Updated: Palace PR at full throttle III

23 11 2020

It may be that the current palace PR effort is about to be undone (again).

Royal critics Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Andrew McGregor Marshall have both has posted pictures they he says are from phones that once belonged to Consort Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi. Andrew McGregor Marshall has confirmed the existence of the photos. Many of the hundreds of photos are said to show her naked. Both imply that that the leaking of the photos is a part of a continuing conflict between Queen Suthida and Sineenat.

In the past, the leak of naked photos of the crown prince’s/king’s women have indicated some kind of “partner crisis.” The king has displayed a penchant for erotic images of his women and PPT has previously seen photos of former wives Yuvadhida Polpraserth and Srirasmi and of current queen Suthida. Of course, the video of a naked Srirasmi has been widely circulated.

Pavin and Marshall, who don’t always see eye-to-eye, have begun leakeding some of the tamer photos this information with the latter claiming he’s had them for some time and initially decided not to make them public on moral and ethical grounds. It seems that several news outlets also have the photos, so it may be that they racier photos will come out sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, Marshall has posted links to German news media suggesting that the king’s troubles there are not over. One is an Ardmediathek video report and the other is a 2DF video report. Interestingly, Deutsche Welle reports that “Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn may be expelled from Germany if he issues decrees from his Bavarian villa, the Bundestag has said.” The report clarifies that the king has diplomatic immunity when he is in Germany, meaning that the “German state has very little power to prosecute the Thai king, despite recent threats by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.” Rather, Germany would need to expel “the king from Germany as a ‘persona non grata’…”.





Palace PR at full throttle I

13 11 2020

The palace public relations machinery has long had to “manage” Vajiralongkorn’s “problems.” His explosive “divorces,” his erratic behavior and , and the rumors of violence, illnesses, philandering and associations with crime. Generally, the PR exercises revolved around strategies that had “worked” for his father.

The explosion of dissatisfaction with Vajiralongkorn that has been seen recently, reflecting tension over his neo-feudal absolutism, his bahavior and his preference for living in Germany, has seen a new twist on palace propaganda. This involves a rebranding of Vajiralongkorn and the younger royal family members as celebrities. This might be called the Hello! strategy. Obviously, this follows the model of royals in some other countries.

As PPT has said previously, we think this new PR strategy reflects the influence of the royal family’s younger women, including Queen Suthida, Princesses Bajrakitiyabha and Sirivannavari, and some of the harem.

After rousing the raucous royalists in Bangkok, and getting good PR in Thailand (always expected and demanded) but also internationally, with that CNN interview contributing to an image of “compromise” and “popularity,” ignoring the king’s unsteadiness and giving him an instant free pass on all his previous black marks, the palace “influencers” have decided to have the king do “populist tours.”

Reuters reports that “Vajiralongkorn wrote messages of national unity and love on Tuesday during a visit to the northeast of the country two days after protesters sent him a letter demanding royal reforms that would curb his powers.”

In a PR stunt, the king wrote a message to the governor of Udon Thani province: “We all love and care for each other. Take care of the country, help each other protect our country with goodness for prosperity and protect Thainess…”. Going full-on celebrity on a “picture of himself and the queen … the king wrote”: “Love the nation, love the people, cherish Thainess, real happiness.” Another message stated: ““Thank you for all the love and support. We love and care for each other. We must take care of the country, and we must help each other protect it with virtue for it to prosper. Preserve the marvel of Thainess…”.

If the protests against the king have been unprecedented, so is the palace PR response, seeking to create a new image for the king. Previous efforts at this kind of image making have been undone by Vajiralongkorn’s inability to stick with the PR plan and messages.

As these reports of “good king” are being managed, there’s also been “bad king” reports. Hype (Malaysia) had this”

King Maha Vajiralongkorn was married to his third wife, Srirasmi Suwadee, in 2001, before divorcing her in 2014.

Since then, the ex-princess is currently under house-arrest and has decided to take on life as a nun.

Back in 2014, Srirasmi’s uncle, parents, sister and three brothers were convicted with several offences, including “lèse-majesté”, which is defamation to the monarchy. They were all sentenced to prison with different offences and Srirasmi got her royal title stripped of the same year.

As aforementioned, Srirasmi is under house arrest as she hasn’t been seen in public ever since she was forced to leave the royal house. As per China Press, Thai royal experts have exposed photos of the King’s third wife in white robes with her head shaved, as a sign of her nunhood, at her house in Ratchaburi province in central Thailand.

In the photos, she can be seen living a simple life of planting seeds and sweeping leaves in her backyard, despite previously living as a monarch. However, it might not be so simple for her as her eyes tell a different story.

According to SCMP, she was forced to leave her son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, who is the next in line for the throne after the king. There are photos on the internet of Srirasmi’s last meeting with her son before she was forced to leave the palace.

We’re unsure of the exact reason behind her sadness but being under house-arrest while separated from your child can definitely drain one’s mental health.

But the PR/propaganda rattled on. In a Bangkok Post report it is stated that the king “has been told that many red-shirt villages that used to support former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra are now sworn to uphold the monarchy.” Apparently, the person doing the telling was the queen: “They are from the red-shirt villages to protect the monarchy…” she said as she and the king were “mingling with supporters at Wing 23 of the air force in Udon Thani on Tuesday night.”

Of course, many millions of red shirts never considered Thaksin an enemy of the monarchy, but the queen seems to have taken this position. How does she know? For one thing, the yellow shirts constructed this narrative and clearly Suthida has imbibed the yellow shirt kool-aid. She’s had this view reinforced by the fawning betrayers of the red shirts, Anon Saennan and Suporn Atthawong, both of whom sold out to the rightists long ago.

The king appreciates the turncoats. The regime has rewarded Suporn with legal cases dropped and lucrative positions.

As the report states:

Mr Suporn was prosecuted for disrupting the Asean summit in Pattaya in April 2009, but the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship member evaded the charges because police could not find him before the case expired in April last year.

An earlier Post report adds further detail, stating that Suporn:

a vice minister attached to the Prime Minister’s Office. His appointment to this political post is said to be a reward for his defection from Pheu Thai to the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party prior to the March 24 election.

We assume the regime and the military are pouring funds into the Suporn-Anon anti-red shirt campaign.





Updated: Going to the dark side

3 11 2020

Two seemingly odd stories today, both with political implications.

First, PDRC’s Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta is reported at the Bangkok Post as being under attack “after his ministry blocked access to Pornhub, a well-known adult website based outside the country.” According to the report:

The ministry on Monday ordered all internet providers and mobile phone operators to ban all access to the website after the Criminal Court gave the ministry the green light to take action, because porn websites are illegal in Thailand.

Of course, there are millions of porn sites that might be banned in Thailand, so why this one? Social media chatter is that Pornhub is banned because it has the video of the king’s former wife, almost naked at her 30th birthday. For those who want to watch it, it is revealing of the former Princess Srirasmi, but far more revealing of the king’s weirdness.

Second, after he went bonkers royalist a few weeks ago, Jatuporn Promphan’s latest rant suggests that the former United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) leader  has been bribed, is being blackmailed or has gone completely nuts.

According to a media report, he’s “raised questions about the construction of a new US consular office in Thailand’s northern capital of Chiang Mai…”. His claims are bizarre and place him in the camp of the most extreme yellow shirts. That camp is the dark side.

Update: In a sign of how much things have changed, it is reported in The Nation that Buddhipongse has declared “that the decision was not related to a clip featuring an important Thai personality that was posted on the website.” Everyone knows he’s talking about the king and his former wife, the latter having been treated loathsomely by the former.





The Economist on King Vajiralongkorn

16 10 2020

The Economist has a timely briefing on the king. With humble apologies to the publisher for taking it in full, but it is very good and deserves to be read by all. Here it is:

Battle royal
Thailand’s king seeks to bring back absolute monarchy
Maha Vajiralongkorn has provoked something new in Thailand: open criticism of a king

THE MONUMENTS disappear in the dark. In April 2017 it was a small bronze plaque from Bangkok’s Royal Plaza. It marked the spot where, in 1932, revolutionaries proclaimed the end of Thailand’s absolute monarchy. In December 2018 a statue was hauled away. It commemorated the defeat of rebels who attempted a coup against those same revolutionaries. Last month activists installed a plaque in the heart of Bangkok’s royal district to protest against the missing monuments. “The people have expressed the intention that this country belongs to the people, and not the king”, it stated. Within a day it was gone.

The world knows Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn as a playboy who has churned through four wives, lives among lots of women in a German hotel and relishes skimpy crop tops that reveal elaborate temporary tattoos. For Thais, his four-year-old reign has been more sinister.

The king makes elderly advisers crawl before him, shaves the heads of courtiers who displease him and has disowned several of his children. Worse, he has steadily amassed power, taking personal control of “crown property”, assuming direct command of troops and ordering changes to the constitution. He makes no secret of his hankering for the days of absolute monarchy (hence the disappearing monuments). But Thais began to protest in July. Can they prevent the removal not just of plaques, but of constitutional constraints?

On October 14th thousands of protesters marched through central Bangkok to camp outside Government House, where ministers’ offices are located. They also formed human chains to carry away potted plants that blocked the way to the country’s Democracy Monument. Not far away King Vajiralongkorn himself, in the country on a fleeting visit, passed by in a motorcade. Clusters of royalists gathered wearing yellow shirts to show their loyalty to him.

That night a spooked government issued an emergency decree banning gatherings of more than four people and prohibiting reporting on topics that could “harm national security” or “cause panic”. The government warned that protesters who insulted the monarchy would be prosecuted. Several prominent leaders of the protest were arrested the following morning. Yet tensions increased as protests continued in defiance of the decree.

Thailand defines itself as a democracy with the king as head of state. The monarchy is revered. Photographs of royals adorn public buildings and private homes. Father’s Day is celebrated on the previous king’s birthday. Thais hear a royal anthem before films start at the cinema.

Technically King Vajiralongkorn rules as a constitutional monarch. But ancient structures have never entirely disappeared. The king used to sit at the apex of society in a semi-divine role. Defenders of the vestiges of this order have long clashed with those claiming to represent an alternative source of authority: the Thai people.

The conflict helps explain why Thailand has endured 12 coups and 20 constitutions since 1932. Since the 1950s a symbiotic relationship between the army and the palace has bolstered the legitimacy of military regimes. For the past two decades the greatest foe of such elites has been Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist prime minister ousted by the army in 2006. His supporters, known as red shirts, battled their yellow-shirted foes in the streets on several occasions in the years after he lost power.

The generals engineered a coup in 2014. The commander who led it, Prayuth Chan-ocha, remains prime minister. An army-friendly constitution disadvantaged large parties, such as Mr Thaksin’s flagship one, Pheu Thai, in an election last year.

One supposed reason why the army seized power six years ago was to ensure a steady succession between the ninth and tenth monarchs of the Chakri dynasty. King Vajiralongkorn’s path to the throne was not simple. Thailand’s elites took against him while his popular father still lived. King Bhumibol Adulyadej was considered the richest monarch in the world, his wealth outstripping that of oil-endowed Middle Eastern rulers and Europe’s royals with their castles and palaces.

Aristocratic types fretted because the crown prince, as Vajiralongkorn was previously known, caused so many scandals. Even his mother likened him to Don Juan. After leaving his first wife, a princess in her own right, he disowned four of his five children with his second wife, an actress, who eventually fled Thailand. When the relationship ended with his third wife—once filmed almost naked and crouching before her husband with birthday cake—several of her family members went to prison. The prince spent lavishly and indulged in eccentricity, elevating his beloved poodle, Foo Foo, to the rank of “air chief marshal”.

Still, King Vajiralongkorn took over unimpeded after his father’s death. Whereas the father was publicly loved, the son is privately loathed. His coronation last year attracted tiny crowds compared with those at the late king’s funeral rites. Despite his co-operation with army regimes, millions of Thais felt King Bhumibol displayed the virtues expected of a Buddhist monarch.

King Vajiralongkorn does not even live in Thailand. He rules a country of 70m people from more than 5,000 miles away in Germany. One insider bluntly appraises his activities there: “Bike, fuck, eat. He does only those three things.” The German government finds his presence awkward. “We have made it clear that politics concerning Thailand should not be conducted from German soil,” the foreign minister, Heiko Maas, told the Bundestag on October 7th.

Money, money, money

The king’s militaristic harem inspires embarrassing headlines around the world. Just months after his fourth marriage to a former air stewardess last year, he elevated one concubine, a former nurse, to the status of “royal noble consort”. She is the first woman to hold this title since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy.

Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi fell from grace soon after her elevation. She disappeared from view. Then, in September, she was reinstated and declared “untainted”. Chinese netizens have likened Ms Sineenat to a crafty concubine from a popular television series, “Empresses in the Palace”.

In March 2012 permission from the Justice Department was published in the Royal Gazette for a temporary prison. A spartan map appears to show its location as possibly within the grounds of a palace owned by Vajiralongkorn. His bad books are a miserable place to be. Pictures allegedly of Srirasmi Suwadee, once his third wife, appeared in a German newspaper last year. Head shaved and tearful, she was reported as being under house arrest.

Airing such dirty linen in public in Thailand, however, is perilous. The country’s lèse-majesté law allows between three and 15 years in prison for insulting “the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent”. King Vajiralongkorn has instructed the government not to use the law. But this hardly reflects newfound tolerance. Critics instead risk charges for sedition or computer crime, among others. In July one man was sent to a psychiatric hospital for wearing a T-shirt that stated: “I have lost all faith in the institution of monarchy”.

Playboy antics distract from the more sinister feats of the monarch since he came to power. In political, financial and military matters King Vajiralongkorn has gained powers never possessed by his father. His interventions appear part of a larger strategy to push Thailand closer to absolute monarchy once more.

Take his finances. In 2017 he gained full control of the Crown Property Bureau (CPB), which manages royal investments (it was previously run by the ministry of finance). Its holdings are estimated to be worth $40bn. In 2018 the CPB declared that its assets would be considered the king’s personal property. As a result the monarch has stakes in some of Thailand’s corporate titans. He is the largest shareholder in Siam Cement Group, a conglomerate with revenues of almost $14bn in 2019, with a third of its shares. The head of the CPB, long a stalwart in the king’s circles, is a director of Siam Cement Group and of the 113-year-old Siam Commercial Bank, one of Thailand’s biggest, in which the king also has a stake.

In addition to the king’s private means, the Thai state showers the royal family with funds. For the 2021 fiscal year government agencies have drawn up budgets which allocate more than 37bn baht—over $1.1bn—to the monarchy. The Royal Office will receive 9bn baht of that directly. Much of the rest goes to government agencies, the police and the defence ministry for security and for development projects. By comparison, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth cost her taxpayers the equivalent of $87m last year. Precise details on where the money goes are elusive. Huge sums go to pay for royal transport alone (there are many planes and helicopters to maintain).

King Vajiralongkorn’s political interventions are another demonstration of his growing authority. In theory the monarch sits above parties, parliament and politics. But after a referendum in 2016, in which campaigners were banned from opposing the constitution put forward for approval, the monarch demanded changes to the charter. He altered it specifically to make ruling from afar easier.

He meddled even more audaciously ahead of last year’s parliamentary election. Mr Thaksin persuaded the king’s older sister to run as a putative prime ministerial candidate for a party with links to him. But the crown in effect came to the rescue of Mr Thaksin’s military foes. The monarch declared his sister’s ambitions “unconstitutional”. He also stated that royals should stay out of politics—yet the night before the election, he urged Thais to vote for “good people”, which was taken as an endorsement of Mr Prayuth and his allies.

Tomorrow belongs to me

This is just one example of how the palace and the barracks have continued to support each other since King Vajiralongkorn came to the throne. The king has a deep interest in military matters. Trained in an Australian academy, he holds the titles of admiral, field-marshal and air-marshal. The queen is a general and Ms Sineenat a major-general. The king has drawn military forces to his direct command. The Royal Command Guard has been created with some 5,000 soldiers. They are stationed in Bangkok, while other important army units, including an infantry regiment and a cavalry battalion which have facilitated past coups, have been moved out of the city. Overthrowing any government without advance co-ordination with royal troops would prove extremely difficult.

Why has the army permitted such manoeuvres? Defence of the monarchy is one of its central reasons for existing. Both the powerful army commander who retired in September, and his replacement, are deeply loyal to the king. They also rose through the ranks of the King’s Guard, in which Vajiralongkorn himself once served. Mr Prayuth and his closest allies, by contrast, emerged from the Queen’s Guard within the Second Infantry Division.

The prime minister can hardly counter the monarch’s power grabs. He depends on the king’s support for a semblance of legitimacy. Whereas the middle and upper classes of many countries contain democratic champions, those of Thailand “have never needed mass support to advance or protect their interests”, explains James Wise, a former Australian ambassador to Thailand, in his book “Thailand: History, Politics and the Rule of Law”. These conservatives would not stand for an army-linked prime minister rebuffing the royal institution.

Mr Prayuth is also weak: he wrestles even with his allies in the ruling coalition and lacks personal popularity. That hinders his ability to tackle the difficulties Thailand faces. Growth was slowing even before the coronavirus pandemic struck (see chart). Now the central bank expects the economy to contract by more than 8% this year—worse than the crash in the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

Why should I wake up?

A very few opposition politicians have resisted King Vajiralongkorn’s growing control. In October most MPs from the liberal Future Forward Party, founded in 2018, opposed an executive decree in the lower house of parliament. The decree, which passed anyway, facilitated the partial transfer of army units and related budgetary allocations to the Royal Command Guard. Even so, it was the first time that lawmakers had ever opposed a legal procedure linked to the monarchy.

Future Forward no longer exists. Its platform in favour of democratic freedoms and army reform, as well as the popularity of its charismatic leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, made it a threat to the establishment. The outfit grew from nothing to become the country’s third-largest party in parliament in little more than a year. Legal cases against the institution and its leadership started to mount. In November Mr Thanathorn was stripped of his status as an MP. In February the party was dissolved by the constitutional court and its executives banned from politics for a decade. The judges decided that a loan Mr Thanathorn gave the party was an illegal breach of individual-donation limits.

Flash mobs mounted protests, though social-distancing measures soon put an end to them. The lull was temporary. Social media have provided an outlet for audacious criticisms. So widespread was moaning over the traffic jams caused by royal motorcades, for example, that in January the king instructed police not to close entire roads for travelling royals.

Other grumbles could not so easily be sorted. In August, after legal threats from the Thai government, Facebook blocked access from Thailand to a 1m-member group criticising the monarchy. “Requests like this are severe, contravene international-human rights law, and have a chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves,” the firm stated. It is preparing to mount a legal challenge.

Popular anger has moved from screens to streets. Since July protesters have gathered to call for the dissolution of the government, reform of the constitution and an end to the harassment of opposition activists. Students’ demonstrations inspired a wider swathe of Thais to march, too. Their efforts mark an evolution from the feud between red shirts and yellow shirts. New battle lines are over democratic freedoms.

Maybe this time

The boldest protesters have called openly for reform of the monarchy. They object to the king’s financial set-up and his consolidation of military power. Mr Thanathorn has also called for transparency about how state funds are spent on the monarchy.

The situation grew more serious as the protests swelled in size. The great fear is that the bloody treatment of student protesters in the 1970s will be repeated. In 1976 police, army and vigilante groups attacked students after they staged a mock hanging in protest against the killing of two pro-democracy activists. A story spread among royalists that the figure hanged resembled Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. According to official figures, 46 students died and more than 3,000 were arrested.

So far the authorities have arrested a few dozen protest leaders. The government had claimed it wanted to talk to students about their grievances. “Having a peaceful and civil dialogue where we exchange our views is the best approach for moving forward,” said the education minister. However, this week the establishment ran out of patience. If the prime minister cannot bring calm he may be replaced. Any drastic intervention is unlikely, however, without the monarch’s foreknowledge.

But King Vajiralongkorn’s clout has come at a price: open criticism of the monarchy. “The ghost is out of the bottle and you won’t get it back again,” reckons one diplomat in Bangkok. The more brazen the king’s moves towards a more absolute form of rule, the more forceful the criticism. “We are trying to bring the king and monarchy under the constitution,” explains one teenage protester. “We aren’t trying to bring them down.” King Vajiralongkorn’s actions could determine whether Thailand continues to revere royalty, or starts to revile it.





The king and his antics II

11 09 2020

Thailand’s king and his antics in Europe have attracted plenty of unfavorable comment, The most recent is from The Statesman. While we think that most of PPT’s readers will know all of the facts and antics recounted, we consider the article by Francis Pike, with our added illustrations, worth reproducing in full:

The depraved rule of Thailand’s Caligula king
Protestors are risking it all to take on the monarchy

Fu Fu

The Roman emperor Caligula was renowned for his extravagance, capricious cruelty, sexual deviancy and temper bordering on insanity. Most famously, before he was assassinated, he planned to appoint his favourite horse as a consul. This is probably a legend. But King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who ascended the Thai throne in 2016, adopted Caligula’s playbook for real. In 2009 the then crown prince promoted his pet miniature poodle Foo Foo to the post of air chief marshal, in which capacity he served until his death in 2015, aged 17. Foo Foo’s cremation was preceded by four days of formal Buddhist mourning.

The poodle first came to the attention of the general public when a video was released showing him eating cake from the hand of Vajiralongkorn’s third wife, Princess Srirasmi, while she cavorted in a G-string at the dog’s lavish birthday party. At a 2009 gala dinner in honour of Vajiralongkorn, Foo Foo was kitted out head to paw in black-tie dress and, according to a WikiLeaks-revealed account by US ambassador, Ralph Boyce, ‘jumped onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses, including my own’.

When on parade the new king wears crisp, snowy-white, gold-braided, Ruritanian military uniforms or elaborate Thai regalia that make him look like a Buddhist temple in human form. In downtime his dress code can at best be described as kinky: trainers and low-hung jeans paired with the skimpiest of crop tops. His back and arms are festooned with possibly fake tattoos.

Vajiralongkorn is famously lecherous. Indeed, in his youth, Thai aristocrats would pack off their daughters to Europe to get them out of his clutches. Happily for Bangkok’s elite, the crown prince’s tastes, after his divorce from his first wife, an aristocratic relative of his mother, were consistently low-rent. His second wife was an aspiring actress, albeit of the soft-porn variety.

Prince, and kids in earlier times

The marriage did not last. After Vajiralongkorn put posters all over the palace accusing her of adultery, she fled to London and later to the US with her children — apart from a daughter who was kidnapped and brought back to Bangkok. The daughter was elevated to the rank of princess, but her mother and brothers had their diplomatic passports and royal titles revoked by the crown prince. The Thai public was left horrified by his treatment of his family.

Another marriage followed in 2001, to the aforementioned Srirasmi, though it was not publicly announced until 2005 when the crown prince, by then in his early fifties, declared it was time to settle down. How-ever, in 2014 he stripped his wife of her royal titles because of her relatives’ corruption. Srirasmi’s parents were jailed for two and a half years each for lèse-majesté.

Sineenat

Five years later, on 1 May last year, and just three days before his official coronation, Vajiralongkorn married for the fourth time, to Suthida Tidjai, a former Thai Airways hostess, giving her the title of Queen Consort. The Thai people were dumbfounded when just two months later, the new king named his mistress, Major General Sineenat Wongvajira-pakdi, as his Royal Noble Consort; it was the first time this form of address had been used for more than 100 years. The new relationship lasted three months. On 21 October, Sineenat was stripped of all her titles and disappeared from public view, supposedly for being disrespectful to the queen.

The king’s extravagance is no less remarkable than his private life. A monarchy that was impoverished in the postwar period had, by some estimates, increased its wealth to between $40 billion and $60 billion by last year. Most of the wealth resides in land; ownership of some four square miles of central Bangkok makes the Thai monarchy the world’s wealthiest by a large margin. Overseas holdings include a major stake in the Kempinski hotel group.* Indeed, for years Vajiralongkorn has spent months on end at the Munich Kempinski with his harem and servants. In addition, he owns a mansion on Lake Starnberg to the southwest of Munich. In spite of his huge allowances as crown prince, affording him ownership of two Boeing 737s, it is thought that he had to resort to begging funds from the then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to cover his gambling debts.

Why do King Vajiralongkorn’s private shenanigans matter? Royal families throughout Europe have long weathered sexual and financial scandals. Juan Carlos may have had to step down as king and go into exile, but the Spanish monarchy has survived. So too has the Belgian monarchy after the former King Albert II admitted to a love child. There is no suggestion that Prince Andrew, cherubic by comparison with King Vajiralongkorn, will bring down the British royals because of the Epstein imbroglio. But the key difference is that, unlike Thailand, all those are constitutional monarchies.

Bhumibol and Ananda

In Thailand the monarchy is integral to the country’s real power structures. This was a 70-year legacy of Vajiralongkorn’s father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Bhumibol’s reign started under a cloud following the killing of his 20-year-old predecessor, King Ananda Mahidol, by a single shot to the head with a Colt .45 pistol. After a questionable trial two servants were executed for the murder, though it is widely suspected that the king was accidently shot by Bhumibol, his brother. For the first decade of his rule King Bhumibol was entirely powerless and lived under the rule of the quasi-dictator Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram, who, during the second world war, had allied Thailand with the Axis powers.

Bhumibol, Sirikit, Prem

But gradually, as Thailand inched towards a democracy, Bhumibol won the adoration of the Thai people thanks to his moderating influence and good works, such as paying for medical facilities for the poor. His political power increased. In 1952 he bravely refused to preside over ceremonies for Phibunsongkhram’s new militaristic constitution.** However, Bhumibol’s finest moment came in 1981 when he faced down the ‘April Fools’ Day’ coup d’état by fleeing Bangkok and raising the Thai royal standard at the military base at Khorat, where General Prem emerged as the new military strongman. There followed what is now known as the ‘Network Monarchy’ era, a coalition of military interests and those of the financial and industrial elite based in Bangkok. As a former American deputy-president at Thailand’s Bank of Asia noted: ‘Thai politics has been about dividing up the pie among the elite.’ At the centre of the web stood the Thai monarchy. Elected democratic institutions remained largely an adornment to this oligarchic structure.

In 2001 a business chancer and mobile phone billionaire, Thaksin Shinawatra, later the owner of Manchester City FC, swept to power with his Thai Rak Thai party promising a populist agenda including reform of health and education. Much to the chagrin of the ‘Network Monarchy’, Thaksin won a sweeping electoral victory again in 2005. Bhumibol, who loathed Thaksin, gave tacit support to the coup that first removed him and then sent him into exile two years later. Until his death in 2016, Bhumibol thwarted, either by military or judicial coup, the democratic will of the Thai people, who since 2001 have consistently voted into power Thaksin-backed parties and their proxy leaders. Bhumibol’s historic reputation, albeit tarnished by his thwarting of the democratic will, became an important pillar of resistance to Thaksin’s outsiders. After Bhumibol’s death in 2016, the critical power of the monarchy was left in the hands of his dissolute playboy son.

Will King Vajiralongkorn redeem his dire youthful reputation and do a ‘Prince Hal’, moving to the path of royal righteousness? The signs so far are not good. Just over a week ago, the Royal Noble Consort Sineenat suddenly re-emerged with no information other than an inventive Royal Gazette announcement that ‘It will be regarded that she was never stripped of the royal consort title, military ranks and royal decorations’.

More important than this saga of extra-judicial fiat, the king intervened in the drafting of a new constitution by the military junta in 2017 to grant himself new powers over the appointment of regents. In addition, the new constitution asserted the king’s rights to ‘manage’ during any constitutional crisis. Given that Thailand has had 17 military coups since 1932, this is not trivial. Two crack regiments have also been put under his direct control. As the political exile and professor at Kyoto University Pavin Chachavalpongpun has noted, the king ‘is basically running the country now, though he’s not doing that like his father did through moral authority. He’s using fear to solidify his position and to take command.’

It is therefore interesting that in the past month, demonstrations of up to 10,000 people have called for the powers of the king to be curtailed. Protestors have defied Thailand’s draconian lèse-majesté laws — which can incur up to 15 years’ imprisonment — to chant ‘Down with feudalism’. It remains to be seen whether the protests are a straw in the wind of future political instability. The new king’s attempt to transition from a monarch with influence within the ‘Network Monarchy’ to a monarch who rules is fraught with danger. But at least Vajiralongkorn is unlikely to come to Caligula’s sticky end; the king has a ready-made home for an exile in his beloved Bavaria.

*For discussions that reflect changes in ownership, see here and here.

**The refusal to attend was a fit of pique and self-interest.





Prince in Germany

24 05 2020

A couple of weeks ago, PPT posted on why it might be that King Vajiralongkorn prefers living in Germany rather than Thailand.

We thought that one of the reasons for preferring Germany might be that the king has had his son Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti in school there. While no one speaks about it, the 15-year old appears to have “learning difficulties.” His life in Germany is mostly private, although several videos of his life in Germany, with his father and friends have appeared.

Interestingly, several German media outlets have reported on the prince:

Prinz Dipangkorn: 5 Fakten über den künftigen König

Then Crown Prince and his kids from an earlier marriage

So leidet der kleine Sohn des großen Thai-Königs

These reports don’t say much that is worthy of translation, mentioning that he might be the king’s successor. It doesn’t mention the other boys.

It adds that he has no known connection with his mother, Srirasmi, having been ditched by  the king and essentially held under house arrest. There’s this:

According to press reports, Prince Dipangkorn lives in Tutzing on Lake Starnberg in Bavaria. There he also goes to school and has made many friends. In 2018, the palace published photos of its birthday party with its German classmates. Other pictures show him hiking in the mountains or cycling.

Most recently, it is the Daily Mail with a story. As usual, the paper has a long headline: Thai King Rama X’s son lives a life of ‘loneliness and rejection’ in German villa while his father spends lockdown with harem of 20 army ‘sex soldiers’ in nearby hotel.

The story cites Bild: “the little Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, 15, lives in a villa with a pool and a view over a lake, with two dozen servants.” It adds:

Last known photo of Dipangkorn and his mother

A former palace employee, who has not been named, told Bild: ‘Dipangkorn is autistic. That was definitely the reason why he came to Germany.

‘Maha Vajiralongkorn is ashamed of his son’s developmental disorder….

And continues:

As the King’s only legitimate son and thus the heir to the throne, Dipangkorn has been removed from the public eye and is on a ‘development program’, according to the German publication.

Rama X has reportedly been living in Germany since 2007.

Dipangkorn has been attending the Waldorf School in Wolfratshausen since 2011. He is said to speak German, with a Bavarian accent, better than he does Thai.

 





Fallout from the Srirasmi divorce

7 03 2020

Long-time readers may recall the lese majeste case against Nopporn Suppipat, in 2014, one of Thailand’s wealthiest men, who made money on alternative energy.

He was then caught up in the purge of persons associated with then Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn’s estranged wife Srirasmi and her relatives in early December 2014.

His arrest warrant alleged he hired two persons connected to former Central Investigation Bureau chief Pongpat Chayapan, the princess’s uncle.

Nopporn was accused of defaming the monarchy by using royal influence to hire others to physically assault and threaten.

Nopporn fled the country for Cambodia and then France, declaring his innocence and saying he has no intention of returning to Thailand as he would be unable to get a fair hearing in the then junta-led nation.

He denied any connection to the princess’s relatives, stating that he was involved in a lengthy court dispute and enlisted the help of a senior army officer to help “negotiate” a final settlement. Nopporn said it was that officer who hired Srirasmi’s associates/relatives. He also argued that he was targeted because the police believed he was close to Thaksin Shinawatra.

Seemingly out of the blue, Nopporn is back in the news. A reader sent us a story where it is reported that he “has sued members of a family-run business conglomerate in London’s High Court over the $700 million sale of the business, claiming they conspired to take control of the company.”

Nopporn’s suit accuses “members, companies and allies of Thailand’s Narongdej family of conspiring to deprive him of any interest in the [W]ind [C]ompany [Wind Energy Holding Co. Ltd.].”

His suit accuses “Nop Narongdej, the scion of the KPN Group business conglomerate, of reneging on the plans and secretly conspiring with members of his family to keep the [company’s] shares” despite a deal done that would have allowed Nopporn to hold the shares outside Thailand.

Nopporn “claims he’s only been paid $90 million for his 59% stake in WEH, less than a tenth of what the shares were worth,” and a further $85.75 million since. He says that the “International Chamber of Commerce held that Narongdej’s companies owed $700 million under the share sale agreement.”

It is claimed that the “stake in WEH was eventually sold to Kasem Narongdej, Nop’s father, at a major discount…”. As a result, the suit involved Nop, Kasem and “15 other defendants, including the family’s companies, WEH employees, Narongdej’s lawyer, Siam Commercial Bank [major shareholder: the king], and individual banking employees.”

All “[e}xcept for Kasem Narongdej, … have agreed to the U.K. court jurisdiction over the case, according to court records.”

In Thailand and Hong Kong, the shenanigans have caused considerable reporting. Some of it:





With 3 updates: Model king? Model family?

2 01 2020

The king recently delivered his New Year homily with a straight face. The report of it implies that it was a live statement, but it may well have been pre-recorded as the king seems to prefer being in Europe.

Self-crowned

The new year message is something that his father did and Vajiralongkorn recognizes its propaganda value.

In this message he entreated Thais to:

have wisdom, faith and awareness while adhering to virtue, righteousness and appropriateness, and to be determined to contribute to national and public interest.

It is well known that Vajiralongkorn has difficulty meeting these standards in his own life and he seemed to recognize this, saying “that mistakes and flaws were natural in any kind of work.”

But in saying that such mistakes and flaws “should serve as lessons to enhance experiences and wisdom to prevent recurrences and to create development” seem to be contradicted by his repeated “mistakes.”

His high-profile promotion of his mistress to official concubine, only to throw her in prison months later, while obliterating her from media and even demolishing her family house seems a re-run of earlier failed relationships.

Royal Household Bureau via Khaosod

2019’s fall of Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi (Niramon Ounprom) had sad resonances of his terrible treatment and public shaming of earlier wives, Yuvadhida Polpraserth and Srirasmi Suwadee.

He seems unable to find “righteousness” in dealing with wives and mistresses. Wisdom seems to avoid him.

The king also produced advice about “keep[ing] up … morale and physical health while remaining mindful of their conduct.” He added that he “hoped people would live their lives with decency, righteousness and in moderation…”.

Vajiralongkorn places great stock in fitness and physical appearance, having ordered special haircuts, uniforms, physical regimes and fingernail inspections for his staff and the forces he has taken over. That regimen has been adopted by the hopelessly monarchist military brass. But “decency”? That seems a quality lacking in the current palace.

In yet another message, the king encouraged Thai children to apply “knowledge and morality” to “build a better society.” This is a pre-recorded message as it is for Children’s Day on 11 January.

The king is said to “care” about children and their future.

We wonder why one of his favored children – Princess Sirivannavari – is currently in the unusual situation of being criticized and having to be defended for shockingly selfish. But that’s also a pattern seen in the king’s own life.

It is probably not remarkable that monarchs and their family behave badly. But in Thailand, it is unusual for this behavior to be criticized. And, a king who seems to favor absolutist ways is unlikely to notice the hypocrisy and double standards of his speeches and exhortations.

Hopefully Thais do not see the king or his family as role models.

Update 1: Khaosod removed the story on Princess Sirivannavari, so here it is in full:

Netizens Furious at Authorities Closing Down Popular Islands

BANGKOK — Twitter is up in flame on Thursday following a decision to shut down tourist islands in the south over the New Year holidays to provide security for a group of high-profile visitors. The hashtag #IslandsShutDown appears to be trending on Thai Twitterverse by Thursday afternoon, where many users criticize the local authorities for causing disruption to the public. One of the trip delegates later acknowledged the criticism and apologized for the inconvenience.

National park and marine officials closed off the islands of Bi Da, Pan Yi, and He from holidaymakers on Dec. 29, Dec 31, and Jan. 1, respectively, according to internal memos sent to government agencies in Krabi, Phang Nga, and Phuket provinces.

The memos said Princess Sirivannavari was traveling to the islands on a private visit. Local officials were instructed to prevent fishermen and divers from entering the area due to security
concerns.

After backlash made its rounds on social media, a celebrity who accompanied Princess Sirivannavari on her trip said she wasn’t aware of the protocols adopted by security officers who guarded those attractions.

Writing on her Instagram account, ML Songlak Svasti also apologized for the inconvenience, and said she was willing to listen to feedback from the public.

“Our group is not being idle about this issue, and we sincerely acknowledge the criticism you have written,” Songlak wrote in reply to one of the critics.

Update 2: Clips from Khaosod added above.

Update 3: A correspondent at The Royal Forums reports on events since October 2019 that have seen residents complaining about the monarch and his family. It implies that this large rise in criticism represents a decline in the royals’ “popularity.”

Implicit in all of this is the fear among royalists that the monarchy remains under attack. Watch Gen Apirat Kongsompong who has been criticizing all kinds of “opponents” but zeroing in on Future Forward Party and its leaders. Is a showdown coming?





With 4 updates: King disposes of another wife

21 10 2019

It was is July that King Vajiralongkorn “bestowed the title of ‘Chao Khun Phra,’ or Royal Noble Consort, to Maj. Gen. Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, one of his royal guards.” She had been his minor wife for several years, often photographed with the prince-cum-king in Germany.

Then, in August, Sineenat, as royal consort, got huge palace-arranged propaganda as the king’s favorite.

All of this seemed to be a part of re-establishing the absolutism that the king appears to crave.

But, today, Sineenart is out, gone, dismissed. The official announcement “accused Sineenat of attempting to prevent Queen Suthida from being crowned and abusing her royal status.” It goes on:

According to the announcement, Sineenat not only “expressed her opposition and exerted her pressure in every possible way” regarding Queen Suthida’s elevation to the throne as the Queen of Thailand, she also sought to have His Majesty the King appoint her to the role instead.

Improbably, the July promotion to official consort is “explained”:

When in favor, now disappeared

After her repeated disobedience and attempts of interference with the royal affairs, the statement said, … the King graciously bestowed her the title of Royal Noble Consort in July out of hope that Sineenat would “lessen her pressure” and change her tact [sic.].

Instead, Sineenat continued to display “ambition” and overstepped her authority by engaging in many royal court activities without … the King’s approval, which caused much confusion to the public….

The announcement concludes that:

Her actions are considered disloyal, ungrateful, and ungracious of [the king’s] kindness…. They caused division among the royal servants and misunderstanding among the public; these amount to acts of sabotage against the country and the institution [monarchy].

She has been stripped of all royal ranks, decorations, and her military rank. That’s happened before and the victim continues to be punished. We can’t help wondering what Sineenat’s fate will be. For that matter, what becomes of her family and friends? An absolutist king in a ridiculously royalist Thailand can do pretty much anything. He can be as erratic and as obsessive-compulsive as he wants.

Update 1: The Bangkok Post reports extensively on the announcement:

According to the announcement, Chao Khun Phra Sineenat had opposed the coronation of Her Majesty the Queen after the royal marriage on May 1, 2019. She had been openly against the ceremony, applied pressure to prevent the coronation from taking place and, driven by ambition, had tried ways and means to get His Majesty to appoint her instead, according to the announcement.

“Despite her expectations, the ceremony took place. She also breached royal authority by issuing orders involving Their Majesties’ activities.”

To alleviate the problem and prevent inappropriate actions that could affect the royal institution and the country, His Majesty appointed her as Chao Khun Phra Sineenart Pilaskalayanee, read the announcement.

Since then, His Majesty has kept a close watch on her behaviour and actions and found she did not appreciate his kindness nor behave in a manner worthy of her new position.

She was not satisfied with her new position and tried to act in ways that matched the status of Her Majesty.

“She did not understand royal traditions and acted defiantly towards Their Majesties. She also exploited her new position by issuing orders, pretending they were royal commands. In addition, she ordered people to comply with her personal wishes without accountability, saying she had received royal orders to act on His Majesty’s behalf.”

Her actions were intended to bolster her popularity and benefit herself rather than the public interest. She did all this in the hope that His Majesty would grant her a higher position that would match that of Her Majesty.

The actions of Chao Khun Phra Sineenart disrespected His Majesty, lacked gratitude and failed to recognise royal kindness. They created rifts among palace officials and misunderstanding among the public, as well as undermine the country and the royal institution.

When in favor, now disappeared

Update 2: Now the social media rumors begin to run wild. One says that Sineenat will be in the king’s personal prison for two years. This one is believable as the king has done similar things in the past. She’ll have her head shaved. Another says she will be under house arrest for two years. That too is believable given the way Srirasmi was dealt with (see link above). There is also a rumor connecting the cancellation/postponement of the king’s self-congratulatory boat show, suggesting that there was a palace battle over which woman got to sit next to the king. Some say this was a plot to undo Sineenat. Who knows? Thailand has made itself so ridiculously royalist that many will believe the unbelievable royal announcement while most will believe the rumors because that’s all they get that seems more believable. There’s a chance that the king may have more to say or do on this as, like a gangster, he gets furious when he thinks he’s been disrespected.

Update 3: Normally, on a story such as this, PPT would post a bunch of links to the international media as they discuss this case. The problem is, because of the censorship of all news related to the monarchy, the palace’s extreme secrecy, and the manner in which ridiculously royalist Thailand has been repressed by the regime, the only story is the announcement from the palace. Everything else is guesswork or re-packaging of the palace’s furious announcement, as can be seen in the following examples:

The Independent asks the right question but has no answer, “Thailand royal consort: Why was Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi stripped of her titles?” The Guardian, “King’s sacking of consort highlights power of Thai monarchy” recounts some of the king’s earlier great love for his consort and his trashing of former wives. So does a report in The Irish Times, “A sudden and brutal fall: Thai king’s consort stripped of her titles.” AP helpfully has a video report including when Sineenat was made official consort:

A story at an Australian news site has another interesting question and one that is somewhat easier to answer, although details remain secretive in “Who are the key players at the centre of the Thai royal feud?” The BBC asks the question everyone has: “Thailand royal consort: How did Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi fall from grace?” It has a nice and full royal family tree, including the exiled children. It also quotes Tamara Loos, professor of history and Thai studies at Cornell University, who  says:

… the king is sending a message that goes beyond just falling out with his mistress.

“The king is sending a signal that he can’t be touched and that once you’re out of favour with him, you have no control over your destiny.

“Each move of his, whether economic, military or familial, reveals his unfettered abuse of power,” she adds.

Yes on the latter, but he’s been furious before with wives, long before he was king. The message then was of rants and a childlike desire to have what he wants, when he wants it.

For all the pictures and video of the king’s misdemeanors and erratic behavior, try The Daily Mail: “Thai king, 67, strips his 34-year-old concubine of all royal titles over her ‘disloyalty to the crown’ and ‘misbehavior’ – less than three months after she knelt at his feet in bizarre ceremony.” And, finally, The Economist has this, under the sub-header “Beauty and the Beast”:

INGRATITUDE, MISBEHAVIOUR and disloyalty. These were among the failings of Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi detailed in a scathing royal statement on October 21st. Apparently the mistress of King Maha Vajiralongkorn wanted to “elevate herself to the same state as the queen”. The former army nurse also dared to issue commands and disobeyed her superiors. She has been stripped of all titles and honours. At one level, Ms Sineenat’s sudden fall from grace is stunning; it was only in July, on the king’s birthday, that he made her Thailand’s first officially recognised royal mistress in almost a century. At another, it is typical. The king has frequent, dramatic romantic bust-ups, with dire consequences for the women concerned.

The designation of a “royal noble consort” shocked Thailand. The elaborate ceremony saw Ms Sineenat prostrate herself before the king and Queen Suthida Tidjai, a former flight attendant whom he married in May. The silk and jewels on display were a far cry from the crop tops and fake tattoos that king and consort had been snapped wearing before. More official photographs of Ms Sineenat in camouflage and in cockpits appeared in August. The website hosting them crashed as curious Thais flocked to it.

Queen Suthida is the king’s fourth wife. He divorced and humiliated his first, a Thai princess who bore him a daughter. He has disowned four of his five children with his second wife, an actress, who fled abroad. And he imprisoned the parents and brothers of his third wife, who has disappeared from sight after he divorced her. Their son remains with his father. These dealings pass without comment in Thailand. The king supposedly sits above politics.

In any case, no one dares to criticise the king’s viciousness or caprice. Successive governments have long fostered public adulation of the monarchy—an easier task under the king’s mild-mannered father, Bhumibol Adulyadej. Since Vajiralongkorn came to the throne three years ago, he has exploited this reverence to demand sweeping formal powers. In 2017 he insisted the constitution be changed to make it easier for him to live abroad (as he does, in Germany) without appointing a regent, even though Thai voters had already approved the text in a referendum. Last year he took personal ownership of the Crown Property Bureau, an agency which has managed royal land and investments for decades. Its holdings are thought to be worth more than $40bn. This month the government issued an emergency decree transferring command of two army units directly to King Vajiralongkorn.

Thailand’s harsh lèse-majesté law curbs discussion of these manoeuvres. It promises between three and 15 years in prison for insulting “the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent”. Yet it has not deterred recent grumbling on social media over traffic jams made worse by royal motorcades. Nor did it seem to scare those who wrote about Ms Sineenat’s downfall. The hashtag #SaveKoy began trending, Koy being a nickname for the disgraced mistress. And despite the fulminations of the royal statement, every Thai knows that no one can beat the king himself for ingratitude, misbehaviour and disloyalty.

Update 4: The purge of all those associated with Sineenat has been quick. This is a pattern, with the king accusing people of using their royal proximity for personal gain. Interestingly, Khaosod observes:

The ex-consort Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi has not been seen in public since the announcement. It is also unclear whether His Majesty the King would rescind her royally bestowed surname.





Kooky king, lese majeste and opponents

30 08 2019

Back in 2016, the New York Post described Vajiralongkorn as a “kooky king.” The same newspaper had another eye-catching headline: “Thailand’s new king is a kooky crop top-wearing playboy.” Of course, such descriptions downplay the fear associated with an erratic, neo-feudal, nasty and grasping king (see here, here, here, here and here, for examples).

The recent exposure of the king’s ardent promotion of his senior concubine has created another round of stories on the king’s eccentricities. One summary is at the Insider is of an “eccentric king.” A similar “playboy king” story is at MEAWW . In a story on the consort photos at Rolling Stone, one academic notes the similarities in the approach to royal publicity used elsewhere in the world, a point PPT made a couple of days ago.

At the same time, however, there are recent stories that show the nastier nature of the monarch. One story comes from exiled anti-royalist dissidents who have staged a rally in Paris to remember the plight of eight missing comrades, believed “disappeared” by the royalist Thai state. The participants included the Faiyen band.

Clipped from AsiaNews

The report states:

At the Paris rally, the musicians played some satirical songs full of political nuances about King Rama X, who succeeded his father in 2016. Other songs targeted Thai generals, who took power five years ago with the blessing of the Royal Palace and have kept it even after disputed elections last March.

It reminds readers that:

Since December 2018, six exiles holding anti-monarchist opinion disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Families assume they are dead and blame Thai special forces for their death.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

And, it adds that two mutilated bodies of exiles have been found while Surachai Danwattananusorn is still missing, believed murdered.

In Thailand, officials have not investigated the murders or the missing. This is usually a sign of some kind of royal involvement in the grisly events.

In another important report, Prachatai summarizes a Thai Lawyers for Human Rights analysis of lese majeste prisoners who remain in jail. The report states that in August 2019:

there are at least 25 people still imprisoned throughout the country on charges under Article 112 in cases related to freedom of expression. This number does not include those charged under Article 112 in cases related to fraud or personal interest.

It must be emphasized that those charged with lese majeste for “fraud” or “personal interest” probably include several who were previously related to the palace and the king’s third wife, Srirasmi, who has been under house arrest since late 2014. The real number of lese majeste prisoners remains unknown. That affirmed, Prachatai’s graphic is worth reproducing: