I have been to every mass rally in Thailand since 2006. I have covered every rally professionally since 2009.
In that time, I have seen crackdowns, airport closures, protest leaders openly asking for money, what felt like a billion whistles blowing my ear, but never the kind of rhetoric that was on display last night at Thammasat University.
For the first time in my experience and perhaps the first time since the mid-70s, Thais were willing to address, confront and talks bout the institutions that many had deemed too cherish and too sacred for so long.
But last night a crowd of up to 10,000 students, workers, activists and everyday citizens cheered and applauded as leader after leader gave speech after speech about the need to transform the country into what could best be described as constitutional royalism.
The fault of the state
It is hard to gauge how widespread support is for such rhetoric.
Certainly, there will be a section of Thai society that, while sympathetic to the democratic grievances of the students, is pushed away by the nature of the topic and its lack of orthodoxy in Thai political discussions.
But measuring any sentiment is impossible because the state has built itself in a way where having constructive discussions is banned. Consequently, as a result, the topic can only come up in the extremes because of the ban on moderate discussion.
If Thailand’s cherished conservative institution is discussed critically among the students, in a way that is unpalatable to older generations, the fault should be placed directly at those who built the system in the first place.
Draconian laws have halted the need to discuss how to evolve old institutions when evolution was necessary.
The courtesans, advisors, councillors and generals who declare their love for said institutions are also to blame for zealously defending, prosecuting those wanting to have open discussions.
They’re also to blame for using the name of the institution for their own gains.
They’re also to blame because of their needless involvement in governance and politics over the past four decades, all the while evoking the need to defend the institution, drawing scorn not only towards themselves but also to the institution in which they seek to defend. (See Apirat’s comments recently)
Cheerleaders aren’t much better
That being said, the cheerleaders egging the students on to carry out their own grievances aren’t much better.
Towards the end of last night’s rally, Professor Pavin Chachavalpongpun called in to talk about the monarchy and its role in Thai politics. Pavin is currently living in self-exile, preferring to take his jabs at Thailand’s institutions from abroad.
There are many more like him who escaped the confines of Thai society for the sake of self-preservation because they have broached the topic in the past. There is nothing wrong with that.
But what is wrong is cheerleading the students on, knowing full well how the Thai state has historically handled such situations, while not prepared to face any consequence of their own.
This criticism is not reserved for those living in exile and preaching to the student from abroad. There are many in Thailand who hide behind the keyboard, squealing in delight at how bold and brave the young of Thailand are, while not prepared to take to the streets and march alongside the kids.
Make no mistake, if there is destruction at the end of this road, those that have advocated the loudest from the safety of their own homes will make grand gestures and mourn the passing of those killed by the state.
In such a scenario, the most culpable party would be the soldiers and generals out for the blood of those that hold different opinions.
But those mourning cheerleaders will not be far behind in taking the blame.