Monarchy and military mutuality

9 05 2015

Thailand’s monarchy has pretty much given unflinching support to military junta’s since 1957. When it has gotten a bit tremulous about military regimes, it has usually been when palace officials and the monarch have felt slighted or that the military regime’s continuance was not in the palace’s best political interests. Despite this, as PPT has complained recently, the media continues absurdly in portraying the monarchy as apolitical and as creating some kind of political solidarity for the country.

This is one reason why we were pleased to see a revealing story on Thailand at the Financial Times. The FT draws the obvious and important link between a new piece of palace propaganda and the country’s military dictatorship when it refers to a “tale of two Thailands [that] is about to be played out in London’s most prestigious traditional concert venue and the jails of Southeast Asia.”

It seems that “a gala show at the Royal Albert Hall will next month honour a Thai princess, in a performance of a masked court dance last staged there for Queen Victoria 130 years ago.” At the FT points out, in Thailand, “student dramatists and even a bookseller languish in prison cells because they are deemed to have insulted the very same Thai royal family.”Sirindhorn

The FT quite correctly connects the two events as representing “a two-pronged campaign by the ruling generals in Bangkok to shore up power and preserve the existing social order.”

Yes, yet again the palace is supporting military authoritarianism.

In Thailand, the military runs a chilling campaign that has seen scores of people jailed for royal whim and for regime maintenance. In London, the Ministry of Culture forks out taxpayer funds to “celebrate” the already passed birthday of Princes Sirindhorn, giving away tickets by the dozen.

The price of a ticket is 20 pounds, should anyone be foolish enough to actually pay, and is far below the cost of most events at the Royal Albert Hall. (Bryan Ferry appears a few nights before and costs 80-100 pounds a ticket.) The filching of the taxpayer also involves the cost of getting a 60-strong cast and all their gear and hanger-on, and the princess and her entourage to London.

The only reasons for doing this is to propagandize for the military dictatorship and/or polish the royal posterior.

The latter is not uncommon, and in the past, the Thai taxpayer has subsidized “concerts” in the UK by the limited and long forgotten “talent” of a royal sibling’s daughter. Not to mention the support of European ventures including the alleged fashion “skills” of another royal granddaughter and the acting ambitions of an aging royal daughter.

The military junta’s vicious political crackdown “is far removed from the lavishly-costumed and junta-endorsed spectacle of the khon dance, due to be performed on June 18 at the Albert Hall…”. The junta expects to get brownie points from the royals and to curry a bit of favor in Europe through such propaganda exercises.

As the FT points out, while the “khon is superficially apolitical, it is also rooted in a particular vision of the former absolute monarchy of Thailand.” It celebrates the monarchy and is a performance once monopolized by the court. It is certainly not a popular dance and as one source notes, “never really caught on with the general public.”

The value for the military in royalist propaganda is that the “show also chimes with the 12 core Thai values imposed by the junta and compulsorily taught in schools which are strong on deference to authority. That checklist of virtue has driven other post-coup government initiatives, such as the national tourism organisation’s ‘Discover Thainess’ campaign.”

The royals are never lost when the military is running government, paying attention, polishing posteriors and lashing out from the public purse for propaganda and support. The relationship has long been based on mutuality.


19 12 2014

Business site Barron’s Asia has taken an interest in the SET Index having fallen “since Thailand’s monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej cancelled the public celebration of his 87th birthday, on the advice of doctors who said he was too ill to make a public speech.” Related, it is noted that”the wife of the 62-year-old Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn was demoted to a commoner after members of her family were arrested on corruption charges.”

As the report notes, these “events set off speculation that a royal succession is in order.”

It observes: “Not surprisingly, the stock market is nervous,” and notes that military coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha “said the sudden drop in stocks was because of ‘false rumors’.”

Interestingly, the story goes on to note that “Teneo Intelligence‘s Bob Herrera-Lim called him out on this and said market volatility was down to uncertainty over a royal succession,” quoting:

Given recent developments, such rumors may be related to the succession. Other large cap, non-energy companies dropped almost simultaneously with PTT, including retailer Big C Supercenter, which at its worst plunged 20% during the day, and food company Charoen Pokphand Foods, which dropped 13% before recovering. Telecoms stocks Advance Info Systems and True also fell. Previous instances of large stock market drops were in 2010, a year after Bhumibol was hospitalized and questions over his health suddenly increased, and in 2007 after the then military-installed government floated a draft amendment to the foreign business act that would make it more difficult for foreign investors to control domestic enterprises.

Herrera-Lim suggests that after the king dies, “The most likely scenario is that the succession will be multi-year affair, starting with a year-long tribute to King Bhumibol…”. With Prince Vajiralongkorn is considered likely to take the throne, although Herrera-Lim also has a side-bet on Sirindhorn, taking the speculation from Andrew MacGregor Marshall:

The alternative to Vajiralongkorn is … Sirindhorn, who is well-liked by Thais and would be better placed to preserve some of her father’s goodwill [sic.]. However, Thailand has never had a female monarch and Sirindhorn had previously disavowed any interest in becoming queen. A third option is the Crown Prince’s nine year old son, with Sirindhorn acting as a regent.

The article then asks about the “divorce.” Herrera-Lim’s view is:

Corruption is not uncommon among elite networks in Thailand, especially with the police, so the dismantling of Srirasmi’s network may be an effort by the prince to convince his opponents in the military and the monarchy that he is willing to take the needed steps to preserve the institution’s goodwill and, by consequence, its political power [sic.]. Srirasmi was not only unpopular but controversial, tied to the prince’s freewheeling party life.

PPT thinks some of the successionist discussion is rather too speculative. In fact, the dismissal of Srirasmi has seen considerable social media support for her. There has also been some attempt by the military dictatorship to suppress this as the junta manages succession.

A Kingdom in Crisis reviewed VI

22 11 2014

Paul Handley, the author of the seminal The King Never Smiles, has reviewed A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century, by Andrew MacGregor Marshall at The Financial Times. We reproduce it here, with only a little emphasis added here and there:Kingdom in crisis

A journalist argues that the issue of royal succession lies behind Thailand’s political impasse

Sulak Sivaraksa has hovered for decades at the edges of Thai politics, never a real threat to anyone as he advocated a socially activist Buddhism, mainly to audiences of university students. Last month Sulak nevertheless was accused for the fourth time of lèse-majesté, which can bring 15 years in prison. His offence? To challenge the heroic battlefield story of Naresuan, who ruled the kingdom of Ayutthaya at the turn of the 17th century.

The Thai constitution holds it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen, heir or regent. It says nothing about others in the royal family, the monarchic institution or the current Chakri dynasty, much less an earlier realm full of bellicose royals. But that is where Thailand is now, as it endures the long twilight of the reign of Bhumibol Adulyadej. Applied sparingly during most of Bhumibol’s 68 years as king, the law of lèse-majesté has been invoked dozens of times over the past five years in a desperate effort to shore up respect for the throne.

This is just one of the symptoms, Andrew McGregor Marshall writes in A Kingdom in Crisis, of a country in existential panic over what happens when Bhumibol, almost 87 and in poor health, passes away. The overthrow and exile of popular prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the deadly street battles of pro-throne yellow shirts and pro-Thaksin red shirts, and the two military coups since 2006 are all manifestations of the same problem: who controls the succession and who succeeds.

Like this writer, Marshall, a former Reuters journalist, has given up a comfortable existence in Thailand, and any hope of returning, to tell the story of how the succession crisis has paralysed a country once seen as Asia’s democratic beacon. And it is a deep crisis: it is no secret that Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn is disliked and feared. But there are no great alternatives to his rule.

Readers of Marshall’s work will know him as a strident advocate against the royal family. With little direct information on the thinking of the king and palace elite, he mines the WikiLeaks files of US diplomatic cables, which show that succession is on everyone’s mind. One document, from early 2010, is especially devastating. Three top royal advisers, two of them former prime ministers and one a foreign minister, freely disparage the crown prince to the US ambassador. Yet what they also make clear is they have no idea what to do about him.

Marshall suggests that generals of the current junta, as well as other elements of the Thai elite, aim to sabotage the prince’s accession even at risk of a civil war. Here he is on weak ground, however, offering no evidence of a plot besides fear of Vajiralongkorn and a history of succession intrigue in ancient Siam. It is possible that the crown prince could be blocked but what then? For Marshall, popular revolution is nigh-inevitable: “The people of twenty-first-century Thailand will not allow democracy to be taken away without a fight.”

Never mind that the people are deeply divided themselves. Thailand’s history is also replete with pragmatic, last-minute deals done to pull back from the brink. Marshall at least owes it to readers to sketch out other possibilities – that the prince’s sister Sirindhorn could take the throne, or that it could skip a generation and fall to one of his daughters or even a once-estranged son. Indeed, the prince, 62, does not appear to exhibit a strong desire to don the crown.

But whether Marshall’s theory is right or not is secondary. The fact remains that Thailand’s elite have violently wrested control of the state from the elected government in order to manage succession, and yet have not convinced anyone that they have a viable plan. That is frightening for Thai people, red shirts and yellow shirts alike. And as Marshall makes clear, this ominous void has in turn made Thai people increasingly question the role of the monarchy itself – not exactly the outcome the elite wanted.

A Kingdom in Crisis reviewed I

5 10 2014

Readers will probably be eager to digest the first review (that PPT has seen) of A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century. The review of Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s book is by David Eimer at the South China Morning Post. A book cannot be understood by its cover or by its reviews, and had PPT has yet to receive a copy, we will do no more than point out some of the interesting bits of the review.

Kingdom in crisisThe first point to make is that this book will probably sell well and be widely read. Marshall has produced some explosive and well-researched material in recent years at Zen Journalist, and he has worked hard to promote it through his extensive use of social media. The publishers at Zed Books are also likely to be strongly promoting it.

The review begins by noting that Thailand’s recent politics has been chaotic and “has veered from one political crisis to another,” and the country is now in the hands of “a junta with the Orwellian-sounding name of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).” Eimer asks: “How did a country once regarded as a model of stability and economic growth for the rest of Southeast Asia come to this?” Obviously, a book that tries to make sense of the political roller-coaster come to a political dead-end is welcome.

Eimer states that this “new book pins the blame partly on the one man in Thailand no one is supposed to associate with politics, or even talk about in public: King Bhumibol Adulyadej.” He explains that, “[f]or Marshall, though, Bhumibol is little more than a stooge of the military and business elite.” Marshall’s book is said to reveal” how pliant and essentially powerless Bhumibol has been throughout his reign,” and reliant on the military.

That statement alone would have it banned in Thailand, although it will already be banned under the royalist military dictatorship that considers Marshall toxic for monarchist Thailand.

Marshall is said to argue that “the king has been deliberately elevated to his exalted position so that the traditional ruling classes can maintain their hold on power while denying true democracy to their fellow Thais.”

Most controversially – “incendiary” is another word used by the reviewer – “Marshall believes the political turmoil of recent years is intimately connected to the question of who will succeed the 86-year-old ailing sovereign, who has spent much of the past five years in hospital. Bhumibol’s official heir is Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, more noted in Thailand and elsewhere for his playboy image than his regal status.” Marshall reckons they want the dumpy Princess Sirindhorn to succeed to the throne.

Eimer mentions the lese majeste law, but his claim that “[n]o one knows the power of the lese majeste laws more than Marshall” is overdone and surely one that Marshall would reject given his support for the anti-lese majeste cause and the plight of those imprisoned under the law and the death in custody of Ampol Tangnopakul.

The May 2014 coup has left “Thailand’s future is deeply uncertain…”. That may seem like an odd characterization given that the military is intent on creating certainty and managing succession. Yet the intervention has not altered the fault lines or the essential conflicts that rumble deeply and underpin all that the military does. According to the review, Marshall thinks nothing much will change “until the king passes away” today or perhaps in a decade.

Eimer criticizes Marshall’s lack of attention to “the growing grass-roots opposition to the establishment – Thaksin’s most lasting legacy may be politicising a formerly placid population in just a decade” but says this “is still a timely analysis of Thailand’s dysfunctional system of government.” He says it is also a “brave book,” for  throwing “a harsh light on the political role played by the royal family in a country where it has long been allowed immunity from criticism, and that is a unique achievement.”

PPT can’t wait to read it.

Competition on succession?

16 05 2013

PPT has heard all the rumors about intra-family competition on succession, yet a picture can tell a story.

Prince and friend

Royal birthday cheer

3 04 2013

Malaysia’s national news agency reports that “Thailand celebrates Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s 58th birthday on April 2…”. It noted a Thai News Agency (TNA) report in claiming that this was “a most auspicious occasion to also honour and publicise her role model as an ideological leader in education, especially in the development of community-level education…”. With all of the reported worrying about succession, this birthday is of interest.

The U.S. embassy was recently sidling up to her, inviting her and a bunch of military cadets to hear about voting in the United States. Perhaps something on electoral democracy in Thailand might have been better for the trainee coupsters and their “lecturer”Sirindhorn rather than elementary school stuff on the U.S.

The Malaysian agency reports that the usual suspects at the major malls put on displays for the “beloved princess.”

Meanwhile, the National News Bureau of Thailand reports several events, as they must. One has her releasing a new book, described as “her book” but which is actually a ” translation from a Chinese novel by a female writer in central China’s Hubei province.” The name of the real author isn’t even mentioned. The translation is said to be about “inner beauty and power of women as a mother, wife and friend, as well as the changing ways of life of Chinese people following the modernization in China.” Sirindhorn is said to have “translated the story.”

Another story has her daily schedule for the birthday bash. This began with the usual groveling required of “the Prime Minister and Cabinet members together with their spouses, the Parliament President, Members of Parliaments and their spouses, the Senate Speaker, parliamentary officials, the Supreme Court President, leaders of various other courts of law, officials of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, Election Commissioners, members of the State Audit Commission and the executive board of the Thai Red Cross Society.” It always amazes that the whole of government is dragged out for these royal events, many times each year, as if they are critical national events. Perhaps that is how they are perceived by the royalists elite?

Later on she met with the village scouts, a group of royalists that has, in the past, been mobilized to massacre in the name of the monarchy. Then a bunch of “civil servants, the military and police, various universities, schools, and associations, as well as many other groups of people” were called in to express their happiness.

The report goes on to add that “[i]n the afternoon, Her Royal Highness granted an audience to members of the Privy Council and their spouses…”. She is said to chair meetings of the Privy Council, the old men who think they should be running the country. They are said to have “presented a monetary donation,” which sounds like giving with one hand and taking with the other as they all get it from the same pot.

Still later, “executive members of the Charoen Pokphand Group (CP) also offered their warmest wishes to HRH on the same anniversary and presented a monetary donation for use in royal projects.” CP, long a big donor to things royal, is also mentioned here, in quite another light.

Another account of things royal at this juncture can be had here. Look out for Mep.

Speculation on politics and succession

27 03 2013

Shawn Crispin at the Asia Times Online engages in some speculation regarding the future of the Yingluck Shinawatra government and succession. It is a long and rambling essay that packs almost every political event into its musings, with very few facts and plenty of guesses; yet it still worth a read.

He begins by noting that:

While both sides have appeared committed to avoid new rounds of confrontation in the autumn of King Bhumibol’s palace-proclaimed unifying reign and in light of Yingluck’s conciliatory tack, the criminally convicted Thaksin’s persistent push for a political amnesty is still viewed by many royalists as non-negotiable, including within the top ranks of the military led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

He adds that “Peua Thai efforts to table assorted amnesty bills in parliament and a parallel investigation by the quasi-independent National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) into alleged irregularities in Yingluck’s personal asset declaration made upon taking office that threatens to topple her from power.” Crispin notes that the NCCC’s investigation is seen by some “as a royalist counter to Peua Thai’s amnesty and constitutional amendment initiatives…”.

Crispin puts succession front and center, just as some claimed it was when the military ran its coup for the palace in 2006. He argues that politics is all about Thaksin and the monarchy, with royalists falsely declaring that any attempt to amend the constitution is “aimed to undermine the monarchy’s position and power ahead of a delicate and increasingly uncertain royal succession.”

While “Yingluck has worked to temper royalist fears that her Thaksin-influenced government represents an existential threat to the monarchy and associated institutions,” her government seems unable to use its massive electoral mandate against the unelected elite forces.

Crispin includes considerable speculation regarding rifts in the government and between the government and red shirts, but the real story revolves around the subterranean battle between royalists-palace and Thaksin-red shirts, with the latter lacking influence over the courts:

Significantly, the MoJ lacks power over top level courts, including appointments to the Administrative, Appeals, Constitutional, and Supreme Courts. All four courts are widely viewed as royalist power centers, due in part to a series of rulings that have gone against Thaksin since the 2006 military coup that toppled his elected government. Since, Bhumibol has at royal audiences repeatedly called on freshly appointed top judges to rule with independence and righteousness.

Of course, for the palace, “independence and righteousness” means ruling in their interests.

Crispin ruminates on the “changed power dynamics in the palace in the wake of Queen Sirikit’s recent illness” and the king’s extended hospitalization. He refers to some who see “Thaksin as resigned to bide his time outside of the country and appeal for a royal pardon after rather than before the royal succession.” He repeats the usual speculation that “Thaksin may receive more sympathetic royal treatment under heir apparent Crown Prince Vaijralongkorn, due in part to their known past personal ties.”

However, he then speculates on succession shenanigans: “While many analysts and diplomats believe that the royal succession plan from Bhumibol to Vajiralongkorn is immutable, others have interpreted differently recent royal household signals and events.”

Sirikit, who “suffered from an ischemic stroke last July,” is out of sight and may be impaired physically and mentally. The king has been chirpier in recent times, but regularly falls back into illness and incoherence. All of this – PPT’s speculation – leads:

Some diplomats and political analysts now wonder if the long-held succession plan could be altered if the highly influential 80-year-old Sirikit, known to be her son’s top backer for the throne, were to pass ahead of Bhumibol. In line with the royal tradition known as wang na, Vajiralongkorn is renovating his Bangkok-based Amporn palace, as well as for less clear reasons facilities maintained at Don Muang airport, in advance of the anticipated transition.

Crispin then cites:

… “[p]alace insiders who spoke to Asia Times Online suggest that Vajiralongkorn’s first daughter, Princess Bajraktiyabha, could instead play a bridging role in a potential compromise scenario between royal camps vying alternately between Vajiralongkorn and Princess Sirindhorn to assume the throne. That face-saving scenario would see Bajraktiyabha take on a regency role while Vajiralongkorn’s youngest son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, is groomed for the throne.

Frankly, these rumors have been around for several years and suggest royalist hope rather than anything more. Yet there is always the chance that succession can spin out of control, especially if the old duffers at the Privy Council get involved or the military decides to fiddle things. But as one of PPT’s unnamed sources speculated, it is expected that the king can go on for another 10 years, and the longer he does, the less royalist and middle-class opposition there may be to a shorter Vajiralongkorn reign.

British royals muster a questionable bunch for royal wedding

25 04 2011

The Bangkok Post has a story on a controversy that has blown up in Britain over the forthcoming royal wedding. It says: “The guest list for the royal wedding sparked controversy on Sunday after monarchs from countries with poor rights records were invited…”.

It adds:

Rights groups criticised Prince William and Kate Middleton for inviting foreign royals from Bahrain, Swaziland and other nations where authorities have violently suppressed pro-democracy protests in recent weeks….

Anti-monarchy campaign group Republic hit out at inclusion of royals from not only Bahrain but also Saudi Arabia, Oman, Brunei, Qatar, Swaziland, Lesotho, Bhutan and Kuwait.

“This guest list reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of tyrants and their cronies,” Republic chief Graham Smith said.

Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain has quickly withdrawn.

Republic’s press release misses one important country from the list: Thailand. Princess Sirindhorn is said to be a royal guest.

Thailand’s current political crisis is directly attributable to palace political interventions that led to the 2006 military coup and to the death and injury to almost 2,000 people in April and May 2010. The current government maintains hundreds of political prisoners on the pretext that they have insulted a supposedly loved monarchy.

PPT calls on Republic to add Thailand to the list of despotic regimes that protect obscenely wealthy monarchs.

Read more about the outrage here and here.

Woof, woof. Things royal and political

11 02 2011

Veteran reporter Hamish McDonald has a great little story at The Age in Melbourne, where he refers to “Thai politics becomes a dog’s dinner.” We thought we’d just put the whole story, together with the cartoon. Of course, it draws on the Wikileaks cable of a few days ago (see here and here) and several earlier leaked cables:

Military promotions are closely watched in Thai political circles, understandably given the coups periodically mounted in Bangkok. How then to evaluate the news that one Foo Foo, a miniature poodle belonging to Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, has been elevated to the rank of Air Chief Marshal in the Royal Thai Air Force?

We learn this in a cable from the former US ambassador to Thailand, Ralph Boyce, reporting his farewell calls on the royal family at the end of 2009, brought to us courtesy of WikiLeaks.

Foo Foo had attended a jazz festival gala dinner with his master, ”dressed in formal evening attire complete with paw mitts”, Boyce said. ”At one point during the band’s second number, he jumped up onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses, including my own. The Air Chief Marshal’s antics drew the full attention of the 600-plus audience members, and remain the talk of the town to this day.”

Royal doings assume more importance in Thailand than here. The king takes an active interest in government formation, as well as being a semi-sacred figure in the official Buddhist hierarchy. The current monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has been on the throne more than 60 years. His prestige is immense; public affection enormous. But at 83 he has been ailing after a reported stroke and makes only rare public appearances.

The Crown Prince is viewed with misgivings, after a tearaway youth that doesn’t seem to have ended at 58. His behaviour continues to raise eyebrows, especially when a video circulated last year of a poolside birthday party for Foo Foo, at which his Royal Consort, Srirasmi, sat bare breasted.

The monarchy has meanwhile become political ammunition in the battle between the ”Red Shirt” supporters of the populist former telecom tycoon turned prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, and the ”Yellow Shirt” backers of a more traditional elitism who wave the royal colours.

Other US diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks suggest the royal house itself is also somewhat divided. Three of the most senior officials close to the king – the former prime minister Prem Tinsulanonda, the head of the Privy Council and a former army general, Anand Panyarachun, another former prime minister and air chief marshal Siddhi Savetsila – were quoted by the new US ambassador Eric John last January as saying they prefer the king’s popular daughter, Princess Sirindhorn, as successor.

The three elders were worried by Thaksin’s cultivation of the Crown Prince, by paying off his debts and providing a luxurious new house in Bangkok. Vajiralongkorn preferred to spend time in Munich with his favourite consort, rather than with his official wife and children in Thailand, and had kept a succession of air hostesses as his mistresses.

The ambassador quoted Anand as saying the Crown Prince would succeed his father according to the law, but there could be ”complicating factors” if the prince proved unable to stay out of politics, or avoid embarrassing financial transactions.

“After a pause, Anand added that the consensus view among many Thai was that the Crown Prince could not stop either, nor would he be able, at age 57, to rectify his behaviour,” John reported. But no one could raise ”such a delicate topic” with the King.

The revelations can’t be discussed openly, but are causing turmoil. Thaksin was removed by military coup in 2006, tacitly backed by King Bhumipol, but his Red Shirt backers and his banned Thai Rak Thai party keep bobbing back. They are especially strong in the Thai rural hinterland, where Thaksin’s extension of welfare broke an old pattern of patronage used by Bangkok elites.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, appointed as Prime Minister in December 2008 with backing from the Yellow Shirts after some opaque Constitutional Court manoeuvres, wants to hold elections this year to reinforce his legitimacy. But there is no guarantee he will win.

Meanwhile, authorities use a new computer crime law combined with an old lese majeste law to silence debate about the alleged misuse of royal power. Nearly 200 people have been arrested in the past four years, and lengthy jail terms of up to 18 years have been given.

The atmosphere has darkened since the appointment of General Prayuth Chan-ocha as the new chief of the Royal Thai Army last October, when he declared the army’s main purpose was ”protecting the country’s sovereignty and the monarchy”. He followed up by warning that the army would intensify arrests for anti-monarchy postings by Red Shirts. ”Do not whine, because we have warned you many times,” he said. ”From our grandparents’ generation down to the present, we have been looked after by the monarchy, no matter which king.”

The political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak noted in the Bangkok Post this week that Prayuth was indicating ”internal challenges that he has not elaborated” and ”may have unnecessarily drawn a line in the sand and defined the fault line of Thai politics around the monarchy.” Prayuth had gathered around him in top posts his old colleagues from military academy and the 21st Infantry Regiment, known as the ”Queen’s Guards” (the Crown Prince being Queen Sirikit’s favourite). Such concentrations have led to coups.

This month’s flare-up between Thai and Cambodian border troops over a disputed Hindu temple is also the result of Bangkok politics, according to Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Yellow Shirt activists crossed into Cambodian-held territory and got themselves arrested to create a nationalist wave for the election and paint Thaksin, who has been hosted during his exile by the Cambodian leader Hung [sic] Sen, as a traitor.

Meanwhile, if at the Crown Prince’s place, be careful about dogs. Chatting to the consort Srirasmi at the jazz dinner, US envoy Boyce recalled King Bhumipol talking animatedly to George Bush about his dog Thongdaeng. ”I mentioned having heard Princess Sirindhorn had a large dog, and I asked Srirasmi if she knew the breed,” Boyce reported. ”Srirasmi appeared immediately to freeze up; her body language changed, and she said curtly that she knew nothing of Sirindhorn’s affairs.”

More royal nonsense

11 12 2010

Two stories in diverse ways indicate the silliness and nonsense associated with the monarchy and its members both in Thailand and internationally.

The international dimension is provided by the Indiana Daily Student, the student newspaper at Indiana University, usually considered a reputable university in the United States, where it ranks 75th, alongside Brigham Young, Marquette and Delaware .

Hence, it is with some surprise that PPT reads that Indiana is to award an “honorary degrees to … Princess Sirindhorn of Thailand … at IU Bloomington’s 2010 winter commencement ceremony Dec. 18.” They will also award a honorary degree to Adam M. Robinson Jr., surgeon general of the U.S. Navy. Robinson has two earned degrees from IU. This is not the usual kind of university where the palace and Ministry of Foreign Affairs goes hunting for these honorary gongs. However, this post at the IU website adds some detail.

Sirindhorn will get an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees. It is Robinson who will serve as the commencement speaker. McRobbie claims the degree recognizes “positive impacts … on the lives of so many people [that] have been immeasurable.” That is true, for it is impossible to measure any royal impact in Thailand on pain of jail for several years. He says that Sirindhorn is “known throughout the world for her efforts to expand and improve public education all across Thailand, especially in remote and rural areas,” adding: “Her leadership and long-standing devotion to the cause of extending quality education opportunities to all Thai citizens have brought about dramatic improvements in the lives of so many in her country…”.

McRobbie adds the titbit that the link between IU and Thailand has existed for some time, possibility explaining why the royal degree seekers targeted IU: “Here at IU, we take pride in the fact that since the days of Herman B Wells’ presidency, several members of our faculty have lent their expertise and support to educational development in Thailand.” Further, it is stated that: “For decades, IU has had a close relationship with Thailand. IU faculty members and experts have helped to develop modern Thailand by working to establish leading universities, contributing to the development of the K-12 educational system, supporting the growth of its modern health and dental care, and offering guidance as it developed governmental policies.”

The next statement points to a relationship with the royals that PPT has not previously known: “Many of these advances would not have been possible without the cooperation of the Thai royal family, particularly Crown Princess Sirindhorn, said Charles R. Bantz, chancellor of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.”

IU then reproduces the usual syrup about the role played by Sirindhorn in education, cultural activities and so on. What is amazing to us is that there has never been any critical assessment of these alleged roles or why a figurehead figure should get all the credit for the work of others. PPT’s last post on Sirindhorn is here. There is little recognition of Sirindhorn’s political role (here also).

The second and local dimension is a Bangkok Post story that seems to take royalism to the nth degree of silliness. It is reported that “Post Element Co, a licensee of Computer Arts Thailand magazine, has introduced the country’s first online game on Facebook, aiming to promote His Majesty the King’s sufficiency economy ideas.”  Because it is royals involved, it is usually thought that sponsors are easily located. This time it is “Nok Air and Muang Thai Life Assurance, [that] have invested more than 25 million baht to develop Great King City, a bilingual game on the online social network.” However, the company appears to have come up short. It is “still waiting for three other sponsors to confirm their support for the project. Revenue left over after production and marketing costs will be donated to the Chai Pattana Foundation.”

As in so many of these things that celebrate royals, there is an element of drawing on the ideas of others: “[t]he game uses some ideas from Farmville, the world’s most popular farming game on Facebook, and Sim City, a town building game.”

Maybe the site will get visitors, but what are Thais interested in? Well, one “survey” of sorts is what they Google. This is what the Bangkok Post says: “The red shirt rallies, a Korean boy band and a country song about a prodigal son top the list of Google searches by Thai users over the past 12 months.” Further:

In the news section, the term satanakarn sua daeng (red shirt situation) tops the list, followed by khao nam tuam (news about floods) and “Ja Pien”, referring to Col Sompien Eksomya, the policeman whose murder in Yala in March triggered a wave of sympathy across the country. Coming in fourth is yoob pak prachatipat (disbanding the Democrats) while “Seh Daeng”, the nickname of Maj Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol – the outspoken soldier shot dead on May 13 during the red shirt rally – places fifth. Ranked sixth is “Arisman nee”, translated as Arisman flees….

The picture seems pretty clear.

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