TL;DR: Here in Thailand, we’re trying to have a pro-democracy political revolution against a military dictatorship. I’m a n American living in Thailand who supports the movement and will post about that in this thread.
If you don’t know me, I haven’t been posting much the last three or so years, but I was a heavy poster from about 2007-2018, and I was in and out of the community since the IC days.
I’ve lived in BKK Thailand since 2016 (coincidental timing), and hopefully we’re having a revolution over here. I’ve touched on this in another thread a bit, but I figure things are heating up enough that you guys might actually see some blips on the news.
The Western reporting on the movement here is–as you might imagine–frustratingly fragmentary in the best cases–especially since Thai Twitter is full of people trying to reach out to the West to be a witness. As I’ll probably mention below, there is a long history of military and police massacres in Thailand, and we really need the world to be watching to prevent more (the most recent was in 2010).
I’ve been trying to post about protests as I go to them on Twitter and my FB, but at this point I feel like broader context is needed. That’s a pretty daunting task, since I know nobody knows, like, anything about Thai politics or history. So…I figured I’d make a thread that can be kind of like an HQ for this movement on SB, and…hopefully y’all are interested enough to start retweeting–because that is literally all we’re asking for.
PLEASE feel free to ask questions (none are too dumb), because that will make this much easier for me. Like I said, it feels like there’s a ton to explain, and…I want to try to not write a novel and scare everybody off (and as you can see I’m already failing).
Okay, first off, I think if you have Twitter or Facebook it’s pretty easy to follow what’s going on here–and even if you don’t, there are great English sources.
Thailand is exactly 12 hours ahead of New York, and currently protests are happening every night between about 4-8PM. So, if you wake up at 8AM in New York City, the Thai protests are just ending.
These two Twitter accounts are professional journalistic outlets who reported about the politics leading up to the protest from the beginning and have had people on the ground at most if not all of them. Each day, they post about the protests as they happen and–effectively–you can reconstruct the exact chain of events since Friday by scrolling through their feed (and update yourself each morning). You can also visit their sites for full stories, of course.
In contrast The Bangkok Post is like the NYT of English papers here, and they’ve basically ignored the protest movement until now, when it’s become impossible.
Each day, there is a different hashtag for the protest. It will usually be the #1 trending twitter topic in Thailand and have the date in it. For instance, today’s was #ม็อบ18ตุลา
You can copy/paste it from a site like this, and see posts from normal Thai people with memes and pictures of the protest. However, note that there’s not much individual live tweeting of protest participation, because cell signals go out completely at protests, apparently due to network congestion, though there are always rumors that the government is connected.
Variations on the hashtag #whatisgoingoninthailand are used for western-facing stuff, like people posting in English or posting videos/pics. Note that people sometimes forget the “is” or make it an “s”, so–again–just check what’s currently trending.
My Twitter handle is @battatar1. I try to retweet for a Western audience and do live tweets when possible. I literally joined Twitter, like, a month ago, partially because of this movement, so yeah.
These days, there is great live stream coverage of every protest, and they are all using services that allow you to rewatch each stream and scrub through it. Perfect for catching up in the morning.
The paper I linked above live streamed for the first time tonight IN ENGLISH. This is the only English-language stream I’m aware of. The quality of reporting is just okay, but it’s the only English option:
Voice TV has been doing some of the most consistent and complete streaming since things really picked up on Friday. They were a left-leaning channel on TV, though I believe their broadcast rights have been revoked, and they now rely on YT revenue:
These guys try to have 4 reporters spread throughout the city, reporting on the various protests. Their lead reporter gets applauded and cheered as she moves among the protesters. As she signs off each night, the protest leader will say something like, “Let’s give her a round of applause!” It’s very sweet.
The movement is partially organized by this group. Before their leadership was all arrested, they were leading each protest with big stages and cosplaying Emcees. they’re a student group from an arts college, with a history of standing up to the government. They’re probably not a reliable stream right now, but they may be again. Also, if you buy merch from them, it directly supplies the protests and bail funds:
Thanks for making this thread! I am pretty much only hearing about the protests through the lens of people involved with the hk protests, which i guess is both good and bad. good in that it appears like solidarity and recognition is very important for thai protesters right now, but bad in that… well, i think a lot of hk activists are kind of myopic and tend to look at stuff only in terms of how it relates to their own movement. hence all of the union jack waving trump fans in hong kong. many other problems w that but i think you know what i mean.
anyway looking forward to your next post about the motivations. i am kind of curious about how much of the protest has to do with the monarchy as an institution, or if they are more focused on reforming more practical and compartmentalized stuff about how the government functions on lower levels.
also if you could explain, like, the past 20 years of military coups in thailand at the same time that would be great. also curious if yingluck shinawatra has resurfaced at all during all of this or if she is still basically just in exile.
Yingluck and Thaksin don’t appear to be involved in this movement at all. However, the Northern rural part of the coalition do fondly remember the red shirt movement, as Thaksin bought rice at purposely high prices to buy their loyalty, created the free hospital system (which is underfunded, but still), and…allowed police to kill drug addicts on sight? Yeah…
The current party and protest movement are very young, so I believe they’re very much past the red shirt way of seeing the world and looking towards a much more “western” standard of human rights. However, middle aged, and over the hill red shirts have been welcomed into the coalition, and at every protest I’ve been to there have been more and more.
Sorry for the delay guys. I ended up actually trying to pithily write out 20 years of political history and stopped myself after writing a glib five paragraph biography of the former king, as I was preparing to write a matching one for the current king.
I’ll try to make this more digestible and start with protester demands.
Basically, Thailand is currently ruled by military junta who launched a coup in 2013-2014, ousting the democratically elected Prime Minister.
The top general, Prayut Chan-o-cha named himself interim PM and formed an interim parliament, saying that they would ratify a new constitution over the next year or so.
In 2017 they finally passed a constitution (supposedly by public referendum) in which the military government would get to appoint all 200 Upper House (Senate) seats, while the the remaining 200 Lower House seats could be picked in democratic elections I which they would also run. It was illegal to say anything negative about the constitution in public or private before it was passed, and people were indeed arrested.
In late 2018 they had the election, and of the seats available, the vast majority went to opposition parties (despite reports of rampant military cheating), including the Future Forward Party, a new party led by a charismatic young media billionaire who advocated for defunding the military to pay for public transportation and hospitals.
Future Forward went from non-existent to the second place party in 1 year, and it had major support among the youth and some rural voters.
In February of 2020, the military government concluded a court investigation that found Future Forward illegal and banned the founder from politics for life. The party reformed under a new name, but the message was clear.
In early June 2020, Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a critic of the crown who fled to Cambodia disappeared while on the phone with a friend. His last words were, “I can’t breathe.” Even Thai PBS reports on it and points out that he isn’t the first. This lights up Twitter. All this tinder is sparked, and though we are still under martial law due to Covid, with almost no cases to speak of and no new cases, it feels like everyone under 40 and many over are ready to march.
So the current incarnation of protests started with a university student group called Free Youth (their FB is linked in my above post).
They formed with three initial demands:
General Prayut should step down as PM.
We should hold new, fair elections for ALL seats in the government.
A new constitution should be written by that democratically elected government.
They organized on campuses at first, then had a major rally with livestreaming at the Democracy Monument. They planned to occupy the monument but left after reports that police were spotted on surrounding roofs and bags had been placed over CCTV cameras.
On the way home, the organizers were nearly ambushed by police, rerouted, were picked up by a Future Forward MP, and we’re escorted by friendly police to a safe house. After that, movement leaders are routinely arrested on Friday, charged with nothing, and then released on Monday.
Free Youth held another planned protest in Chiang Mai (the second largest city in the country) that brought out 10,000 people on a Monday. There they introduced ten demands regarding the role of the King in politics. Most of these speak for themselves, but it should be noted that Thailand has the strictest laws against criticizing the royal family in the world. People have gotten 15 years in prison for criticizing the crown.
Abolish Article 6 of the constitution, which dictates that no one can make legal complaints about the king. Add an article to give the parliament power to perform checks and balances on the king, similar to the Khana Rasadon’s constitution.
Abolish Article 112, the lese majeste law, which states that anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent” will be punished with a jail term between three and 15 years. Allow the people the freedom of speech to criticize the monarchy.
Separate the king’s personal wealth from the royal budget, which comes from taxpayers’ money, and have the latter be under the Finance Ministry’s supervision.
Reduce the royal budget accordingly to the country’s economic situation.
Abolish unnecessary bodies, such as the privy council. Remove the king’s military power.
Abolish royal charity projects. Install a system of checks and balances for royal spending.
The king shall not make public his political view.
Abolish public relations campaigns and educational curriculums that idolize the monarchy institution (too much).
Find the truth about the killing of civilians who were critical of and were connected to the monarchy.
The king shall not endorse a military coup.
After these demands, the major protests went from 20,000 to 100-200,000 to probably 300,000+ across Bangkok with sympathetic protests all over the country.
On Thursday there was a major protest for the anniversary of the popular uprising against a previous military junta in 1973. I didn’t go because I had work, but it turned out to be a major inflection point.
Up until this point, the military was clearing trying to figure out what to do. The Future Forward party had a major activism campaign of projecting the dates of past military massacres on the faces of public monuments and sharing the images on Twitter. It caught a lot of headlines, so Thai people were generally aware of what the military had one in the past (they killed 10 students in the last coup).
So…they were trying to find some way to invalidate the movement that wouldn’t look like a crackdown. On Thurday, they tried two tactics. They tried to make it look like there was an organic counter protest. Unfortunately, people were passing around a picture someone took on the highway of giant military vehicles busing in these “counter protesters”. And they were all men with police/military haircuts (nobody gets that particular buzz cut by choice in TH, and protests are often equal or majority women).
They also had the King’s motorcade drive through the protest location with the Queen and a prince inside. Generally, nobody occupies the same street as a royal motorcade. The entire route is planned and blocked off, like, a half hour beforehand. I’ve personally been temporarily imprisoned on a skywalk, because the King might pass under where I was trying to go.
In this case, they just drove right through the protesters–not at a dangerous speed–just to create a photo op of protesters disrespecting the king. The protesters were happy to oblige, throwing up their three finger solute (for the original three demands).
This seemed to be a plan with the Royal family to create a reason to arrest the protest leaders and hold them for an actual crime (disrespecting the crown). They arrested 21 people–basically all of the protest leaders, and took them to an improvised military prison, stripping them of all contact to the outside world. They also doubled-down on martial law and said that gatherings of more than 5 people would be illegal.
The next day (last Friday) the rank and file protesters responded with a massive demonstration at a major sky train stop. I planned to go with my GF, but it turned out that she was still recovering from her surgery and would get completely out of breath just from walking around.
Surprise, surprise: the military decided to just go for it–sort of. They rolled up giant trucks with water canons that shot streams of blue liquid. Protesters weren’t prepared for this at all, so many reported that the liquid burned. We suspected it was laced with pepper spray, but the military said it was just dye to mark your clothes and skin, so it probably just isn’t safe to get in your eyes. Appropriately, they drove the trucks under the sky train stops and sprayed the canons into the roof, causing it to splash down on themselves–multiple times.
In front of the trucks they had a very well-outfitted and densely packed phallanx of military or police–not sure if we know.
Their goal was to push protesters back until they dispersed. This pretty much worked. They also kettled when they could, so many protesters were held there. An ambulance came, but the police didn’t let it through. There were too many people to arrest (I think at least 100k? Maybe just 50k?) so they arrested a hundred people and let the rest trickle out. Those arrested were disappeared to the military camp.
On Saturday, the average Thai person was appalled.
The thing about Thai media is that–as you might imagine–most outlets are afraid to really report on this stuff. But a lot seemingly want to. And by this point those outlets that wanted to just started to say “fuck it” themselves. Suddenly, all those live streams I linked above go up. Twitter is ablaze.
To be clear: Every protest I’ve gone to and witnessed has crossed every strata of Thai demographic. The organizers say that when they do petitions, repsondents are 70% female. At the protests, it looks at least 50/50 gender-wise–maybe majority female. Ages range from about 15 to 60 with almost even distributions.
So when they fired those canons, it wasn’t news that could really be suppressed, and everyone knew that they were spraying 15 year old girls and old ladies.
On Saturday, you had parents chaperoning their kids to protests. This wasn’t the norm–but it wasn’t uncommon. As far as I can tell, there was no real counter-narrative to it in the right wing media other than, “Well, they shouldn’t be protesting.” But to the average Thai person it was wrong, and it just brought more people out.
Absolutely no violence has been associated with the protesters themselves–not even something made up.
The government did something unprecedented: they shut down all public transportation. No sky train, no subway, no buses. So protestes in the thousands and tens of thousands convened at every sky train station throughout the whole city.
There are still no leaders, but after Friday, the leaderless got more organized. There’s a Thai singer who basically gave up her career to say she supports the movement (blacklisting is automatic). She has been providing mobile toilets and free hot food at previous large protests. K-Pop teens on Twitter organized to raise $30,000 (over 100k baht) to give to her. She bought hard hats, goggles, rain coats, and water in bulk.
At the major protests there has never been cell reception. Your cell goes totally dead–either because of government meddling or because of cell congestion. So protesters created supply chains. If you needed water, you would tell the person next to you, and they would do whisper down the lane (through thousands of people). Then water would be delivered to you. If someone on the overpass (the biggest Saturday protest took over a massive intersection/sky train stop/monument called Victory Monument) thought they saw police trucks, they would shout that down, and the word would be whispered down the lane until it hit a megaphone.
People who brought megaphones became temporary leaders and led the new chant: “I hear you” which is a pun for “Fuck the General” So they shout, “Can you hear me?!” and the crowd shouts “I hear you!” Foreign observers–uh–don’t get the joke and just think it’s a nice sentiment, lol.
As one impromptu organizer shouted, “Tonight we have no leaders and no guards, so everyone is a leader and everyone is a guard.”
Sunday and Monday were much the same. Tonight, the people manning the original organizer’s Twitters announced that there would be a “big surprise” at 6PM.
Everyone was afraid the subways would be shut down after work.
Protestors showed up in relatively small groups (hundreds and thousands) to sing the national anthem at all the sky train stops and then…go home. The surprise was taking a night off!
I think part of the strategy is to over extend and tire out the Thai military/police. So far, I think the organizers have been doing a great job of hurting military morale. It can’t feel good to be them right now.
Despite the directions to take a night off, I saw a small group blocking a busy lane of highway on my way home. I joined for a bit, but had to head back (and can’t understand much without my GF). When she recovers, we will join in the next major ones and have bought some frontline supplies, just in case. Chances of being arrested are still quite low, but we’ll now bring alternate cell phones, and we always let people know where we’re going and set-up checkins, etc.
I think the next posts I’ll do will be a rundown of the last 20 years of Thai politics with party specifics (for u_u, but also because I think it makes things make more sense), and…I should probably just repost some pictures and fun tweets from the protests. The sheer number of people at these things is honestly awe-inspiring.
Oh, it was just a work transfer basically. I work for a US travel company that specializes in Asia. I actually hadn’t been to Thailand before visiting in consideration of moving here. I basically did it as an adventure, and don’t plan to stay. I…was kind of thinking around now is when I should be thinking about moving back to the States, though now with Covid it’s not something I’m even thinking about.
Muay Thai is cool. I studied kung fu with a world class sifu (by chance, basically) when I was in NYC, which is how I learned that I’m a lover not a fighter (I was a terrible student). But even proud kung fu guys really respect Muay Thai. The whole world admires how practical and effective a system it is. And you can see live fights on TV or in person for almost no cost every weekend if you want.
I don’t really love Thai food so much as I love Thai chilli flakes. I pour them on everything. I kind of prefer Pho to similar Thai soups, and Pad Thai is really good for a bite but then too sweet for me. Mango and sticky rice is ungodly good though. I’ve never had anything even close to real Thai food in another country, so I don’t mean to be That Guy, but if you think you’ve had Thai food you liked…maybe you didn’t! But yeah: visit some time. The culture is VERY oriented around tourism. All the signs in Bangkok are in English. I recommend all the standard tourist junk (historical sites in BKK, check out some beaches, maybe hang out and do hip things in Chiang Mai).
If you do food tourism, the thing to do is have in mind some well liked but humble places like Polo Chicken but to also just stop by random places along the way. I usually don’t let visiting friends have straight up street food or eat seafood at night, because food poisoning is extremely common here (locals get it 1-2 times per year), and it’s not worth ruining your whole vacation.
I personally don’t like to get into the seedy stuff, because it feels exploitative to me; but it’s not exaggerated.
Thanks for posting about this and giving us the rundown. I have a question that might be really dumb: why don’t the Thai people just get rid of the monarchy? Is it just a thing that’s so integrated into the culture/society etc. that to do away with it completely is just unthinkable or is the military too powerful to be opposed or what?
Like I know how in the UK there are some people who want to do away with the monarchy there but most people either like it or don’t care enough to have an opinion. But it sounds like the Thai monarchy has been butting heads with the people for a long time now. I guess I should just wait for you to go into the history of it more.
Yeah this is a very cool thread thanks for making it.
What is your take about the media in general in Thailand? Does it seem like the news outlets have clear political biases or is the press relatively neutral? What about English media there?
Also, does it seem like the whole city is really being disrupted by the protests? With the public transport shutdowns it seems like it must be kind of crazy everywhere. When the protests were at their height in HK I had a really hard time figuring out if like, the entire city was in disarray or if it was really just limited to sites and times where more or less self contained protests were happening. People I talked to who were there earlier said that even though it looked like the city was falling apart in the media, protests were still mainly only held on weekends and in very localized places. But I think that changed as it got more intense.
Yeah, I’ll try to give a short answer to this, because I think I might give a long one later.
We’re on the 10th king of the current dynasty, and he took the throne in 2017 at the age of 64. His father took the throne in his 20’s and ruled from 1946-2016. Yup: 70 years. I believe he’s either the longest reigning or second-longest reigning king in world history. So, basically, three generations grew up under him, and you can kind of think of him as the Obama of kings. You look at a picture of him, and you just like him. He looks like of like Thai Niel Cicierga; he looks like an affable, handsome nerd with a kind face. And every source I can find says he ruled that way. Thai people love him! I can guarantee you that the majority of people protesting now loved Bhumibol Rama IX.
Though, let’s be clear: it’s not moral to be a king. And under his rule it was still illegal to insult the crown, and every prosecution of that law that people talk about was under him. “But!” people will remind you, “He thought about getting rid of it!” It was also under him that the crown’s fortune (fed by taxes) was estimated at $30 billion. At the time, that was about 7% of the country’s GDP. Also–uh–he didn’t do anything to stop the massacre of 500 students by the Thai military in the 70’s or punish those responsible.
So–y’know–he’s like Obama.
His son is like Trump with history of Hillary. He has a literal harem of sex ninjas (elite military prostitutes), ain’t never done nothing for nobody, appears to be rather stupid and cruel, has been photographed multiple times having weird sex parties or exposing himself in public, and he has a weird face. Like Trump, he really reveals the absurdity of his own power on a daily basis. When Covid started, he bought out an entire hotel in Germany, filled it with his harem, and has seldom returned to Thailand, despite the fact that there have been almost no new cases in months, and the total cases were less than 2,000. It’s all tax dollars.
Thai kids to this day (but more so the farther you go back) are taught from a young age that the king is EVERYTHING. They must blindly obey and respect everything their teacher says, as training to do so for the king. Before every movie, the national anthem is played, and the whole theater is expected to rise and be silent while images of the King pass across the screen. IF you hold your SO’s hand during it, it’s considered rude and creepy. As the protest movement grew, young people stopped standing. In one confrontation about this and older person asked the kid, “Who brought you into this world?” The kid answered, “My parents.” The old guy was shocked and pissed off. It was meant to be a gotcha question. The answer was, “The King.”
So, for the boomer-age generation, criticizing the crown is simply not done–it’s a deeply felt taboo. For the younger generation, they’re just scared of getting arrested. But they can’t deal with the cognitive dissonance that their parents have internalized.
Here’s a mind-blower: you use a different dialect to talk to royalty. Basically, if you talk to the royal family, you speak the Thai Equivalent of middle English. Most Thai people can’t really understand it well. The Royal family is raised in total isolation and educated abroad. They speak English better than they speak Thai. Most Thai people can’t really understand what the royal family is saying, and the royal family can’t understand them.
The military is a whole other can of worms. They are a totally separate organism from the crown and the civilian government. Basically, they are the most powerful, simply because they have all the guns, and they know how to use them. The movement isn’t saying it, but it’s necessary to dismantle the military in order to have a lasting democracy in Thailand. From what i can tell, the movement doesn’t think it can take them head on, so they want to shore up a civillian government and then do it piece by piece.
But most likely, the military will know this is an existential threat, and we WILL have an actual civil war of some kind between civillians and the military–that is unless the military has become stupid and weak. I think the leadership of the FreeYouth knows their history well enough to understand this. Penguin, one of their top leaders, is considered by all to be some kind of history wunderkind.
Like most countries, the news media consists of various biased sources purporting to be objective, and you pick your poison.
The most interesting thing about Thai media is The Nation TV. The Nation was Thailand’s CNN, basically. And like Turner-era CNN, it was pretty much just objective news. Then in the early 2000’s, it fell on hard times and was bought by a guy who had been in the royal PR team before starting a far-right media company. He not-so-gradually turned The Nation far right, and there was basically an exodus of legitimate journalists.
Thing is, the boomer-age generation didn’t realize this was happening.
So, you have to imagine Rupert Murdoch buying CNN and making it into Fox News without changing the name. Imagine how much more fucked up your parents would be.
Like the US, there is a big news savviness gap between parents and kids. However, it’s exacerbated by Thailand’s huge economic leap in the 90’s and oughts. Thai boomers can’t tell fake news. But they also may have gotten a smart phone before ever using a computer. My GF is exactly my age (31), and when she was a teen in 2006, she was still using cassette tapes. Cheese was a new thing when she was a kid. So her parents pretty much jumped from the 50’s to the 00’s in, like, two decades. The older generation has modernization whiplash.
Anyway, investigative journalism kind of happens, but…it ain’t like we have a Thai version of The Intercept. Left-ish journalism takes the form of covering things others won’t touch and opinions, but compared to the US especially I think there are probably tons of untold deep secrets here.
I mean, there is A LOT of slavery in Thailand. I really doubt the king wasn’t aware of what Epstein and Prince Andrew were up to. That English information warfare firm that Trump’s team used to exploit Facebook? Their founder turned out to have a background with British intelligence, and one of their earliest clients was the 1997 Thai PM (he didn’t last long though for extremely interesting economic reasons). Trump’s nominee for CIA director–the first female one who personally tortured prisoners at black sites? Those black sites were in…Thailand.
In short, Thai people often look to international news to read bout their own country, but unfortunately the world doesn’t care that much about Thailand.
Evvnvnvn, if you want to go full academic on Thailand, I HIGHLY recommend every book published by Silkworm books. I met them a few weeks ago at a book fair, and–holy shit–it’s like a the Rosetta stone of Thai history. I got an economic history of Thailand from the 1800’s-1986 that literally names the people and companies that develop through the industrialization period to the modern day, along with a book that follows the country’s recovery after the 1997 recession (they did almost the exact same thing that Lebanon just did!*). It’s basically the entire economic history of the country! Their newest slate includes a rundown of the Future Forward party as well as a book on film censorship.
I can’t emphasize enough: if you locked yourself in a room with their catalog, you would essentially become the foremost English-speaking expert on Thailand.
*They pinned their currency to the dollar, a bunch of speculators used them as a loophole, and then the world was like, “You need to have your own currency valuation” and they caused a market crash that almost took down the world economy.
Bangkok is like LA: really spread out with suburbs being inscribed into the city over years. When the last coup happened, my Thai coworkers told me (when I was in the US) that it was business as usual. When I moved here, I realized our office was a few blocks from the epicenter of most of the violent confrontations, including a bombing and some shootings.
I think you can choose to ignore/adapt to the protests if you want. If you didn’t follow Twitter or the news sources I linked above, you could be pretty much oblivious to it, as long as you weren’t in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This weekend was the exception. Closing down public transportation on a weekend is massive. It’s lost revenue for a private company and a major incovenience to everyone. But they don’t dare do it on work days.
The protests select specific sites. Now those sites are becoming spread out and and more numerous. It’s in people’s faces, but you can pretty much go about your day. This will change if they shut down public transportation more often or if they start having armed military patrols, which I think is one way the crackdown might eventually manifest.