Updated: Defying regime, military and monarchy

11 08 2020

Some of the media seems flummoxed by the ongoing attacks on the regime and monarchy and are reverting to “form.”

Thai PBS, in reporting that Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha “feels uncomfortable with the rally at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus last night, during which some speakers touched on ‘sensitive issues*’,” promoted the story that the rally had “provoked widespread criticism of the University.”

Thammasat University appears to have panicked and has reportedly “offered an apology for the alleged transgression, which was blamed on non-student protesters.” It is said that “Dr. Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, a vice rector of the university, said … he regretted any breaches of the law, allegedly committed by non-student protesters…”. We haven’t heard of any charges, so Prinya seems to have jumped the gun. He did say he had “attended the protest site from 7pm to 8pm … which he found to be orderly and peaceful.”

He added that he had later learned of alleged “breaches of the law” which he described as “some speakers had used some improper wording,” which it is claimed “provoked some public uproar.” From PPT’s survey of social media, the demonstration of 3,000 to 10,000 students (depending on source) also drew considerable public support.

Cod Satrusayang, in an opinion piece at Thai Enquirer sounds staggered that “[f]or the first time in my experience and perhaps the first time since the mid-70s, Thais were willing to address, confront and talks bout the institutions* that many had deemed too cherish and too sacred for so long.” We guess he might have missed the red shirt rallies in 2010. He says the large crowd of “students, workers, activists and everyday citizens cheered and applauded as leader after leader gave speech after speech about the need to transform the country into what could best be described as constitutional royalism.”

He makes some reasonable comments on why it has taken so long for a proper discussion of the monarchy and politics. But he then returns to form, sounding not that different from the military’s various claims of “plots,” claiming “cheerleaders [are] egging the students on to carry out their own grievances…”. He singles out Pavin Chachavalpongpun who “called in to talk about the monarchy and its role in Thai politics.” Cod seems to think that exiles have it easy and that they should be activists in Thailand. He seems to forget that several exiles have been  tortured, abducted, and murdered in exile and he neglects that going into exile is usually a last resort.

He goes further, declaring “what is wrong is cheerleading the students on, knowing full well how the Thai state has historically handled such situations, while not prepared to face any consequence of their own.” This is nonsense and potentially incites rightists and other royalists. And, we’d guess that most students involved would reject all notions that they are the dupes of others. In fact, that’s an ultra-royalist shibboleth. Perhaps Cod is pissed that it has been exiles who have, until now, been the only ones who could raise the very issues that the students now consider.

What was said at Thammasat. In an AP report at Khaosod that “[s]tudent leaders … delivered an unprecedented challenge to the country’s constitutional monarchy on Monday, strongly criticizing the king and demanding changes to lessen what they believe is its anti-democratic nature.” It states:

… the protest’s direction turned when a student went on stage, read out the 1932 proclamation that ended the absolute monarchy in what was then called Siam, and declared that in fact it lives on despite the country’s nominal status as a democracy.

A number of speakers then took the stage and detailed perceived problems with Thailand’s monarchy….

Many in the crowd cheered, clapped and flashed three-fingered salute that has been adopted by Thailand’s pro-democracy movement. Yet others in the audience appeared stunned by the content of the speeches.

The report notes that “[a]iring their grievances in direct language normally expressed in whispers, the speakers criticized the king’s wealth, his influence and the fact that he spends almost all his time in Germany, not Thailand.”** Arnon Nampa told the students: “We shouldn’t have to speak using symbols. Direct discussion is best. That’s what I think, so I choose to speak directly, out of respect to my own dignity, to that of the listeners and of the monarchy…”.

Demands were made:

… The rally ended with another leader, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, reading out a manifesto with a list of 10 demands for reforming the institution of the monarchy.

Among them were separation of the king’s personal wealth from the royal palace’s vast fortune held by the Crown Property Bureau; forbidding the monarchy from playing any role in politics or endorsing any military coups; abolishing the excessive glorification of the monarchy; and investigating the deaths of critics of the monarchy.

Reflecting on the trepidation of people like Cod, the AP report observes: “Such open defiance of the taboos around speaking ill of the monarchy will infuriate ultra-conservatives and the military, who are unlikely to let it go without a response.” All the more so when activists announced that “a new protest would be held on Wednesday — the Queen Mother’s birthday…”. The king is likely to be in town as well.

*Royalist terms for monarchy and, sometimes, the monarchy.

**The king is scheduled to return to Thailand tonight, for another visit of just a few hours.

Update: The rally planned for today (Wednesday) has been postponed. The special king’s TG taxpayer flight is due in Bangkok just before 8 am today. His daughter, Sirivannavari, has arrived after a delayed TG flight (scheduled as a repatriation flight) from Frankfurt; it hasn’t just been the king and queen swanning about in Europe.


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