I am constantly confused into what I perceive as an acceptance of the current military dictatorship in Thailand. Thai civil society is strong, activists are plentiful, and senior academics receive much praise and acclaim. However there is little protest, public discussion and dissidence from these individuals towards the junta. Yes, people speak out and occasionally protest however on a very quiet and low key scale, in comparison to the dramatic changes the military government is making to Thailand.
Last Friday, the 22nd of May, a number of students were arrested in Bangkok for peacefully protesting at the city’s Cultural and Arts Centre in Siam Square. Although the protests were low key and low in number, the Thai authorities arrested numerous students, and during the process of arresting them, many students received low level injuries at the hands of the authorities. There is no doubt that if the authorities ignored the small gathering of protesting students, little media attention would have been drawn to the issue, thus it is obvious that the junta lead government wanted to send the message that it will not support dissidence.
Although the activities of Friday night were relatively small the reaction on social media was significant. Images of the students protesting and their injuries flooded all forms of social media in Thailand, as well as gaining international attention. It is obvious users of social media were disgusted and appalled by the unnecessary brutality of the authorities, posting photos of injuries that were not all that significant, in comparison to previous protests. The students were also put on a heroic pedestal, with academics, fellow students, activists and journalists all offering some form of praise for their actions. In a quick survey, 42 students I follow on Facebook posted on average 6 posts related to the protests. Perhaps this was the goal of the protesting students, who would have known that social media would have taken up their plight, highlighting issues surrounding last years coup and the military dictatorship that now grips Thailand.
Or perhaps its was ‘protesting porn’, an adrenaline rush from those who are used to drama within Thailand and have gone without for some time. It may have also been the case that Thais used social media as a way of letting their followers know their allegiances, with more posts of the protests posted demonstrating a strong anti-coup attitude. Yesterday a senior academic told me that if he does not post or repost articles related to protests, some students and fellow academics quietly accuse him of being pro-coup or a conservative.
Initially there was talk that students in other Thai cities might start to take inspiration from the protesting students in Bangkok (there was a small protest in Khon Kaen, in Northeast Thailand), however nothing eventuated. There was lots of talk and almost a sense of excitement for what occurred in Bangkok, however there is either a hidden fear of the government or a blasé attitude that has taken grip amongst activists and students. As quickly as social media took off reporting the protests, it also disappeared from social media a little over 48 hours later. It is obvious that mass protests are not going to happen anytime soon, however those who may not be willing to jump onto the streets and protest are hungry and eager to find reasons to attack the military lead government on social media.
If students and activists have become blasé to the military lead government, Thailand is in for a long and painful period of military dictatorship. Activity on social media and chit-chat that occurs around the corridors of universities has no intention to venture out onto the streets. Perhaps deep down many activists and students have come to accept what is happening or are tired of what democracy produces in Thailand. Or perhaps they realise that democracy won’t work within Thailand in the short-team future whilst the old establishment still has its ‘dear leader’ to protect. Democracy would mean the return of the ‘Red Shirts’ or Red Shirt affiliated individuals to power and the old conservative establishment will not accept this, thus leading to more violence. It is notable that activists and students are turning their energies to other areas of concern such as the plight of the Rohingya or human trafficking, and starting to neglect politics more and more. No other country and its citizens would accept a military coup like that of the 2014 coup, however Thailand is incredibly complexed and maybe it is fair to say, Thais are waiting, activists are waiting, academics are waiting…waiting for the inevitable.