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Rappers Rock The “Righteous Right”

September 25, 2020

For over fifty years, I have had a ringside seat at the coup ritual in Thailand. The U.S. encouraged and supported a strong Thai military and monarchy to bolster our efforts in the Vietnam conflict in hopes that Thailand would be a bastion to defend the onslaught of communism touted in the “domino theory.” Even in periods of strong U.S. support, the odd general would want a bigger piece of the economic pie and a coup would occur. The right-wing military considered they were the righteous chosen ones to protect their people, even if assassinations by the Thai Communist Suppression Organization were necessary. My friend, Colonel Chang, a member of that organization, was above reproach. Moreover, the ravages of opium smuggling became a necessity to fund the conflict in Laos and help support some internal needs to maintain a proper standard of living for the generals. Coups would occur to be followed by civilian unrest, promises of a new constitution and finally “free” elections to be subsequently overturned by another coup.  

Here we go again - but this time rappers are becoming the military “enemy number one,” though the usual student unrest is quite prevalent to provide a base of support. Rap music has replaced the bug-a-boo of communism. The Nikkei Asian Review recently published an article entitled Thai Rapper’s Arrest Amplifies Southeast Asian Political Hip-Hop. The image below shows Thai rapper, Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, flashing the three-finger protest salute after being released on bail while still facing the possibility of many years in Thai prison. His song, “What My Country Has,” is the soundtrack for every major Thai protest since the hip-hop collective Rap Against Dictatorship released it two years ago.  

The demonstrator objectives run the gamut of what they think needs fixing, ranging from the need to rein in the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, as well as clear opposition to the military government led by Prime Minister Prayuth. However, adding the monarchy to the list of economic and political demands dramatically elevates the legal exposure of the demonstrators. Criticism of the King is forbidden by law. However, when Rap Against Dictatorship first released their track on YouTube in October 2018, it had some 20 million views in one week representing roughly 25% of the population of Thailand.  

History suggests that there could well be dire consequences for the anti-government movement that is causing mass demonstrations. The Thai protesters make that point in the sign shown below which embodies the rappers theme song. On the other hand, Paul Chambers, a political analyst at the Center of ASEAN Community Studies at Thailand’s Naresuan University, observed that “political rappers operating online are an unprecedented new variable in Thai politics, something that could not have existed previously in contemporary Thai history.”  
Recently, Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher, conveyed some observations on the current discontent in Thailand and the government reactions to our friend, GwenRobinson, editor-at-large of Nikkei Asian Review, that was published under Human Rights Watch. Khun Sunai related how the government used the Covid-19 pandemic to enact the draconian 2005 Emergency Decree to declare a nationwide state of emergency and thereby ban public gatherings which were actually protests. Therefore, public health concerns were used to justify suppression of fundamental freedoms.  

A number of pro-democracy activists who took part in anti-government rallies were arrested and charged with violating social distancing measures intended to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Nonetheless, on August 16, the first major protest rally took place in front of Bangkok’s Democracy Monument with more than 20,000 people attending in defiance of state intimidation and threats of prosecution. On September 19, the Nikkei Asian Review reported that as many as 100,000 protesters gathered in the rain in front of the Grand Palace which reflects the momentum the movement has attained.  

You can see Gwen Robinson in action by clicking this interview she did for Nikkei Asian Weekly in the Golden Triangle Khun Sunai is shown below to present a more serious image of the pro-democracy movement as compared to the rappers. It is his belief that Thailand will never be the same.  
On September 2, 2020, The Bangkok Post published an article entitled King Restores Consort Sineenart’s Royal Title, Royal Decorations. His Majesty the King issued a royal command reinstating all royal and military rank and titles to royal noble consort, Sineenart Wongvajirapakdi, who was stripped of all titles in October a year ago. Her record was restored without blemish as she was named a royal official with military rank. As shown below, Royal Consort Sineenart is a Thai Royal Air Force pilot. It is believed she flew to Germany to join the court of the King there.  
In another recent brazen article in The Bangkok Post, the headline of Majority View Government as Unstable: Poll appeared.Whereas many of us do not find that surprising, the shock was seeing the poll results actually published. In fact, 71.15% of the poll arrived at the conclusion that the government is unstable.  

The image below says it all. The chubby gentleman to the left of Prime Minister Prayut, in the center of the image, is Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuan. He was featured in an article two years ago which commented on his large number of watches with many of them in excess of $1 million in value though none had been declared in his wealth statement as an “elected official.” He maintained they were loaned to him by a friend and the hue and cry of the people eventually faded. You will note that it takes two aides to get him out of his chair for a photo shoot which could be the weight of the watch on his right arm or his own physical instability like that of the government.  
Most assuredly the military-led government will likely succumb to the will of the people as it has always done in the past. On the other hand, it is inconceivable that Thailand could be anything but a constitutional monarchy. So much of the charm of Thailand is wrapped around Buddhist temples and royal pageantry which brings hordes of tourists.  

Some years back, I was encouraged to meet the bodyguard of the now King of Thailand to discuss some business opportunities. As he did not speak English, I chose my words in Thai carefully so as to show total deference. I was not just being polite -- it was because he was the scariest person I had ever met. I also know one of the generals in the current King’s Palace Guard and he comes closer to resembling the “watch” officer above. I would suspect that the fact that my acquaintance has three sons who are officers in the Royal Thai Air Force may have influenced his selection. The last time I saw the general, he said the food in the palace was so good that he was putting on weight. On the other hand, the King has two regiments of the best troops in Thailand under his command which could total a force some 4,000 in strength. Therefore, I believe he will be safe and sound. Also, as evidenced by his recent pardon noted above, he seems to want to portray a more modern, forgiving approach to life.  

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