlement that has resulted in frequent military coup d’etats, while simultaneously facilitating the papering over of the problem through an increase in national ‘royalism’, is no longer working.

Instead, ‘Rama X Day’ has arrived: a homonymic term used in Thailand that conveys both a disaster-themed film title as well as the crowning of the 10th Rama (Thailand’s monarch). Unlike under Bhumibol, Thailand and its networked monarchy of elites will likely unspool as factionalism takes over. This is something that foreign investors have not had to deal with before…

At the regional level, a rising China that represents a threat to Japan’s preference for an open and multilateral ASEAN is bearing down on Japanese planners and prompting a diffusion of investment away from Thailand….

Foreign investment is falling, driven largely by falling investment from Japan, and domestic changes made by the current military junta appear to be making a bad situation worse.





Ultra-royalists on the warpath

4 11 2017

In a post on lese majeste just a few days ago, we observed that the dead king’s funeral provided another opportunity for ultra-royalism to reach yet another high point. Unfortunately, it only took a few days for this to be reinforced.

Watch this video of the BBC’s Jonathan Head as he speaks to Narisa Chakrabongse, the great-granddaughter of King Chulalongkorn, who was King Bhumibol’s grandfather. This was on 25 October.

According to some ultra-royalists, this interview constitutes lese majeste.

A youth group we haven’t heard of before, calling itself Young Thai Blood has demanded the dismissal of Head for what they consider was a questioning royalist propaganda (rather than reinforcing it).

We couldn’t help wondering about the rightist congruence on identification, from the Hitler Youth – “Blood and Honour” – to the Unite the Right rally in the US and their use of “Blood and Soil,” adopted from Nazi Party ideology.

Such references suggest the group probably has links with security agencies in Thailand and is likely a creation of those agencies. Interestingly, though, social media comment suggests that the original complaint came from a disgruntled expatriate.

As usual, when the boys of Young Thai Blood claim “Thai blood” for themselves, it is not clear that they really mean “blood.” Rather, it seems they mean a state of mind encased in a body located in the country now called Thailand.

These ultra-royalist dunces rallied on 2 November 2017, and “filed a petition at the British Embassy in Bangkok, urging the UK government to dismiss Jonathan Head, South East Asia Correspondent for BBC News.”

Obviously, these lads don’t are confused and understand that the “BBC is a statutory corporation, independent from direct government intervention…” and that they should have addressed the BBC rather than the Embassy. They blustered and made demands:

Young Thai Blood stated that Head’s question created a misunderstanding about the late King. The question [about the genuineness of love] allegedly reflected the BBC journalist’s lack of knowledge about Thai culture, despite Head having been stationed in Thailand for many years. In addition to calling for Head’s dismissal from the BBC, the group asked for an official apology to all Thai people for having disrespected their beliefs and culture.

“As young people who have Thai blood, we therefore call on the UK government to consider the action of the reporter of the BBC Thailand office and terminate his duty in Thailand, and for the office to publish a statement of apology to Thai people throughout the country,” said Petchmongkol Wassuwan, the group’s representative.

Like all ultra-royalists, they claim to speak for all Thais rather than themselves or their group.

Ominously, these ultra-royalist babblings were supported by M.L. Panadda Disakul, a prince and the Deputy Minister of Education, who says that “Head does not understand Thai history, culture or social etiquette, which should be basic knowledge for any correspondent working in Thailand.” He means that all foreign correspondents should shut up about the monarchy except when producing the same trip that emanates from palace and state propaganda agencies. The princeling called for Head’s expulsion: “He should go back and rest in his home country first…”.

Such rightist rants fit well with the monarchy-military alliance that is seeking to dominate Thailand well into the future.





Updated: After the funeral, more of the same

30 10 2017

The funeral is officially over but the hagiographical syrup and royalist nastiness and threats continue to flow.

As in other periods where ultra-royalism is boosted by the military state, it becomes dangerous for anyone who might dare to express different opinions.

The military regime may also be emboldened by the continued rise of ultra-royalism, which obviously feeds into its political ambitions when it decides to call its “election.” Presumably the coronation will add to all of that political use of royalism.

In the meantime, we might also expect cowed and submissive politicians to become warily more active.

A Bangkok Post editorial has a bet each way. It drips royal loyalty for a couple of paragraphs, observing what should be obvious: “The expiration of the mourning period returns the country to a semblance of normality…”.

It strokes the military dog:

The members of the government under Gen Prayut deserve a respectful thank you for their care and attention to the events brought to a grief-stricken climax last Thursday. The preparations for the funeral of the great King Bhumibol Adulyadej provided impeccable grace, and splendour remarked on around the world. When he seized power three and a half years ago, Gen Prayut promised to unite Thais. Last week, Thai people were united as never before.

In fact, the funeral was fitting in that it marked a crescendo of military-backed monarchism that has defined one of the most politically repressive eras in Thailand’s modern history, with that repression being in the name of the monarchy and claimed to be protecting it.

The funeral was fittingly militarized but few have bothered to think about what this means for Thailand going forward (well, backward, under the junta).

(If one watches the Ananda Mahidol funeral and compares it with the recent event, the military dominance and precision of the latter is clear.)

The Bangkok Post then reminds the junta and its readers that the “funeral occurred in the midst of political questions which now will return to the fore.”

It adds that several of these “questions” are “urgent.”

It lists:

These include the running scandal of Rajabhakti Park‘s improvement plan. The Prachuap Khiri Khan site of the massive statues of the seven great kings has been under a cloud from its inception. The latest controversy is a two-part “improvement”. These consist of what seem to be the most expensive 52 toilets ever installed at a government-supported facility, and five shops. These will cost yet another 16 million baht in “donations” — a word which has become synonymous with “scandal”. In countering the allegations about massive overspending, army chief Chalermchai Sitthisad said the military is ready to disclose full financial details about the project which was investigated once by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). He should realise the public anticipates getting the details.

Then there is the ongoing corruption and pathetic excuses for abysmal decisions from former Army boss and Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda. His latest mess is over  laser, speed-detection guns at hugely exorbitant prices.

But, really, is that it? Of course not. As the Bangkok Post itself reports, “[l]ocals in eastern Thailand are opposing the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s [the junta] order to reorganise city planning in Chachoengsao, Rayong and Chon Buri provinces to bring it in line with the government’s Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) policy.”

There’s plenty of other land and infrastructure deals and shady, opaque stuff going on. And in the corruption in-tray there are all those cases around Rolls Royce that have never seen an out-tray. Just stalling, burying, hiding.

But what about the political repression that has juveniles charged with lese majeste. There is the old man potentially charged with lese majeste for comments about legendary events. And there is the law student, singled out by the military dictatorship for lese majeste for sharing a BBC Thai story that was also shared by several thousand others. What of the mothers and others jailed for scores of years on pathetic lese majeste charges? Protection of the monarchy means crushing many and threatening everyone.

Then there’s the missing/stolen/vandalized and enforced historical lobotomy of the “missing” 1932 commemoration plaque and associated lese majeste cases.

Military murders remain unresolved, with a recent tragic example of Chaiyapoom Pasae, shot by troops in very opaque circumstances and with the “investigations” adding farce to tragedy.

And who killed Ko Tee in Laos? We can all guess but probably the assassins, speaking Thai, will never be revealed. That’s the impunity that official murders enjoy.

We could go on and on and on…. After all, the ninth reign saw thousands of state crimes against the people.

Update: Readers will be interested in two views of the events and legacy of the ninth reign at New Mandala. Both are reasonably tame and the first quite lame.