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

7/8/2021 1:31:00 AM

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

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

The Thai government’s failure to control COVID-19 has stirred anger among both Red and Yellow Shirt activists, says a researcher.

Seven years on, the Prayut-led government, which leads a broad-based coalition, has demonstrably failed in all three categories. Following general elections two years ago, Prayut remains in power, corruption prevails, and politics has reverted to a familiar pattern in which the former junta is intent on tightening its hold on power.

The new political divide became clearer this year when the pro-military and royalist movement began online mobilisation, creating online groups on Facebook, Google Maps and the Line group chat application to harass each other.Commentary: The Clubhouse app is a new avenue for political agendas in Thailand

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LinkedIn SINGAPORE: After Thailand’s 2014 Coup, General Prayut Chan-ocha, the leader of the military junta that held power until 2019, made three primary pledges: To eradicate corruption, support political reforms and promote national reconciliation.The kingdom's sandy beaches have long been popular destinations for millions of tourists but concerns are growing that the lotions they use as protection from the tropical sun are harming delicate, slow-growing corals.last week has overturned a narrative of neglect for Southeast Asia..

Seven years on, the Prayut-led government, which leads a broad-based coalition, has demonstrably failed in all three categories. Following general elections two years ago, Prayut remains in power, corruption prevails, and politics has reverted to a familiar pattern in which the former junta is intent on tightening its hold on power. The announcement said the science showed the chemicals "deteriorate coral reefs, destroy coral larvae, obstruct their reproductive system and cause coral reef bleaching". More importantly, political fissures are growing. Yet rather than frame the US approach from a US-China lens, he outlined a positive agenda for US allies and partners. Political demonstrations led by young Thais last year have underscored a new divide between the pro-military and anti-military camps. Violators face a fine of up to 100,000 Thai baht ($3,000) though officials have not said how they plan to enforce the ban. Protest movements in the past represented a regional and class divide.

The protests last year highlighted generational and ideological differences in which younger, pro-democracy groups protested against the pro-military government. TRENDING. Austin also demonstrated this same desire to bolster security ties with Vietnam and the Philippines – two countries with some of the fiercest stance on Chinese encroachment in the South China Sea. The new political divide became clearer this year when the pro-military and royalist movement began online mobilisation, creating online groups on Facebook, Google Maps and the Line group chat application to harass each other. The pattern of polarisation of the post-coup era is one of conflict between democracy versus dictatorship and liberal youth against conservative royalists. Related: Commentary: The Clubhouse app is a new avenue for political agendas in Thailand BYGONE DAYS OF RED SHIRTS AND YELLOW SHIRTS The new battle lines mirror the political conflict between the Red Shirts and their Yellow Shirt adversaries. Related: Commentary: Vietnam's attitude towards Chinese vaccines is very telling Most importantly, Austin achieved agreement for the US-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement, which provides US military access to Philippine bases for exercises and operations, to remain in place. The two groups have been confronting each other since the turn of the century.

The former, which is known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), was formed to protest the 2006 coup which ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The Yellow Shirts, which is shorthand for the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), is a coalition arrayed against Thaksin’s regime. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveling to New Delhi, India and Kuwait City, Kuwait. After the 2014 coup, the duel between the two opposing groups was largely frozen. After the 2019 election, however, a new wave of political unrest returned to Thai politics. Political tensions became more intense when the Future Forward Party, a popular opposition political party, was dissolved in February 2020. Though he attempted to highlight how the US would support the ASEAN approach articulated in the Five-Points Consensus, his messaging was muddled where he seemed to digress to pay lip service to working with ASEAN countries to combat COVID-19 and mentioned rejection of Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

Despite a coronavirus ban on large gatherings, Thai youths started pro-democratic protests. This was led by two key youth groups, the Free People Movement and the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD). They organised flash mobs and public protests, primarily in Bangkok, and tabled three demands: The resignation of Prime Minister Prayut, a constitutional amendment and an end to the government’s intimidation of the people. Perhaps Blinken had laid the building blocks of the US’ overall approach to Southeast Asia for Austin’s visit – one that focuses on security partnerships in addressing regional developments and collective leadership on common challenges like COVID-19. They also added new and unprecedented demands: To curb the power and budget of the Thai monarchy. All told, however, the protests of 2020 did not topple the government.

Related: Commentary: The Milk Tea Alliance sweeping through Thailand is a force to be reckoned with MOUNTING ANTI-GOVERNMENT SENTIMENT This year, however, the anti-government demonstrations have gained more momentum. Ahead of Austin’s visit, an op-ed by Hu Bo, a South China Sea expert, in Chinese news outlet Global Times argued that “the Biden administration does not have an explicit policy agenda or clear course for the region”. 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.” Rather than anything else of value that America still has to offer the region, the op-ed contended that Austin’s visits will be “diplomatic and ceremonial, and will not yield substantial outcomes”. 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. Fortunately, Austin’s physical visit to the region has managed to place US foreign policy here on a firmer footing, involving the three Southeast Asian countries that have been the strongest proponents of continued US presence in this region. 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. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin fist bumps with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

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. Related: President Biden nominates entrepreneur Jonathan Kaplan as US ambassador to Singapore A FORGIVING LOT Despite lingering scepticism, however, Southeast Asia is not going to turn tail on the US to unequivocally embrace China. 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. According to a 2021 survey conducted by the Singapore-based ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute, the majority in the region continues to welcome America’s strategic influence and anticipates a strong rebound in engagement of the region by the Biden administration. 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.5 per cent) picked the US compared to a year before (of 53. 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. Due to visit Singapore and Vietnam this month, she is expected to discuss bilateral cooperation in digital trade, defence, cybersecurity, climate change and the global response to COVID-19 when here. 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. Tan See Seng is Research Advisor at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies and Senior Associate at the Centre for Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, both at the Nanyang Technological University.

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