Junta ramps up its roy­al­ism with mass loy­alty cer­e­mony

Thai­land ap­proves $358 mil­lion cash hand­out for poor

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

From civil ser­vants to school chil­dren, sol­diers and celebri­ties, tens of thou­sands of Thais took part in a mass “oath of loy­alty” yes­ter­day to the coun­try’s re­cently de­ceased monarch. King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej’s death on Oc­to­ber 13 af­ter a seven-decade reign has sparked mass dis­plays of grief and left the po­lit­i­cally-di­vided na­tion with­out its only uni­fy­ing fig­ure.

Yes­ter­day’s cer­e­mony, which was or­dered by the coun­try’s arch roy­al­ist junta lead­er­ship, was a vivid illustration of both Thai de­vo­tion to their late monarch and how the coun­try’s mil­i­tary rulers have fur­ther ramped up the king­dom’s well-oiled roy­al­ist pro­pa­ganda ma­chine since Bhu­mi­bol’s death. Junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who seized power in 2014, led 3,000 civil ser­vants in a cer­e­mony in Bangkok in front of a gi­ant por­trait of the king. “We will re­main in al­le­giance to all the kings of the Chakri dy­nasty un­til we die,” Prayut said in the oath, which called on Thais to “re­spect the law” and em­u­late the king’s teach­ings.

The scene was re­peated up and down the coun­try with all public ser­vants, state em­ploy­ees and armed forces per­son­nel ex­pected to take part. Thai tele­vi­sion chan­nels broad­cast footage of chil­dren on their knees form­ing a gi­ant rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the num­ber 9 - a ref­er­ence to Bhu­mi­bol’s of­fi­cial ti­tle Rama IX. Chan­nel 3, Thai­land’s most pop­u­lar en­ter­tain­ment chan­nel, showed its large cast of celebri­ties dressed in black, tak­ing the oath and singing the royal an­them.

The mil­i­tary has long por­trayed it­self as the ul­ti­mate de­fender of the monar­chy, of­ten us­ing per­ceived threats to the in­sti­tu­tion as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for many of the 12 suc­cess­ful coups they have car­ried out since the end of ab­so­lute rule in 1932.

The re­la­tion­ship was re­cip­ro­cal, with Bhu­mi­bol sign­ing off on their coups. Many saw their 2014 putsch as a move to en­sure they were in charge ahead of any suc­ces­sion. Bhu­mi­bol’s named suc­ces­sor is Crown Prince Maha Va­ji­ra­longkorn, who has yet to at­tain his fa­ther’s wide­spread pop­u­lar­ity or uni­fy­ing sta­tus. Va­ji­ra­longkorn sur­prised many and veered from tra­di­tion by ask­ing to de­lay his procla­ma­tion as king in or­der to grieve with the na­tion, ac­cord­ing to the junta. That caused ini­tial con­cern that the suc­ces­sion was un­clear, some­thing the junta de­nied. A mil­i­tary source said yes­ter­day the ex­pected procla­ma­tion date was De­cem­ber 1 when Thai­land’s rub­ber-stamp par­lia­ment, the body which an­nounced the new monarch, will next meet.

Hand­out for poor

Mean­while, Thai­land’s mil­i­tary lead­ers yes­ter­day an­nounced $358 mil­lion in cash hand­outs for some of the king­dom’s poor­est peo­ple, a sur­prise give­away from a junta that de­cried sub­si­dies by the civil­ian govern­ment it top­pled. The move comes as Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra, whose demo­crat­i­cally elected ad­min­is­tra­tion was kicked out in a 2014 coup, faces up to a decade in jail over a gen­er­ous rice sub­sidy aimed at the ru­ral poor.

Since seiz­ing power junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha has railed against the rice scheme, which cost Thai­land bil­lions of dol­lars, and vowed to end Thai­land’s cul­ture of “pop­ulist” govern­ment sub­si­dies. But in its lat­est sop to an in­creas­ingly hard-up public, Prayut said $358 mil­lion in cash hand­outs would be re­leased next month. “It’s a mea­sure to help low-in­come earn­ers,” he told re­porters adding the move would be a “stim­u­lus to the econ­omy that would trig­ger more spend­ing”. Those earn­ing un­der 30,000 baht ($845) a year will re­ceive a 3,000 baht one-time hand­out while those earn­ing be­tween 30-100,000 baht will be given 1,500 baht.

Farm­ers are not in­cluded in the lat­est hand­out be­cause they had al­ready re­ceived fi­nan­cial help, he added. The mil­i­tary has sti­fled op­po­si­tion to its rule by clamp­ing down on rights but has found eco­nomic suc­cess more elu­sive. Al­though the econ­omy has picked up since the coup-with a fore­cast growth rate of 3.2 per­cent this year - high house­hold debt, weak­en­ing ex­ports, slumping for­eign in­vest­ment and low con­sumer con­fi­dence crimp what was once one of the re­gion’s strong­est economies.

Farm­ers, espe­cially in the enor­mous rice and rub­ber sec­tors, have been hit hard by low com­mod­ity prices this year. The eco­nomic wob­bles have seen the junta re­sort to the kind of pop­ulist tac­tics they vowed to end. Ear­lier this month the junta ap­proved a res­cue pack­age of at least $1.3 bil­lion in sub­si­dies for farm­ers who agree to de­lay sell­ing their crops to avoid a glut. Rice is Thai­land’s sta­ple dish and one of its main agri­cul­tural ex­ports, but also has ma­jor po­lit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance as farm­ers are the back­bone of a pro-democ­racy move­ment that the junta has sup­pressed.— Agen­cies

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