Domestic and foreign ultra-royalism

21 08 2020

Whenever political attention turns to the monarchy, the ultra-royalists get rolling.

A pattern has emerged since the mid-2000s.  Emphasizing that the current wave of anti-monarchism is not new, in the past, the ultras respond to rising anti-royalism with ragtag and aged ultra-royalists and ultra-nationalists holding small rallies. As the broader establishment lumbers into action, these royalists tend to sprout like weeds and the military and other security agencies tend to choose the most viable for support. Ultras usually seed acts of violence, often with support from these agencies. Before that sharp response, however, there is usually a media blitz of ultras and other rightists and conservatives promoting royalism and “Thainess.” Often that includes trusted foreign commentators who are mobilized to “explain” royalism to a foreign, mainly Western, audience. Of course, the extremist version is peddled by other contractors.


In recent days, these initial moves have been in evidence. The Bangkok Post recently reported that some “200 Thai right-wingers launched a group on Wednesday to counter student-led protests…”. The so-called Thai Pakdee (Loyal Thai) group of mostly middle-aged wealthy ultras was predictably launched at a Bangkok hotel. Its proclaimed leader is ultra-royalist and “prominent right-wing politician Warong Dechgitvigrom, who said His Majesty the King’s monarchy was under attack.”

Warong is a former member of the Democrat Party, People’s Democratic Reform Committee member and now runs with Suthep Thaugsuban’s pro-military/pro-junta micro-party Action Coalition for Thailand,

He reckons the “father of the country is being harassed…”. Well, maybe, but it is an absentee father. The king lives in Germany and is being harassed there. In Thailand, the call is for reform.  But he then makes the usual call for rightist support: “How can Thai people stand by?” Despite his claims to the contrary, Warong is effectively encouraging violence.


Speaking for his “new” group – all who seem to have a pedigree in PDRC and the broader yellow shirts, Warong made three demands: “No dissolution of parliament, maximum legal action against anyone who seeks to topple the monarchy, no change to the constitution except via the proper channel.”

On the token foreigner wheeled out to support the ultras and the status quo, it is again Stephen B Young, recycling his old and tired lines about “Thainess.” Previously a favorite at The Nation, this time it is the Bangkok Post that carries his babbling. As we have commented previously on Young and the things he recycles now, we’ll just link to those earlier posts.


Rank stupidity

7 10 2014

PPT has read some awfully daft op-eds in recent years. Many of them have been by foreigners trying to understand Thailand’s contentious politics. Some of the silliest are by those who explain things Thai in deep cultural terms apparently making the place impenetrable to the ordinary non-Thai, although these foolish musings are usually by foreign observers.

Today, the Bangkok Post has published yet another of Stephen B. Young‘s scribblings.  It is without a shadow of doubt, the dumbest op-ed we have ever seen. And, using the word “dumbest” is being generous indeed.

It does seem odd that any member of the royalist elite rewards such a ludicrous propagandist for their cause. We can only assume they are like old men, with their hair colored jet black, and thinking that the young women employed  in expensive gentleman’s clubs really do find them attractive.Young They believe the sweet talk and they believe Young.

We apologize for drawing attention to this ridiculous stuff, but felt we had to comment on a couple of things.

A first point is that Young is a charlatan. He advertises himself as a leader at the Caux Roundtable where the website trumpets “moral capitalism” and mentions” human flourishing and social justice concerns.” You might come away thinking that Young’s creation is about morality, ethics and good governance.

In fact, this is creative and false advertising. The company one keeps is revealing. One story at has Young awarding Malaysian premier Najib Razak a gong. Young sucked up to Najib in the company of “Senior Adviser and former Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Pramoj [and] presented Prime Minister Najib with a certification of recognition and appreciation.”

His other ethical claims are about how wonderful Thailand is under the murderous and repressive military.

With friends and “advisers” like Kasit, it is clear why Young babbles about Thailand being “happier” under the military (as the military has demanded) than ever before!

Like his friends, the “members of the ammart elite,” Young decided everyone was “more relaxed, happier” than ever before from talking with “[a]ll my Thai friends and associates, taxi drivers, wait staff, [and] vendors…”. What, no hair stylists?

If “farang” don’t understand this, it is because it takes someone like Young to conjure the deep cultural meaning of happiness under military repression. If you don’t get it, then you are a dumb and culturally bankrupt “farang.”

Young has vast experience of military repression ethical and cultural rule because he can remember Sarit Thanarat’s military government. He just loved Sarit: “Sarit was then, and still today is for many older Thais, respected and appreciated for getting things done without seemingly endless wrangling and pointless interpersonal entanglements.”

Sarit’s rule was described as “despotic paternalism” by a Thai author and ruled by having his opponents jailed and killed. No doubt having your opponents murdered is the moral approach the Caux Roundtable promotes. We imagine Young also recognizes Sarit’s mammoth corruption and his harem of hundreds of concubines as “moral” and as removng “pointless interpersonal entanglements.”

When he says that “[t]his current military government seems to be delivering something of similar value to many Thais,” he is probably right. The military leadership has been shown to be immensely corrupt, with some of them amassing stupendous fortunes. The regime is also remarkably repressive.

For Young, all this is culturally appropriate because it result in a return to the “proper order.” Jailing, torture and corruption it seems aredefining of the “traditional ‘Thainess’ of his [General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s] government,” with Prayuth, just like the murderous and corrupt Sarit, administering for the “common good…”.

Young, of the moral, ethical and social justice-promoting Caux Roundtable, lauds Prayuth for sidelining political parties, academics, intellectuals and “others who would impose themselves on the decision-making process.” He says the self-promoting Prayuth is “committed to advancing the public good, not private privilege.” His generals seem in a different space, being corrupt bastards, but Young ignores that for the sake of the boot licking praise of The Dictator.

Prayuth may have been responsible for the murderous attacks on red shirts in 2010, but that’s okay for the moralistic man from the Caux Roundtable because Prayuth is getting rid of “money politics.” In fact, the money is still there, and the military brass rakes it in; it is just that the politics is repressed.

The rest of the article is errant nonsense, irrational and bizarre. We can only imagine that his royalist elite buddies love this stuff and like having a dopey farang tell then how culturally Thai they really are. When Young lauds the military dictatorship for returning Thailand to a cultural equilibrium which means the royalists rule, they must be chuffed even if they know he is a fake and a sycophant.

Royalist “constitutionalism”

16 03 2014

As PPT has posted before, there is support for the anti-democratic movement from various scholars connected to royalists and Thailand’s right since the days of the CIA’s involvement in the U.S.’s support for anti-communist and authoritarian regimes fronted by the military. The royalists have regularly wheeled out the relatively unknown American Stephen B. Young to support the anti-Thaksin Shinawatra and anti-democratic movement and to promote palace-inspired and conservative royalist ideas regarding politics and forms of “Thai-style democracy.”

We have previously mentioned Young as a commentator who heads up his own organization, the Caux Round Table, which is about shameless self-promotion. While the royalists like to say Young is a “scholar,” this is a misrepresentation. His major publication appears to have close connections to CIA-funded operations. His other publications are his own rants published in pretty meaningless places or self-published as a result of royalist support for their talking head.

A reader sent us a long version of yet another “paper” that Young has produced on the royalist “vision” for Thailand, and we were content to ignore it and let it disappear without trace. However, the conservative Bangkok Post has seen fit to publish a shortened version, so we are pushed to comment. In his longer paper, not only does the author spell “constitutionalism” incorrectly, but is listed as “Stephen B. Young, Esq.” as if from the 19th century. Both seem appropriate for that paper, which is a travesty of uniformed nonsense about Locke, Rousseau and constitutionalism.Young

For more and better information on these 17th and 18th century philosophers and their impact on constitutionalism, try here, here, and here. A bit of searching produces many papers that are learned and which contradict Young’s sometimes bizarre interpretations of Locke and Rousseau in this longer piece. So odd is his interpretations of Thailand’s history are impossible to briefly characterize here. What is more significant is Young’s remarkable confusion in his call for conservative reform.

Young’s basic point is that Locke’s approach to constitutionalism is a kind of perfect liberalism, while Rousseau’s is more radical and leads to authoritarianism. He argues that Thaksin Shinawatra and the red shirts are the inheritors of Rousseau’s alleged authoritarianism via the People’s Party, 1932, Pridi Phanomyong and Plaek Phibulsonggram. Indeed, Young makes the claim that Rousseau’s thought is the basis of all totalitarianism, and notion that has been refuted time and again since the early 19th century:

These interpretations, based on the concepts of the “total surrender” of individual rights (“l’aliéna-tion totale”) and of the absolute sovereignty of the state over all its members, draw conclusions from the Contrat social that are fundamentally opposed to the intentions of its author. Indeed, for Rousseau, liberty was the most precious of possessions, a gift which nature has made to men. They can no more be deprived of it rightfully than they can be deprived of life itself; nor can they be permitted to divest themselves of it for any price whatsoever. The social pact should not be interpreted as abrogating, in effect, a right which Rousseau declared inalienable and inseparable from the essential character of man.

Based on false premises, Young proceeds to make a nonsense of Thailand’s modern history. His interpretation of Locke and Rousseau is a manipulation to make a political point that resonates with palace and royalists. His selective use of quotes from these two philosophers is banal. PPT could be just as selective and note that Locke was “a major investor in the English slave-trade through the Royal African Company. In addition, he participated in drafting the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina while Shaftesbury’s secretary, which established a feudal aristocracy and gave a master absolute power over his slaves.” Hardly liberal, but also an unduly narrow interpretation.

His claim that “Thailand now needs sustainable constitutionalism harmonising with its Buddhist culture of seeking the equilibrium of the middle path between extremes and aligning with the rule of law” is a plagiarism of much earlier conservative ideas about constitutionalism that were developed in the early 1960s by Kukrit Pramoj (opens a PDF) and other royalists as elements of military-backed monarchism.

Firmly based in this conservative tradition, both Western and Thai, Young wants to provide a way forward for Thailand. He begins with an interpretation that Locke’s writings allow a popularly-elected government to be disposed of if it is believed to threaten liberty or property. Young chooses to interpret this as meaning:

“Thaksin’s manoeuvres to concentrate power in his hand by means of bringing elected officials under his personal sway caused his government to lose its legitimacy under Locke’s constitutional system. So, under that system, by seizing too much power Thaksin forfeited his authority and the people of Thailand were within their rights to withdraw allegiance from him and his ministers and seek to replace his government with one more faithful to upholding the public trust.

Young does not explain how this interpretation can be applied in circumstances where pro-Thaksin governments have been elected in every single national election since 2001. His claim that “the people of Thailand” could rise up against the elected government is simply an acceptance of anti-democrat propaganda. Other anti-democrats and royalists have avoided this philosophical gap by simply rejected elections.

Young, however, demonstrating his confusion and lack of imagination by arguing for more elections and a political system that looks a lot like the U.S. presidential system:

The executive branch of the national government should be removed from direct dependence on the National Assembly. The chief administrative officer of the cabinet of ministers should be directly elected by the people for — say — a three-year term of office. The election of the chief administrative officer would be held in years when the House of Representatives is not elected.

His other suggestions on decentralization, police, the judiciary (which he acknowledges is politicized), impeachment, and House and Senate are essentially American. Fixed term legislatures may or may not be relevant for Thailand, but certainly limit the very Lockean interpretation of threats to liberty and property he claims are the base of his “constitutionalism.”

He then suggests a path forward for Thailand current political stand-off that has no basis in law or constitution.

PPT takes all of this a a sign that the royalists have been very confused and challenged by the Yingluck Shinawatra’s seeming ability to hold out against the old threat of military coup and the newer threat from judicial coup (at least for the moment). It seems that the old men who have always believed they have the answers for Thailand are flummoxed.


Royalist propaganda

5 01 2014

PPT has made a few comments recently on the domestic media and the work of anti-democracy propagandists like Veera Prateepchaikul and Thanong Khanthong. We haven’t commented too much on royalist and anti-democracy propagandists who are popping up in the international media, except to briefly mention royalist dolts like Stephen B. Young and extremists who have latched onto Thailand as a site for bizarre rants disguised as commentary.

In recent days, several readers have passed on more of the international propaganda that is being cranked up by the royalist anti-democracy campaigners in Thailand. As with much of this stuff, it tells a story that is not meant to be accurate or factual. Rather its purpose is to establish a discourse that “proves” the anti-democrats’ claims and program.

Interestingly, some of this is by exactly the same “friends of Thailand” who were prodded into action to defend the 2006 military coup and the actions of the Abhisit Vejjajiva-led government that used military force to smash the red shirts in 2010.  Like Young, these propagandists are those who have had long connections with the palace and monarchy. Indicative of this is David Van Praagh, a former professor and former Canadian Globe and Mail correspondent in South and Southeast Asia who is the author of Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy: The Life and Times of M. R. Seni Pramoj. The book is a hagiography of a prince and royalist politician who was one of the founders of the Democrat Party.

His recent piece in the Globe and Mail was under the headline “Why Thailand is crucial to democracy in Asia.” It is about “royalist democracy,” and seems somewhat awkwardly twinned with a far more scurrilous fairy tale on democracy at YouTube, apparently produced by people so closely connected to events that Thaksin becomes Tharksin, with Thaksin and his cronies being elected by uneducated, dumb or bought peasants and – this is a surprise – controls the military, police and independent agencies. Ho hum, but it tells the story of why democracy doesn’t exist in Thailand and why it is that pro-Thaksin parties have won every national election since 2001 but that this is wrong and bad.

Van Praagh does argue that his favorite Democrat Party should stand in the upcoming election. That’s all well and good, except that it is too late for this. He also seems to miss the point that the Democrat Party is now in the hands of extremists. Yet van Praagh lives in a different political world that wants the monarchy to be something it isn’t. The extremists in the Democrat Party know that they must grab the future. So while van Praagh supports “democracy” it is a “democracy” that is monarchist.

He begins his op-ed with a complete nonsense:

But Thais never learned from farangs (foreigners) how to make democracy work. Instead they have endured a long series of military coups, corrupt politicians and, at especially critical times, pro-democracy intervention by the revered constitutional monarch Bhumiphol Adulyadej.

Should we point out that the monarchy’s interventions have been some of the most anti-democratic? Think of 1976. Think of 2006. Think of the monarchy’s long support of military dictatorships. Should we point out that Thais don’t need to be taught about democracy by foreigners?

His perspective is colored by his prejudices:

One group, led by wealthy exiled Sino-Thai profiteer Thaksin Shinawatra, whose younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra is Prime Minister in his absence, thrives politically as well as economically on corruption – routinely paying poor rice-growing farmers for their votes.

Vote-buying? Really? There are still people who believe this after all of the recent commentary that has shown this claim to be a “dangerous nonsense.” Note the claim that Thaksin is a rich Sino-Thai profiteer and compare this with the description of Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is mistakenly taken to be somehow critical for the “other group” in this conflict:

… growing out of the middle-class Prachatipat or Democrat Party founded in 1946, has in effect thrown away this vital credential by opposing and even planning to disrupt a Feb. 2 parliamentary election called by Yingluck, who has rejected a postponement proposed by Thailand’s Election Commission.

Led by Oxford-educated Abbisit Vejjajiva, the Democrats have turned their back on democracy by following dissident Suthep Thaugsuban, who favors a non-elected national council.

Perhaps Abhisit could also be described as an elitist Sino-Thai who has never really worked, having been groomed for wealth and power? Perhaps the Democrat Party can also be accused of vote-buying, when the military poured funds into coalition constituencies in the last election? And the claim that the Democrat Party is a party of democracy is a claim that simply cannot be maintained when its long history of royalist support for coups and military rule are considered. In fact, Abhisit is the most recent in a line of anti-democratic Democrat Party leaders.

Van Praagh then comes up with a series of nonsensical claims:

The underlying assumption among Thais is that Yingluck and her ironically named Clean Thai Party will win another election.

The first claim is true enough, but “Clean Thai”? We think the author has been watching the propaganda video above, where the Puea Thai Party – For Thai Party – is referred to as the “Pure Thai Party.”

If she does, and brings back Thaksin under an amnesty – the first reason for anti-Thaksin street demonstrations – the so far laid-back army is likely to take matters into its own hands, reviving the tradition of military coups by again deposing the Shinawatra family. The army commander has neither accepted nor rejected the possibility of another coup.

For a start, PPT does not believe that an election will be completed and a government formed from it. But that’s our guess.The amnesty is pretty much dead and a coup is likely.

Living in a fantasy world, van Praagh opines:

If Prachatipat does not return to its senses and its roots, and does not win the early February election, Thailand’s democracy landscape will be all but barren.

Win? Really?

This will have an adverse impact on other Southeast Asian nations aspiring to genuine democracy, especially Indonesia with its army in waiting, and the Philippines with its gap between rich and poor much greater than Thailand’s.

Moreover, setbacks for democracy in Southeast Asia and elsewhere in Asia and the Pacific will provide grist for the mill of China’s expansionism, with Southeast Asia its first regional target for anti-democracy statist regimes. Thailand’s Thaksin, for example, has strong ties to Beijing.

The extremists and the anti-democracy lot reckon that Thaksin is an ally of a secretive U.S. alliance to tie Thailand into a global capitalist plutocracy. But then there is a long royal discourse on nasty Chinese capitalist who only become Thai by their allegiance to the king, and by funding his quirky projects and ideas. Thaksin is anti-royal and therefore not a “good Chinese,” but an evil one:

Thaksin, the root of Thailand’s troubles, also claims he owes allegiance to King Bhumiphol. Many Thais do not believe him, and they may also be swayed by the sharp drop in Thailand’s economy, particularly the decline in exports of rice.

We have no idea how the rice bit adds to the royal stuff, but plenty of farmers like the rice support scheme. To hammer the “bad Chinese” bit home, van Praagh makes the obvious point:

Presumably, the king does not believe Thaksin either. He has publicly excoriated Thaksin for corruption. That was before he was compelled for health reasons to suspend the role he had created of mediator of last resort in Thai politics. But after four years in hospital, and while anti-Thaksin demonstrations were going on, King Bhumiphol, looking healthy on his 86th birthday, drove with Queen Sirikit to his palace on the ocean near Bangkok.

He then gets to his point. Only the king can deliver democracy and “save the nation”:

The king’s appearance during the latest Thai crisis clearly sent a signal. It was not clear immediately what the signal is. But many Thais who have yearned for democracy for decades strongly hope that Bhumiphol is reasserting his role when he banished autocratic governments in 1973 and 1992, and thereby saved the nation.

Frankly, we think the palace learned a lot from its identification with the 2006 coup. It wants to stay behind the scenes. Indeed, both the king and queen are weak and doddery yet we have little reason to think that they are not supporting the anti-democrats. Van Praagh’s op-ed seems to suggest just this, calling for what the protesters say is absolute democracy with the king as revered head of state.

The assault on elections and on the U.S. Embassy

15 12 2013

This video has been doing the rounds. It shows hardcore People’s Alliance for Democracy propagandist นิติธร ล้ำเหลือ / Nittithorn Lamlua speaking on 14 December on the anti-democratic movement stage. The video is longish, but at about 8:10 minutes, he states: “We have to have reform. We can’t have elections because elections are a reversal for democracy.” He then links this to a threat to occupy the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok for daring to declare that Thailand should sort out political differences through elections.

Of course, on things U.S., there is support for the anti-democratic movement from various scholars connected to royalists and Thailand’s right since the days of the CIA and the U.S. supporting and promoting anti-communist and authoritarian regimes fronted by the military. So it is that the royalists have wheeled out the relatively little-known American Stephen B. Young to support the anti-Thaksin and anti-democratic movement.Young

We have previously mentioned Young as a royalist commentator, and he heads up his own organization, the Caux Round Table – some wags call it the Faux Round Table. We’d say it is Young’s Round Table, for as the Wikipedia post shows, it is about shameless self-promotion, and pretty much unsuccessful at that. While the royalists like to say Young is a “scholar,” this is a misrepresentation. His major publication appears to have close connections to CIA-funded operations and drew CIA praise. His other publications are his own rants published in pretty meaningless places with limited credibility.

Young is pretty much a talking head for the nonsense party, invoking racism, old-fashioned and discredited semi-academic notions about power in Thailand and a plethora of other dopey claims about money politics, vote-buying, and about “farang” and their lack of understanding of Thailand and its politics.

We note that Young is also a farang, and is “interviewed” by the toady Suthichai Yoon, who accepts the racism and the false claims with considerable enthusiasm.

One remarkable exchange is on elections. Suthichai asks if elections – the will of the majority – proves anything about democracy. Young replies: “It proves nothing.” His next claim indicates that he is both a poor “academic” and a poor propagandist. He says Stalin had elections. He says Hitler had elections. But he makes no point about this. He does not talk of context and political systems. He is a propagandist with little knowledge of the politics of Hitler’s rise or of the nature of Communist regimes.

He then makes comparisons with populists in Latin America and their use of elections to get the support of the poor by attacking the rich. The result under Peron in Argentina, he says, was the pauperization of the country. But, this has no relevance for Thailand. Thaksin did not attack the rich when he came to power; he supported them. Generally economic growth, poverty reduction and reductions in GINIs have been associated with the so-called populism of Thaksin and pro-Thaksin governments.

In other words, Young is making stuff up and crafting a story that he knows is the royalist elite’s narrative. Even joke “academics” have a role in trying to turn Thailand back to the “good old days” of authoritarianism.

We have to be honest and say we couldn’t be bothered watching it all as it was so bad. Both propaganda videos indicate the significance attached to rolling back notions of electoral democracy in order to re-establish authoritarianism.

Academic pandering to royalists?

9 10 2011

It is a pretty regular thing to observe Thai academics pandering to royals and royalists, and donning yellow shirts (or whatever the color of current political demands, as long as it isn’t red).

What is less regular is the promotion of foreign academics who are essentially pushing the establishment line. Sure, Stephen B. Young was trotted out by The Nation some time ago, but he hardly has the credentials of a regular academic. His assigned role was to babble about royalist interpretations of a “good” Thailand.

PPT was initially taken aback by the Bangkok Post’s decision to highlight the ideas of Gerald W. Fry whom it describes as “an expert on Thai culture and politics.” We were taken aback because we would not have considered this a realistic assessment of one who has had little demonstrable impact on these fields.

Fry has a trickle of publications that might be seen as academic, although their impact has been limited (see, for example, Google Scholar for this to be confirmed). Fry’s joint-authored book, The Association of Southeast Asian Nations  is claimed in the article to be “a bible and reference about Asean nations.” Oddly the “bible” it barely cited. Google Scholar lists one citation for a book published in 2008. One online bookstore lists it as ” Children’s Nonfiction.” The publisher’s page lists it as a school book for “Reading Level: Grades 9 and up.”

Essentially, Fry is located in the same category as Stephen Young, saying things that quicken the beating of the hearts of all royalists.

There has been an attempt in recent years by elite and royalist Thais, like Anand Panyarachun and long-time palace favorite Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn, to suggest that foreigners can’t really understand Thailand and most especially they can’t understand the supposed special relationship between the monarchy and the serfs people.

These royalists simply love to hear this line repeated by foreigners. Hence Fry gets to be in the Bangkok Post. But what does he say and how much truth is there in his assertions?

The article asserts that Fry frets about “parachute writers”,  who spend only “brief periods in Thailand _ weeks, months or less than a year or so _ but still managing to pen tomes on the history of Thailand or mini-encyclopedic academic analyses.” According to the article, Fry is one of “a few critics who question these writers and their views on the Land of Smiles.” The latter term reminds us of 1960s journalism or the Trink of yore.

Fry is said to be “undertaking content analysis research on the coverage of last year’s Bangkok riots by international news agencies, CNN and the BBC. The work will be completed this year.” PPT thinks Fry and/or the reporter repeatedly confuse reporting and academic writing when referring to “parachute writers.” After all, the only mention of a “tome” is in this paragraph:

Some writers visited Thailand for a very short period of time yet managed to pen a book. As a classic example, he cited Louis E Lomax, a respected American journalist and writer who visited Thailand for three weeks in the mid ’60s and managed to pen Thailand: The War That Is, The War That Will Be _ an early work by a Western writer on Thai culture.

Lomax was a remarkable African-American journalist and political activist who died in mysterious circumstances while researching the FBI’s role in murders of African-American political activists. His Thailand book was published in 1967. The claim that it “misrepresented” was also made by scholar Herbert Philips in 1979. Lomax was remarkable for barging into nascent debates then dominated by white, often CIA-supported, academics deeply embedded in funding regimes controlled by and for the U.S. state.

His critics could point to errors in the book but the main complaint was that Lomax was taking a Black Power-driven and anti-American war in Indochina position. Lomax wrote that U.S. policy in Thailand and the country’s military-authoritarianism meant that Thailand was likely to become the “next Vietnam.” His book only has 17 citations at Google Scholar, so would have to be regarded as having had very little academic impact despite its truly novel positioning.

In addition to Lomax, Fry has a PowerPoint (a large download) where he writes of “Misrepresentations, Misunderstandings, and Ignorance” in Margaret Landon’s book, Anna and the King of Siam, which has been long known as a fantasy, even misrepresenting Anna Leonowens writings, and William Stevenson’s The Revolutionary King, which was lambasted on publication. Nothing new there.

Fry’s “unreserved admiration” is for Charles Keyes, Craig Reynolds and Chris Baker. He doesn’t say why he chooses these three over scores of others. Citing Said’s Orientalism, his “scepticism regarding certain [other] Western writers in Thailand” seems to be based on their failure to understand “Thai culture.” Without providing a single example, Fry is reported to observe a “tendency to make false assumptions which underlie Western attitudes toward less developed countries, a long tradition of romanticised images of Asia and the Middle East in Western culture and an essentially supremacist attitude.”

PPT tends to think it sees more of the tradition of Orientalism in Fry’s work – with his reliance on essentialized ideas of “Thai Buddhism” and “royalism” than in most recent scholarship on Thailand. Take these examples from the Post report and tell us this doesn’t resonate with 19th Century Orientalism:

In all, the 69-year-old professor is still mesmerised by Thailand as he has always been.

In many ways, despite drastic political, socio-economic change, the country remains as mysterious as ever.

Everything in Thailand is more complicated than it seems,” he said, observing that there are always layer after layer underneath a seemingly simple event.

“Thailand is such a complex society,” he said. “I think foreigners need to be more careful [when writing about the country]. Their hearts are in the right place, yet they might not understand the country or the culture.”

Fry claims the unnamed writers who misunderstand Thailand particularly distort “gender, monarchy and women.” Unfortunately, in the PowerPoint, his examples are not of Western scholars but of journalists, films, dictionaries and “incidents” associated with advertising. It is as if Fry hasn’t read recent scholarship and is unable to distinguish scholarship and reportage.

He then proceeds in the PowerPoint to list a series of “Factual Mistakes” in the Historical Dictionary of Thailand. Somehow the next edition of the Dictionary is in Fry’s hands. As well as having produced a kind of compendium of how he plans to “correct” and royalize the new edition (with almost all the “missing” entries having to do with royals and their supporters), Fry’s PowerPoint lists “mistakes.” These include getting the number of national holidays wrong, recording “Thai Rak Thai having 248 seats in the 1996 Parliament; and 375 seats in the 2001 Parliament,” and stating that “Thaksin’s trial on concealing assets occurred the year before he was first elected Prime Minister; actually it occurred about seven months after he was in office.”

PPT doesn’t think that holidays matter too much as several recent governments have declared several more, but perhaps Fry is flummoxed by the fact that royal holidays are missed. Does it matter? On seats in parliament, Fry himself gets it wrong. The 2005 edition of the Dictionary says Thai Rak Thai won 248 seats in 2001 and “approximately 375 seats” in 2005 (the Dictionary was published in 2005, so it is clear the authors are writing about the time of the election). Most sources agree that TRT did win 248 seats in 2001 and 375 in 2005. The Thaksin assets case sentence in the Dictionary is mangled simply because it is being brief.

Fry is said to have “often found factual errors and misunderstandings in articles and books penned by foreign writers and journalists about the recent political crisis.” He is cited: “They create distortion…. A writer wrote that CentralWorld [where red-shirt protesters gathered last year] is three times larger than the Mall of America. In fact, the Mall of America in Minnesota is 10 times larger than CentralWorld.”

PPT doesn’t follow malls all that avidly, but a quick scan of a couple of web pages (here and here) devoted to the topic show that CentralWorld isn’t bigger than the Mall of America, but that Fry’s “10 times larger” is equally wrong and CentralWorld is about double the size of the Mall of America in terms of retail space. We guess readers are getting the picture: the man claiming errors is making them himself.

Fry’s claim to fame is his royalism. He claims his “next project is about education development in Thailand, focusing on outstanding educators.” Of course, this includes “HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.” Sirindhorn gets the odd credit for public comments on education and she is often seen sporting military attire giving lectures to military cadets, but that hardly makes her an “outstanding educator.”  Fry is simply a royal posterior polisher.

To make our point, Fry babbles on about the alleged “lack of understanding” as applying to the “unique relation between Thais and the monarchy.” Fry states: “I don’t think foreigners truly understand how much admiration Thais have for His Majesty the King…”. Anand has made exactly the same point and Fry is apparently parroting it.

PPT doesn’t think Fry understands much about contemporary Thailand that isn’t royalist nonsense. That’s exactly why the royalists like him.

A country for old men?

22 09 2009

Also available as ประเทศนี้สำหรับคนรุ่นเก่าหรือไง

With so much happening in Thailand’s politics in the past few weeks, it has been difficult to keep up. Seeing the bigger picture is a challenge.

Following our retrospective on Thailand three years after the 2006 palace-military coup, where we attempted to be positive, we now offer some observations regarding the current situation.

We begin with the police chief debacle. Why has this appointment been so drawn out and so conflicted? Of course, there are the related views that Thaksin Shinawatra controls the police or that the police support Thaksin. Another view is that there was a tug-of-war going on between coalition partners. There is truth in both perspectives. However, PPT suggests that there is more to this dispute.

Reports suggest that Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda (b. 1920) is at work. We won’t go into great detail for Bangkok Pundit has collected some of the comment on the police chief saga and most especially on the latest debates on who should get the job, including from ASTV/Manager and the Bangkok Post (17 September 2009: “New twist in police drama”) where there were guarded comments “new influential players.”

Police General Jumpol Manmai, the “alternative” candidate is known to be close to Prem and The Nation (17 September 2009: “Top Cop : Deadlock remains”) had stated that Jumpol “is known to have very strong backing outside the Police Commission, and lobbying was said to have reached fever pitch in the past few days.”

So is it Prem who is lobbying? Probably. Why? We suggest it is because, for some years, the palace and Privy Council have been trying to get increased control over the legal system. There has been a heightened urgency to this in the battle to root out Thaksin and his “regime.” Retired judges have been brought onto the Privy Council.

In what has clearly been a deliberated strategy, five of the last seven appointments to the Privy Council have been from the courts. The odd ones out were Admiral Chumpol Patchusanont (Former Commander of the Royal Thai Navy) and General Surayud Chulanont, who was appointed after he left the army and stepped down to be premier appointed by the military and then went back to the Privy Council when that guest appearance ended.

The former judges on the Privy Council are: Sawat Wathanakorn (appointed 18 July 2002 and a Former Judge of the Supreme Administrative Court); Santi Thakral (15 March 2005, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice); Ortniti Titamnaj (16 August 2007, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice); Supachai Phungam (8 April 2008, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice); and Chanchai Likitjitta (8 April 2008, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice and Minister of Justice). That so many judges are appointed send a clear message regarding intent. The king’s speeches to judges confirm the palace’s intentions. That such links to the judiciary have been put to use in the battle against Thaksin is seen in the ample evidence of meddling in the courts.

The palace has also been keen to have its people at the top of the police. In recent years, Police General Seripisut Temiyavet was said to be a palace favorite. When the military took over in 2006, Seri was made acting and then Police Commissioner and became a member of the junta’s Council for National Security.

At about the same time, long-time palace favorite Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn, once the Chief of the Royal Court Police for the Thai royal family, was put in charge of a review of the police force. At the time, this was reported as an attempt to clean up the notoriously corrupt force and to break Thaksin’s alleged political hold over it. As late as just a week or so ago, the Democrats had Vasit look into corruption in the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority.

Michael Montesano says this of Vasit: “Briefer of CIA director Allen Dulles during the latter’s late-1950s visit to Thailand, veteran of anti-Soviet espionage in Bangkok, long the Thai Special Branch’s leading trainer in anti-Communist operations, and palace insider at the time of his country’s most intensive counter-insurgency efforts, Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn ranked among Thailand’s most important Cold Warriors.” His own background in the shadows of the Cold War did not prevent him from being of an office holder at Transparency International in Thailand. Vasit remains a warrior for the palace in his columns in Matichon and as a royalist speaker. For a very short time Vasit was deputy interior minister for Chatichai Choonhavan being raised from his position as deputy police chief.

Vasit is 79 or 80 (thanks to a reader for this information), been “retired” for years, but keeps popping up in strategic locations. His political views reflect the position of the palace. For examples of his royalism and extreme views, see here and here.

Meanwhile, over at the Democrat Party, at present it seems that chief adviser Chuan Leekpai (b. 1938) is the power behind Abhisit. In recent years, Chuan has been increasingly outspoken in support of Prem. In recent days, Chuan has become the link between Prem and the government. For example, just a few days ago, as PAD fired up on Preah Vihear, Prem became involved, with the Bangkok Post reporting that “Gen Prem is reportedly concerned about the possibility of tensions spinning out of control if it is not attended to properly. A source said former supreme commander Gen Mongkol Ampornpisit, one of Gen Prem’s closest aides, paid a visit to Chuan Leekpai, the former prime minister and chief adviser of the ruling Democrat Party, at the party’s headquarters in August, to convey Gen Prem’s concern over the border developments.” The Post considers that Prem’s concern nudged Abhisit to send Foreign Minister Kasit to arrange a broadcast “assuring the Thai public that the country has not yet lost a single inch of land area in regard to the Preah Vihear dispute.”

As PPT shown in recent postings, Abhisit has been promoting increasingly nationalist and royalist causes. We won’t detail all of this again, but it is clear that Abhisit is not stupid. His emphasis on right-wing, conservative and nationalist strategies is a reflection of the views of his strongest backers. We see this backing as involving Chuan, Prem and the palace more generally. It seems Abhisit doesn’t have much support within his own party, so this backstopping, is keeping him in his position, has to be acknowledged. So Abhisit, with the support of important and highly conservative and royalists, adopts measures that hark back to a darker past.

Of course, the recently launched project called “Thai Unity” reflects the views king (b. 1927) and currently in hospital. His call for “unity” is a conservative refrain heard since the days when the king feared he might lose his throne to communists.

Abhisit’s calls to nationalism and patriotism may seem anachronistic and even dim-witted but they are an accurate reflection of the fact that the conservatives are bereft of new ideas. Hence, we have loyalist Anand Punyarachun (b. 1932) promoting nonsense like the interview with Stephen B. Young, the “Patronizing White Man With Degree Reassures Thai Elites With Unexamined Rhetoric” upon Thailand and believing that he makes sense and has something to say. What he actually says is that these old men haven’t a clue what the new Thailand is about.

The result is that all they can do is fall back on projects that are emblematic of the military-authoritarian governments of past generations.

Related, the huge effort to protect Prem in recent days is also to be understood as a part of this conservative project (see here and here).

Add in the remarkably expensive efforts to “protect the monarchy” through the use of lese majeste and computer crimes laws and the debt to the elders adds up to a government that is becoming increasingly conservative, more repressive and is normalizing authoritarianism.

While PPT points to this authoritarian slide, we also celebrate and support the courageous struggles of those within Thailand who continue to speak out even as they are watched by the current surveillance state. In 1997, Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi urged those outside Burma to “Please use your liberty to promote ours.” Comparing the current waves of royalism and the increasingly repressive Democrat Party-led state to the Burmese military regime would be factually incorrect and politically dangerous, yet there seems a determination to take Thailand back.

Thailand is now at a precipice between, as we noted in our coup anniversary post, the potential for deepening democratization, and the potential for unbridled repression at the hands of state, para-state, and royal actors. It is important to continually observe and criticize repression, and call for justice – especially for those jailed by repressive laws and those awaiting trial. A democratic Thailand will be a place where these old authoritarian men have a place, but it won’t be a place that celebrates their anachronistic ideas through government programs that enhance repression.


Weekend humor from coup leader

11 09 2009

In an earlier post, PPT stated that we were not nominating weekend humor today because nothing could be more humorous that reading The Nation’s interview with royalist puppet Stephen B. Young.

We were wrong. We have found an even funnier story. Well, it would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic.

The Bangkok Post (10 September 2009: “Gen Sonthi to enter politics”) reports that 2006 military coup leader and former chairman of the coup-makers’ Council for National Security, General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, has again said he is “interested in getting involved in politics.” Nothing new there, but the leader of the “good coup” observes that the “country is now facing the problem of social division and thus I want to join a political party that is impartial. It must be a party that the people can rely on…”. The General added that one “of his major aims was national reconciliation.”

Sonthi also said that he “agreed that articles in the constitution that cause problems or are obstacles to the government in the performance of its duty should be altered.” He added, “But a referendum on the changes must be held, to seek opinions from the general public. The people must be allowed to take part in any change made to the country’s supreme law.”

All of this was apparently said with a straight face. It is pretty good seeing this coming from the man who ran the coup for the royalist-military alliance, tore up the 1997 Constitution (did he have a referendum first?) and then he helped organize the 2007 Constitution and a referendum that the military and its royalist government manipulated into acceptance.

Maybe Sonthi and Young can get together as a double act. It’d be hilarious. Well, maybe not.

Weekend reading on media and academic freedom

11 09 2009

As regular readers know, we sometimes try for a humorous piece on weekends. But this week has seen considerable humor from Stephen B. Young and The Nation, so we opt for a little more serious – but still short – reading this weekend.

Our recommendation is from Britain’s Telegraph (6 September 2009: “Don’t blame Silvio Berlusconi, says Umberto Eco, it’s the fault of all Italians”). Umberto Eco is a well-known philosopher and literary critic and the author of several acclaimed novels.

We are grateful to New Mandala correspondent “Les Abbey” for the link.

Of course, comparisons between Thaksin Shinawatra and Berlusconi were common in the past. At the same time, Eco’s comments can be applied to the current royalist regime that is tramping a similar path to authoritarian politics.

Links on royalist advice

11 09 2009

There has been quite a deal of blog traffic on The Nation’s interview with Stephen B. Young, PPT’s response was rather long and was rendered into Thai by Liberal Thai as  คำสั่งสอนเพิ่มเติม จากพวกคลั่งเจ้า. It is indeed remarkable that the interview has gained so much coverage, being indicative of the continuing struggle to re-establish the royalist political and ideological position. That the royalist-position-as-put-by-foreigner has to come from a conservative American is not a surprise. That the royalist cheer squad have had to come up with a virtual unknown who they have to dress up as an academic is remarkable, especially when he delivers comments that are historically inaccurate and racist.

Why give so much attention to Young’s interview? PPT thinks his views are important for he is expressing the views of those in and around the palace. PPT can’t provide absolute evidence for this, but we have to admit that we have heard very similar things from well-placed political figures close to the palace.

Here PPT provides some of the links to commentary:

Perhaps the best treatment of the Young interview is in Not The Nation, a spoof of the real newspaper which developed as The Nation became increasingly unreliable and unreal in its editorial pages. Their entertaining take is titled “Patronizing White Man With Degree Reassures Thai Elites With Unexamined Rhetoric”. The problem is that Not The Nation, which is usually humorous, really does provide a critique of this “patronizing white man” and the its conclusion is just too close to reality for its usual spoof: “Right-thinking Thais, now assured of the infallibility of their own simplified, color-coded prejudices and tautological notions about correct Thai values, can continue their half-blind savaging of pluralist government, piecemeal reversal of the 1932 revolution of which they have no recollection or interest, and gushing revisionism of past royalist dictators like Sarit, thanks to the wonderful blanket absolution of this enlightened farang, whose bright yellow tie looks so shiny and neat.”

Bangkok Pundit has a post on the second part of the Young interview and a link to another Young “paper” (really just a set of notes). BP points out that Young is promoting illiberal democracy, and this is why the Thai elite think he is useful to his cause, which, for them, revolves around “Thai-style democracy.”

As would have been expected, the most yellow of the most rabid anti-Thaksin columnists at the Nation unthinkingly and uncritically applaud Young. Thanong Khanthong has the interview pasted into his blog with some comments that fit Thanong’s usual perspective – hang the facts, but if you say anything that agrees with my lop-sided speculation and gossip, then you are great: “From the interview, you can see that he really undertands [sic] Thailand very well. His view is quite impartial, coming from a man who have spent many years in Thailand.” Impartial? Only for died-in-the-wool ASTV viewers. Young understands Thailand? Well, he can parrot the views of his right-wing royalist buddies, but even Young points out “I don’t speak Thai so well anymore…”, so he’s hardly kept up. He has almost no serious publications on Thailand that can be considered academic, and none in recent decades.

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