King of Compromise? Thailand’s Vajiralongkorn is playing the long game...

King of Compromise? Thailand’s Vajiralongkorn is playing the long game...
King of Compromise? Thailand’s Vajiralongkorn is playing the long game...
Exiled academic and royal critic Pavin Chachavalpongpun says it is as if “politics has somehow got stuck”.

“Almost everything, if you just close your eyes, it seems like we’re going back to 1976,” says Pavin from Kyoto. “The source of the problem has remained with the monarchy, especially with the same number [Vajiralongkorn]. And with the kind of tactics of building support groups, helping hardcore royalists put out propaganda and violence to intimidate the democracy movement.

“It’s amazing that we haven’t changed much since then.”

The October 6, 1976 massacre at Thammasat University took center stage when Thai protesters asked questions about their history.Recognition:AP

Vajiralongkorn was an important, albeit unknowing, figure in 1976. Actors in a student play were accused of staging a mock execution of the then crown prince, and on October 6, a coalition of right wing militia and police launched a pre-dawn attack on Thammasat University. Forty-three were killed, including five who were lynched. Nobody was held accountable. The army seized power in the name of defending the monarchy.

Protest leaders have been arrested several times in the past month, flash mobs have surfaced in Bangkok, and tear gas and water cannons have been used. The riot police were in place but could not stop the protest tactics of the demonstrations in Hong Kong last year. The words “Republic of Thailand” have surfaced at protest locations and are populating parts of Thai social media with swiftness.


The three official goals of the self-proclaimed People’s Party or Khana Ratsadon are the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a revision of the military-backed constitution and reform of the monarchy. Royal reforms they want include more transparency and accountability, as well as curbing the use of taxpayers’ money at a time when Thailand’s tourism-dependent economy has been hit. The question of monarchy is the most controversial and has brought to the fore issues that have long been suppressed by strict laws and media self-censorship.

The tense moment came after a Rolls-Royce got lost in a protest zone with the king’s youngest son, Prince Dipangkorn, and Queen Suthida on October 14. The UK foreign correspondent Jonathan Miller described it on Channel 4 as a “major security hole”. The more suspicious saw it as a ploy to turn public opinion against the young demonstrators.

Vajiralongkorn has stayed in the spotlight. He has lived mainly in Germany since 2007 and has rewritten the constitution to make it easier for him to rule from abroad, but has postponed his return to Europe. Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas expressly said that Vajiralongkorn was unable to govern from Bavaria, which complicated the matter. “I think the king is wise not to return now because they at least want the story to fade,” says Pavin.

Vajiralongkorn also welcomed supporters. Along with Queen Suthida, his Noble Consort Sineenat and his two daughters, the King walked between them, posed for selfies and offered moral support. In one such event last Sunday, Channel 4’s Miller stood behind a staunch former royalist monk and scored a bullet. He asked the king what he would say to the demonstrators.

“I have no comment,” said Vajiralongkorn, waving the question off. “We still love her. We love them anyway. We love them anyway. ”

Miller asked if there was room for compromise to which he said “Thailand is the land of compromise” before moving away.

Political commentator Voranai Vanijaka, editor-in-chief of the news website Thisrupt, says the events are intended to restore the monarchy’s reputation and strengthen the royalist base.

“With the king staying in Thailand, royalists now have the king’s presence as a motivation, something close and dear to fight for,” says Voranai.

“The royal tours are designed for exactly that. In the past few weeks we have seen increased activity by royalists, with more royalist celebrities coming out to lead protests and gatherings. This is a backlash against the Ratsadon movement.

“The game is to win public legitimacy, which side has more support, which side can claim millions, whichever is the bigger cause, monarchy or democracy.

“The king’s words are what they are, something for him to say. Royalists say it is a shining example of the king’s greatness. Ratsadon makes sarcastic memes and signs. ”

The activist Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, who promoted the reform of the monarchy and is accused of sedition, tweeted in response: “Yes, land of compromise. But protesters are arrested, knocked down and attacked. Those who criticize the institution are kidnapped. Yes.”

Pavin, an associate professor at Kyoto University, whose group on the Royalist Marketplace has two million members, says Vajiralongkorn and his immediate family were filmed telling followers, almost identically, they had to fight to avoid a misunderstanding Correct monarchy.
Protest leader Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, who was confronted with the police on September 20, was charged with sedition.Recognition:AP

“He, two women and his two active daughters are completely in sync, that’s no coincidence,” says Pavin. “You have to defend the monarchy, I understand that, but if you read carefully what these people say to the loyal subjects, it’s the same. This has been calculated. ”

Regarding the compromise, Pavin believes that the king “did not mean what he said”. There is talk of replacing the prime minister – there is often talk of a coup in Thailand, where there have been a dozen successful coups in the past century.

Pavin says the prime minister’s fate could be a negotiating chip for the king and bring the protesters to victory. But it was more likely that the monarchy and the military wanted to exhaust the protest leaders and outlast the movement.

“This is a tactic the King has been using for some time. I think at some point they are just hoping that the perseverance of the palace and government will eventually win, which means they will come out victorious as long as they can hold on to the status quo. ”


Michael Ruffles is the editor-in-chief of The Sydney Morning Herald.

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