By Chan Nilgianskul
It has been a full six months since the coup and roughly a year since the misnamed People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) and their followers first took to the streets. Sadly, the same PDRC-endorsed narrative is still being propagated on a daily basis by members of the conservative camp who are trying desperately to justify junta leader General Prayuth Chan Ocha’s seizure of power. These inconsistent arguments are employed by coup-sympathizers from all walks of life, seemingly irrespective of background, profession, or age group. One can only wonder what underlying factors, if any, unite them in their political myopia and naivety.
Surprisingly, many young Thais receiving top-notch educations and having the rare opportunity to see the world are featured amongst the ranks of these former ‘whistle-blowers’. My friends and I have always wondered why these otherwise proper scholars often end up so narrow-minded and biased when it comes to understanding the political stalemate we continue to face. Members of the young elite often project strong images of goodwill by lambasting corruption and populism. However, they fail to appreciate that these issues are a result of the inequality and oppression which has been endemic to the country for centuries. It is this pitiful incompetence with regards to political history and philosophy that plagues the minds of our future. In fact, what I find most intriguing about Thailand is that the entrenched powers that be have not only been able to use misinformation in bringing a significant portion of the population to heel but have also managed to indoctrinate their own offspring across generations to subscribe to the same deceit. These social princelings then proceed to shuffle through life with a false sense of entitlement and a fanatic commitment to the status quo.
As a case in point, let us take a look at Phetchompoo Kijburana, a senior reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Durham University. She had the rare opportunity to speak at the One Young World Summit last month in Dublin, Ireland. One Young World is a non-profit that stages annual summits, allowing young delegates to “debate, formulate, and share innovative solutions for the pressing issues the world faces.” Rather than take advantage of this platform to share her visions for a genuinely inclusive Thailand, Phetchompoo lamentably chose to descend into the familiar smear tactics and ‘holier-than-thou’ rhetoric coming straight out of the PDRC playbook. A video of her utterings is seen below:
While she is right about some of the problems that are present in our society, I cannot help but pity her ignorance and lapse in judgment when looking at the current political landscape of Thailand. What is most disturbing is the way in which the ethos of her speech so clearly contradicts the evidence she uses to justify her viewpoint. How can she be so determined and focused on resolving our woes when she has already failed to identify the real ‘enemy’?
Phetchompoo’s questionable standpoints are instantly apparent, beginning with her analysis of the ‘Amnesty Bill’ fiasco. While few would defend the manner in which the bill was pushed through, there is surely more to it that meets the eye. Believing that the bill was passed solely to benefit Thaksin is a tad bit shallow, to say the least. It is much likelier that the conservative bloc, seeing massive popular reaction against the Amnesty Bill, saw the situation as an opportunity to abandon ongoing reconciliation efforts and instead turn to more familiar protest tactics in bringing down the government. Perhaps we should remind her that PDRC Secretary-General Suthep Thaugsuban also sought to clear himself of all wrongdoings by seeking to delete sections of the bill which excluded political decision makers. This is clearly evident from Senate record excerpts pertaining to bill, which are shown in Thai below. She said it herself at 4:07 in the video: “The fine details reveal something far more horrifying.”
While Phetchompoo’s views are indeed quite concerning, what is worse is that she is able to swindle an obviously uninformed crowd by making unsubstantiated claims about the situation in Thailand. Her suggestion that “anyone who challenges this notion is intimidated into silence” is downright ludicrous. Up until the coup in May, the PDRC aired its very own ‘Bluesky Channel’ 24/7, brainwashing an already-conservative Bangkok into submission. Those that are “intimidated into silence” are in fact Thailand’s liberals – atheists, republicans, socialists, globalists, etc. – who continually face draconian sanctions and persecution for voicing their opinions. Yet another blatant lie is the absurd narrative that the PDRC led a “seven month long peaceful protest” that was attacked violently on a daily basis by government supporters. The infamous ‘Popcorn gunman’ episode at Lak Si, where a PDRC lackey used an assault rifle to shoot opponents, is just one of the many incidents that indicate otherwise. Phetchompoo conveniently omits these significant aspects of the conflict. Indeed, one can’t help but wonder whether she is being intellectually dishonest or whether she is simply a guiltless intellectual disgrace.
Moreover, Phetchompoo then brazenly announces that the “new generation of Thais” to which she belongs is “a lot more politically aware, and a lot more politically involved.” This is, for lack of a better word, a joke. Whilst popular uprisings involving students and young thinkers throughout the 1970s and in the early 1990s were backed by progressive ideological foundations, Phetchompoo and her cheerleaders are a product of unprincipled ultra-nationalism as well as decades of one-sided propaganda and lack of transparency. Frankly, it is shameful that she represents the next generation of ‘leaders’ that the ‘Land of Smiles’ culture of our country is manufacturing. To quote her favourite Thomas Jefferson: “He who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehood and errors.”
One might feel inclined to expect better from Phetchompoo given her apparently well-rounded field of study. To be fair, she is completely spot-on in her statement that “the heart of democracy lies in people’s participation.” Unfortunately, Phetchompoo’s ‘people’ does not extend to the 45 million eligible voters of Thailand, whose electoral rights were plundered by PDRC thugs during the wrongly annulled polls in February. Perhaps the only participants allowed in her form of ‘Thai-style democracy’ are self-styled ‘good people.’ It is very disconcerting to hear her speak of the “true meaning of democracy” over and over again when it is apparent that she has absolutely no idea what democracy actually entails.
To top it off, Phetchompoo voluntarily exposes herself as a coup-apologist at the very end of her speech. If she hadn’t already been such an embarrassment up to this point, it would have been the final nail in the coffin with regards to her political credibility (or lack thereof). Her contention that “the military stepped in to maintain order” is nothing short of preposterous. The international community were “quick in their condemnation of the coup,” and rightly so. The military could have cooperated with the government in physically enforcing elections as per the constitution and laws at the time. This was never going to happen, of course, since the military top brass were in fact in cahoots with the anti-government block all along, as revealed by none other than Suthep Thaugsuban. This revelation was, as one might have expected, vehemently denied by the current junta leader.
Put bluntly, the overthrow of yet another elected government was the finishing move to years of sinister political machination and orchestration by a pro-Establishment minority. The Thai political system was not itself failing. A group of dinosaurs had set out to make it fail. Whether Phetchompoo was aware of this is anybody’s guess. I hope for her sake that she was not. One thing though, is for sure: If Democrat Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra wants us to make a meaningful impact at the One Young World Summit on home turf next year, he will have to sponsor delegates generally untainted by the PDRC with better understandings of democracy than Phetchompoo Kijburana.
About the author:
Chan Nilgianskul is currently an MBA student at London Business School. He is a former commodities futures trader and a graduate of the London School of Economics and the University of Chicago. Special thanks also goes out to P.A., a PhD candidate at Imperial College London, who contributed significantly to this article.
The 28 Weeks Later series – Thailand 6 months after the coup:
Introduction: 28 weeks later in post-coup Thailand
Part 1: Economic stability comes at a cost under Thailand’s military junta
Part 2: Prayuth, censorship and the media in post-coup Thailand
Part 3: An education fit for a zombie?
Part 4: Are Thai people really happy after the coup?
Part 5: Thailand’s junta and the war on corruption
Part 6: PDRC myths and Thailand’s privileged ‘new generation’
Part 7: Thailand tourism down, but not out
Part 8: Education reform in Thailand under the junta
Part 9: 28 weeks later in post-coup Thailand: Some personal thoughts