Commentary: Thailand’s old camps united in anti-government angst

MOUNTING ANTI-GOVERNMENT SENTIMENTThis year, however, the anti-government demonstrations have gained more momentum. The government’s failure to control the COVID-19 pandemic has stirred up anger among other activist groups. These groups have joined forces with youth organisations against the government. One of the activist groups is the Thai Mai Thon (Impatient Thais) group, led by former Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan. Earlier in July, another group led by Red Shirt activist Sombat Boonngam-anong staged a car mob, where a hundred vehicles took to the streets to pressure political parties to withdraw from the pro-Prayut coalition. They demanded that a non-parliamentarian replace Prayut under Section 272 of the Constitution, which stipulates that two-thirds of members of both Houses can nominate a non-MP to serve as Prime Minister. What gives the new anti-Prayut forces some ballast is what appears to be an unlikely alliance of former Red Shirt leaders and some of their Yellow Shirt counterparts, with the common goal of rallying protestors against the current administration. One group is Prachachon Khon Thai (the People of Thailand), led by Nititorn Lamlue. He is a former Yellow Shirt and leader of the now-defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which mobilised to topple former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. If a pro-democratic alliance of the younger generation and other activist groups can coalesce to confront the government, this could challenge the stability of Prayut’s administration. In the end, however, the unification of all pro-democratic groups – activist youth groups, the Red Shirts and some Yellow Shirt leaders – might prove to be transient. At the very least, neither the Red Shirt nor Yellow Shirt leaders will adopt the youth movement’s call for the reform of the monarchy. THE MINION ARMY In the opposite camp, a new pro-military and pro-royalist movement is seeking to counter the anti-government protests. The movement is led by the Thailand Help Centre for Cyberbullying Victims, popularly known as the Minion Army. The name is a reference to the yellow colour favoured by royalists and the hue of the popular Minion characters in the popular American “Despicable Me” series of feature films. In these films, the minions are comically portrayed as creatures hardwired to seek out and serve a shrewd villain who subsequently turns over a new leaf. By using the Google Map tracking system, this group tracks social media posts that are seen to violate Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, also known as the lese majeste law, as well as Section 116, which punishes the crime of sedition. They then report violators’ names and personal data to the authorities. Recently, this royalist group filed lese majeste charges against more than 500 netizens and several political activists, including student activist Parit Chiwarak. These activities have sparked an online confrontation between the two poles of the political spectrum and look likely to increase political tensions. All this means that the political conflict between the pro-democracy and pro-government elements in Thailand is far from over. Many royalists had believed that the 2014 coup would bring peace and reconciliation back to Thailand. If the royalist group can expand its members and exercise more political activity beyond its online presence, we will likely witness political tensions and uprisings return to the political arena. Political polarisation thus remains unresolved, despite Gen Prayut’s promise after the 2014 coup. In fact, that coup increasingly appears to have done nothing to address Thailand’s deep-seated political divisions. Punchada Sirivunnabood is a Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. This commentary first appeared on ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute’s Fulcrum.

Commentary: Thailand’s old camps united in anti-government angst

MOUNTING ANTI-GOVERNMENT SENTIMENT

This year, however, the anti-government demonstrations have gained more momentum. The government’s failure to control the COVID-19 pandemic has stirred up anger among other activist groups. These groups have joined forces with youth organisations against the government.

One of the activist groups is the Thai Mai Thon (Impatient Thais) group, led by former Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan.

Earlier in July, another group led by Red Shirt activist Sombat Boonngam-anong staged a car mob, where a hundred vehicles took to the streets to pressure political parties to withdraw from the pro-Prayut coalition.

They demanded that a non-parliamentarian replace Prayut under Section 272 of the Constitution, which stipulates that two-thirds of members of both Houses can nominate a non-MP to serve as Prime Minister.

What gives the new anti-Prayut forces some ballast is what appears to be an unlikely alliance of former Red Shirt leaders and some of their Yellow Shirt counterparts, with the common goal of rallying protestors against the current administration.

One group is Prachachon Khon Thai (the People of Thailand), led by Nititorn Lamlue. He is a former Yellow Shirt and leader of the now-defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which mobilised to topple former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

If a pro-democratic alliance of the younger generation and other activist groups can coalesce to confront the government, this could challenge the stability of Prayut’s administration.

In the end, however, the unification of all pro-democratic groups – activist youth groups, the Red Shirts and some Yellow Shirt leaders – might prove to be transient. At the very least, neither the Red Shirt nor Yellow Shirt leaders will adopt the youth movement’s call for the reform of the monarchy.

THE MINION ARMY

In the opposite camp, a new pro-military and pro-royalist movement is seeking to counter the anti-government protests. The movement is led by the Thailand Help Centre for Cyberbullying Victims, popularly known as the Minion Army.

The name is a reference to the yellow colour favoured by royalists and the hue of the popular Minion characters in the popular American “Despicable Me” series of feature films. In these films, the minions are comically portrayed as creatures hardwired to seek out and serve a shrewd villain who subsequently turns over a new leaf.

By using the Google Map tracking system, this group tracks social media posts that are seen to violate Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, also known as the lese majeste law, as well as Section 116, which punishes the crime of sedition. They then report violators’ names and personal data to the authorities.

Recently, this royalist group filed lese majeste charges against more than 500 netizens and several political activists, including student activist Parit Chiwarak. These activities have sparked an online confrontation between the two poles of the political spectrum and look likely to increase political tensions.

All this means that the political conflict between the pro-democracy and pro-government elements in Thailand is far from over. Many royalists had believed that the 2014 coup would bring peace and reconciliation back to Thailand.

If the royalist group can expand its members and exercise more political activity beyond its online presence, we will likely witness political tensions and uprisings return to the political arena. Political polarisation thus remains unresolved, despite Gen Prayut’s promise after the 2014 coup.

In fact, that coup increasingly appears to have done nothing to address Thailand’s deep-seated political divisions.

Punchada Sirivunnabood is a Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. This commentary first appeared on ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute’s Fulcrum.