In our previous post, we emphasized some of the fears felt in elite circles regarding the direction of the politics: violence, inertia, economic downturn, and so on. We didn’t mention either republicanism or separatism, and we probably should have.
There’s a clutch of commentators who put all the events of Thailand’s post-2000 politics to a succession struggle. While that seems to be going too far, no one should ignore the impending demise of the current monarch and the panic this causes some who have built lives, fortunes and identities around a manufactured reverence for the monarchy and the current incumbent.
Fear of the future and a “disliked” king as opposed to the current one bothers this lot, as does the idea that politicians might somehow be involving themselves in the succession issue. The usual claim is that Thaksin Shinawatra is engaging in the succession issue supporting the crown prince. Given that the prince is the nominated heir to the throne, this is a worry for those who hate Thaksin. This is one of the reasons why the fear a monarchy that is truly a constitutional monarchy, under the authority of parliament.
Then, of course, there are the largely self-inflicted wounds to the monarchy’s “charisma” and “status” from its continual intervention in politics, whether highly visible as in the 2006 military-palace coup, the shady, backroom variety of political meddling that is the stock-in-trade of the aged privy councilors, or the use of the lese majeste law to “protect” royalist interests. The “eye-opening” events since the coup have damaged the monarchy considerably.
Separatism has always bothered the royalists and nationalists. In earlier times they always worried about northeastern political troublemakers and there lurked a notion of separatism in that fear. In the south, separatism has long been an issue that the Bangkok-based elite never wanted on the table, considering Thailand one, indivisible nation. The recent verbalization of ideas about separating Bangkok and the Democrat Party-controlled south from the pro-Thaksin parts of the country were heard amongst both anti-democrats and their pro-Thaksin opponents. This must have been very scary for the old elite.
A report at the Nation, which may have been overtaken by events, must have added to royalist misgivings in proclaiming that the “idea of setting up a People’s Democratic Republic of Lanna (PDRL) has been under discussion for six months…”.
A leader of the so-called Love Chiang Mai group, Petchawat Wattanapongsirikul seemed to be “reassuring” when he stated that this was just a “split from Bangkok, and not [creating] an independent state.” His reference was to China’s Hong Kong model of one country, two systems. We doubt that is very conforting for the old elite who will imagine bits of “colonial” Thailand clamoring for similar treatment.
Petchawat identified “three factors” that motivated republican separatism:
Firstly, people in the North were looked down upon by others, with the PDRC often referring to red shirts as “red water buffaloes”. Secondly, the opposing group did not respect the law and there were double standards in the judicial system. The third reason, he said, was the undemocratic aspirations of the PDRC.
Looking down on red shirts as ‘red-water buffaloes’ was a severe form of discrimination against human dignity, Petchawat noted.
Clearly trying to rattle the royalist political cage, Petchawat was confused on what a modern republic is, for he “insisted [the Lanna Republic] would continue to respect HM the King as head of state.” Perhaps he was simply trying to avoid accusations of lese majeste or avoid claims he had violated the constitution.
Update 1: Predictably, the “Republic of Lanna” idea has sent conservatives into a spin and reaching for their law books so that they can repress different ideas that challenge their control. The Bangkok Post reports that the “Chiang Mai and Phayao army districts have filed a police complaint against people in the North carrying out activities in the name of a group called ‘Sor Por Por Lanna’ for alleged treason in violation of Sections 113 and 114 of the Criminal Code.”
It says that 3rd Army commander Lt Gen Preecha Chan-ocha, apparently Army boss Prayuth’s brother, stated that the “3rd Army had followed reports on secessionism and ordered the Chiang Mai and Phayao army districts to file a police complaint…”.
The Post explains these two sections thus:
Section 113 deals with actions deemed intended to abolish or change the Constitution, topple the legislative, executive and judicial powers under the constitution, or separate the land or take over the administration of it. A violator is liable to life imprisonment or death.
Section 114 is about accumulation of forces or arms or preparations for an act of rebellion. A violator is liable to three to 15 years imprisonment.
Preecha, who also heads up the local Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), gathered “the governors of the 17 northern provinces and asked them to monitor and investigate any action which can be construed as affecting national security.” Surveillance of Sor Por Por Lanna and Rak Chiang Mai is ongoing.
Interestingly, the Post reports also discounts The Nation’s claim of a People’s Democratic Republic of Lanna (PDRL). It states:
Sources said the name “Sor Por Por Lanna” might have led to a misunderstanding. It actually stands for Samatcha Pokpong Prachathipatai of Lanna (council of Lanna people to protect democracy) or Sor Por Por Lanna. But the abbreviation Sor Por Por Lanna is simillar to Sor Por Por Laos or the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos, which is a form of socialist state.
Update 2: The amount of media space and angst over the above story has been quite amazing. “One and indivisible” seems to be the elite response from all, including Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. In all of this, we noted the quite nasty statement of Bangkok Post op-ed writer Saritdet Marukatat who attempts to make every red shirt a treasonous separatist:
Of course it would be even better if Chiang Mai were designated the capital of Lanna — a desire many United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship members harbour in their hearts.
The claim is a nonsensical bit of propaganda, but be sure that plenty of other anti-democrats will make this claim to attack red shirts as “treasonous,” ignoring their own clearly stated “treason” of wanting to change the existing form of government.
Update 3: The breathtaking capacity of the Democrat Party for political nonsense sans short-term memory – the party is going on 70, so maybe dementia is setting in – is revealed in its claim that the Puea Thai Party should be dissolved as treasonous. As reported at Khaosod:
The Democrat Party says it will file for a dissolution of Pheu Thai Party as a punishment for its alleged separatist movements.
According to Mr. Wirat Kalyasiri, head of the Democrat legal team, a number of Pheu Thai supporters have advocated for north and northeastern Thailand to be an independent state, separated from Bangkok and the rest of Thailand.
In fact, the most “treasonous” acts in recent months have been by members of the Democrat Party, which funded, backed and supported the anti-democrats. That lot sought to “overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State under this Constitution or to acquire the power to rule the country by any means which is not in accordance with the modes provided in this Constitution” (Article 68).
Khaosod has a story of related interest, referring to the military’s actions above as: “Army Declares War On Non-Existing Separatists.”