Citylife sat down with a Thai pro-royalist supporter to get a better understanding of the other side’s perspective on the recent pro-democracy protests and demonstrations happening nationwide throughout Thailand.
Our royalist is a Chiang Mai local and business owner. Initially we were able to use his name and image in this article, but his son has now objected and we were forced to make him anonymous. In these volatile political times it is not worth insisting on our right to publish a sanctioned interview should we upset a family who claim that they may be adversely affected by a public admission of political opinion, so we apologise for this. Let’s call him W.
W is an outspoken supporter of Thailand’s royal family. His willingness to speak was rare, in that, four other attempts by Citylife to speak with pro-royalists were all denied. All royal supporters that were questioned responded curiously with a universal, “No comment.” However, on October 30th, W candidly opened up for about an hour on the expanding pro-democracy protests, social media’s role, Thai political reform and, of course, the Thai royal family.
Meeting with pro-royalist W was akin to a rendezvous with an older uncle. His demeanour was extremely welcoming and his personality had all the charming kindred hallmarks: Polite, warm, well-dressed, a bit goofy and adorably honest. W, dressed in a freshly ironed yellow polo and trousers, chivalrously held the door as my editor Pim Kemasingki and I walked into his office. Once inside the café in the office complex, W offered us coffee, water and a few sugar cookies.
The mild refreshments were a sweet juxtaposition of the robust conversation to come.
As Pim and I settled into our chairs, cover-songs of pop-classics played quietly in the background. The cafe’s customers quietly tapped away on their laptops, as W served us up the sips and nibbles. Once seated, he gave his Americano a stir, tapped his spoon on the serving plate and threw a pleasant smile to Pim and I as if to say, “All set. Let’s get go!”
And so, off we went.
Because my Thai is so shit, Pim immediately positioned herself as the Thai-to-English-to-Thai translator. This was essential and a key to our communication.
I began with the most pressing of Thailand’s topics, his thoughts on the current protests and political unrest. W gently folded his hands on the table and began, “[The pro-democracy protesters] are using robots on social media to generate propaganda. The modern younger generation doesn’t understand. They have been inhaling and absorbing the wrong information. They are coming out and acting and behaving in ways that are not appropriate. It is the aggression toward the monarchy that we yellow-shirts cannot accept.”
W’s answer made reference to the yellow-shirts and red-shirts that grew from the Thai military coup of 2006. Individuals sporting these two colours either supported former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (red-shirts) or opposed him (yellow-shirts, of which W was, and is, one). W’s been wearing his bright yellow polo embroidered with a Thailand coat of arms for well over a decade, even in the days when Chiang Mai was a sea of red.
“There used to be subjects in school such as Thai history and also civic duty. Both were removed by the red-shirt governments. Nowadays the younger generation doesn’t know their role in society, they don’t know structured society and they don’t know their position. They haven’t studied this.”
With my own Thai history knowledge admittedly quite poor, a decidedly necessary question followed. In an attempt to educate myself and other curious foreigners, I asked W what exactly he and other yellow-shirts wanted farangs to understand about the current Thai protest situation from the yellow viewpoint.
“[The protesters] want to get rid of Section 112. If someone in America posts something on social media about [President] Trump, or in Japan about the emperor, they go to jail. In many countries royalty is above politics and you cannot speak against them. I agree with Section 112. If Section 112 is used against you or used as a political tool, then you need to go to court and fight it out. There will be justice through the Thai court system. In Thailand, we cannot even scold our parents; It goes against the grain of our culture to criticise the monarchy. If the kids of today don’t like our structured doctrine, then they can go somewhere else. Look at France, they are going to get rid of their Muslims because if you can’t live in a country and behave according to their rule then you should go live somewhere else. If you’re Thai, then you should know what Thailand is about. The youth in Thailand are being brainwashed through social media and they don’t listen to their parents. Young people have the right to have change but it has to be based on reality. As a father you don’t stick your middle finger up at me because I would slap you. These kids nowadays shout, ‘My taxes! My taxes go toward corruption!’ But when have these kids ever actually paid their taxes?”
The mention of Section 112 in his response was relevant indeed with many pro-democracy leaders being jailed across the nation for royal defamation. The Thai Criminal Code is part of the famous Lèse-majesté Laws made notorious for being some of the strictest in the world. The number of protest leaders arrested in the name of Section 112 have been steadily rising in recent days.
W sipped his coffee as I took photographs – which sadly we are now unable to use – and waited for Pim’s translations. While standing by for his replies I couldn’t help but notice how energised he was as he spoke. His hands waved and clenched throughout his thoughts. Thailand was important to him; It meant something deep to him. His answers were measured and thoughtful. Even though Pim did call him out on the fact that you could not go to jail in the US for criticising Trump, W swept that aside and insisted that it was simply not the Thai way.
We continued with a question about Prayut Chan-o-cha, the current Prime Minister of Thailand. With many of the protesters asking for Prayut to resign, he explained, “If we don’t have Prayut [as Prime Minister], then who will we have? He is as good as it gets. The best amongst all the assholes. I tolerate him even though his cabinet is awful. Next year we have an election, so why not make the election the year that we get someone the people like? No one can ever answer me when I ask, ‘Who do you want for prime minister instead of Prayut?’ Since Prayut has come in people could wear a yellow shirt. The red shirts aren’t angry and judging anymore.” Again Pim mentioned Thanathorn and the Future Forward party, only to get a derisive scoff and contemptuous laugh in response.
As we veered into our next question, I took a nibble of one of the sugar cookies he had earlier placed before us. A nibble was necessary to take the edge off the heavy political chat. After washing the cookie down with a gulp of water I asked W if he was in agreement with anything the protesters stood for?
“I support some of the reform, especially the education reform and much of the political reform, but I still don’t think that the protesters have thought things through. What do they actually want? They protest, but there is no solution. But for us, just don’t mess with the monarchy. Do not mess with the monarchy. It’s like someone saying something about my father, I just cannot tolerate it. The kids don’t have this in them. I’m not angry with the kids of today, I’m angry with the people behind the kids. The people behind the kids don’t get up on stage and put themselves in a vulnerable position, they hide behind the kids who are being used and manipulated.” This dichotomy was obviously a struggle for him as he appeared to have genuine affection for the youth, even believing in their demand for education reform and political accountability, yet he couldn’t reconcile their perceived disrespect towards the monarchy.
We spent a long time discussing the monarchy, W defending the many critiques of an establishment which is coming under fire for lack of transparency and incomprehensible behaviour and decisions. But because of Section 112, and an editor who has already faced Section 112 charges, I must self-censor and refrain from delving into that in this article. Suffice to say, W regards the monarchy as an integral fabric of the Thai nation which must remain elevated and above any fray at all costs. As he kept repeating when criticisms were pointed out, “It’s not my business; this is Thailand, this is how things are”.
His last point of response transitioned us into the role he thought social media played in the current political climate. I asked him what he thought, he said, “While there is a lot of reality on social media, there’s a lot of bots. Sometimes you have an onslaught of 20-30 bot posts and this gets people really going. Even in my Rotary Club I boost it 400 baht a month and get lots of likes. If I can do it as a Rotary-man then of course the protesters can do it. They must hire professions and I feel bad for the kids. The kids now argue with their parents. A lot of my friends come to me and say, ‘I cannot talk to my kids, they call me a dinosaur.’ So, I advise them not to argue with the kids. What I tell my friends is this: Let your kids go. Let your kids go do what they need to do but just tell your kids three things: 1.) Don’t hold a sign. 2.) Don’t get onto the stage and hold a microphone. 3.) Don’t use violence.”
Last month, #6ตุลา or #6October, was trending as Twitter users used the hashtag to memorialise the 1976 massacre of 46 leftist protesters at Bangkok’s Thammasat University. The surge in politically-charged hashtags on all major social media platforms indicate the power these contemporary tools hold. Whether bots are to blame for the increased usage or not, there is no denying the upward trend in politics on Thai social media platforms.
As we began to wind down our chat, aware that many ears in the quiet coffee shop were rather perked and tuned in our direction, I took the opportunity to ask W about his thoughts on the increased use of force in the Bangkok protests. Last month, Thai authorities resorted to using high pressure water cannons against the growing protesters as they filled Bangkok’s streets. Some injuries were reported by protest attendees.
“I was very worried at first but I’ve calmed down now,” he said as he took his last sip. “The government has done its best. It hasn’t had much conflict. It has cunningly arrested the head protesters. And then, you have foreigners like the UN when there is a clash. I’m afraid of conflict. The government is as careful as possible to avoid conflict. It uses Thai law to arrest the leaders and they always get released. But that is legal. If they get bail, then they’re not allowed to be politically active. And, if they do it again, then they don’t get bail. So, what the government is doing is all legal. Once the leaders are gone, then all the kids will disperse.”
With only cookie crumbs left on the table, I asked W if he had any final thoughts, he concluded, “The king is my father. It is as simple as that. You don’t have the right to criticise the monarchy however it behaves. In our culture you don’t question or disrespect your parents. How would you feel if someone stuck their middle finger at your father? It is just not acceptable.”
I snapped a few last minute portraits as Pim and I said our goodbyes and wrapped up. W pleasantly held the door for us again, as we made our way to the exit and out to our parked car, waving and smiling as we backed out.
And somehow, as Pim drove us both home, I couldn’t help but wonder how my own uncle was doing back home.
While total support of the monarchy in the Kingdom of Thailand was long believed to be unanimous, it certainly is not. There are almost 70 million people living in Thailand today and each has a unique personal perspective on what the country means to them. Whether you agree with him or not, I respect W for speaking up and being so candid about such sensitive topics. I believe readers have the right to choose what they believe based on facts and I made a strong effort to be as faithful as possible to W’s words and thoughts.
Editor’s note: I apologise that we are unable to publish W’s name. As journalists we should be able to publish recorded quotes from a sanctioned interview. But journalism doesn’t appear to be the respected institution it once was and we too have to compromise, for that we apologise.