Why Some Thai Elites Support The Movement: In Their Own Words

Oftentimes, Thai political moments have been described as class wars. Our recent article covers the genesis and legacy of elite resistance against popular movements across Thai history and characterizes some of the arguments against pro-democracy protesters today. 

However, we acknowledge that ‘elite’ is not a monolith category.

But there have been an increasingly significant amount of people associated with ‘elites’ – whether through work or family connections – to lend their support to those demanding change, even if they have done so more quietly.

We solicited statements from six such people, to understand why they support the pro-democracy movement. For some, this has come at the expense of their own social standing or personal relationships. Fearing this, others have not felt comfortable airing their support publicly. But across all the statements, one uniting theme stands out: a firm commitment to democracy. 

Those that have chosen to remain anonymous will be assigned a nickname.

M.L. Rajdamrong Diskul: 

“The people deserve to have a proper governing body that represents their interest. The effectiveness of a governing body of democracy can be measured by the quality of life of the middle class. A democratic governing body should represent the will of the many and not the few. If the majority of the population is not having their basic human rights met, then something must be done to address this problem.

I have always held a strong belief that those born into a privileged life have a greater responsibility towards others. This makes supporting the movement a simple decision. These protesters are the next generation of our country fighting for their basic human rights and the rights of the following generations. They are fighting for a country where people are given the same equal rights, a country where the people are correctly represented, and a country that actually follows a democracy and not a dictator.

Times have changed and our country needs to change with the times.” 

———-

[Pseudonym]: Bond, early twenties

Bond comes from a political family, with connections to people in the current government

“A practical argument: how do the rich benefit from democracy?

Democracy is probably the most practical way to protect natural rights.  It is pointless to be rich if you are not free.

Even for the elites who currently hold power, history has shown that power (especially when concentrated) is a very mercurial element. You do not want to be under an omnipotent regime when the coin finally lands the wrong way. Democracy in this way can act as an insurance policy for when things go wrong.

Also, a deeply unequal country is not good for anyone – neither the rich nor the poor. Multiple studies have shown that criminality is proportional to relative inequality in a country. The rich cannot truly be comfortable when they are living in fear of being robbed.

For the elite, democracy gives them freedom, stability, and peace of mind.

There are many more arguments that could play on the responsibility of the rich to the poor. And other more emotional aspects but at the end of the day, it’s hard to convince people who are currently benefiting to abandon their benefits simply out of the kindness of their hearts.”

———-

[Pseudonym]: Kat, early twenties

Kat’s senior family members, including her parents, have closely worked with the Prayut Chan-Ocha government

“We hold the power and responsibility to make sure future generations are better off than our own. When we hear protestors demand for a better quality of living, the movement is evidently less about “politics”, and more about the fight for structural equality, and for the basest of human rights. With this in mind, the one viable choice is to support the movement.

Yet the choice, for me, has been a difficult one. I was raised in a conservative, royalist Thai-Chinese family, and growing up, I absorbed their values without question. Later on, as I continued my education in an international school and abroad, I began to question these values—largely because Western education pushes you to analyze and critique the information you are presented with. I also began to notice that more frequently, my views diverged from my family’s, which for my parents who valued stability, was a threat. For me, however, to question a concept or idea was simply an act of curiosity—not an attack, but more so a facilitator of conversation.

For many (myself included) the movement has become a “counter public” community, meaning a community whose voices counter dominant or normalized ideas. The community neither dismisses nor invalidates unconventional ideas and is a safe space for questions, critique, and information to be voiced. In these deeply polarized times, I believe the movement can help us adapt to modern times, where a real exchange of ideas can take place. Ultimately, I see the movement as an ongoing conversation, as well as an effort to rebuild our country with equal rights, representation, and opportunity.”

———-

[Pseudonym]: Nan, late twenties

Nan is a daughter of two very famous, vocal supporters of the PDRC movement and government

“My friends kept telling me “you should be able to form your opinion. I mean it’s not like they’re gonna cut you off and won’t love you anymore.” 

I wish we could see things as simple as that. I don’t come from an elite background and we would be considered middle class. My parents worked very hard to get us to where we are today. This includes getting to work in and for the palace, for special occasions.

So I grew up hearing these stories and absorbing their love for the royals. I didn’t fully get it then either but you don’t disrespect your parents by disagreeing with them. That is just not the way. These conflicting feelings keep coming up throughout my life – colored shirts, Thaksin, ลุงกำนัน, the death of Rama 9. My parents have always been vocal about where they stand, and now this…

Even though we had discussions about how incompetent the government is sometimes but with the protest, there was no middle ground. They think reforming means the end of the monarchy that they love so badly. 

The thing is this — everybody has their own opinions and it may sometimes not align with the people you love, and that is ok. But it’s suffocating when you feel like you can’t express them.

I think I have always had a voice, and I always feel so suffocated when I feel like I can’t express it. So I can’t imagine what the people/protesters are going through right now. But most importantly — I think the times have changed, and we can do so much better than just hating one another.

There were times when I could no longer hold it, and I would get people saying, oh you are so brave for standing up against your parents — but that’s not the point! I was scared when I did that: scared that they would think they raised me to be this radical kid or that I would hurt them, afraid it would affect more than their jobs.

And I know it’s more than a privilege to get to be afraid that saying something could cost you more than just your family.”

———-

[Pseudonym]: Pete, early thirties

Pete hails from a family with strong, familial links to the establishment

“I see myself as an advocate for a strong democracy alongside a strong constitutional monarch. I believe we need to hold both of these key institutions in equal regard.

In recent months I have found myself feeling unable to speak out in support of both of these important ideals due to a combination of reasons, both because of my family ties but also my current job. This is deeply frustrating for me of course because I want to add my voice to the debate and to see Thailand come out of this crisis stronger. I have gone along to the student protests because I want to show my support for measured and structured reform but I am afraid that my public presence at these protests could result in unwarranted attacks against my family and my job.

It is sad to see that public shows of support – even with the most moderate opinions can still be misinterpreted as an attack on the monarchy. In my opinion, this is not what much of the country wants and shows how polarised and closed off people have become. The debate has become so toxic and fuelled by anger and hate that I feel that a lot of moderate-leaning people are shrinking away from the debate due to fear of retribution. I have already had family fights where the mere acknowledgment or presence at protests has been misinterpreted as an attack on Thailand – This is not what I am advocating for at all.

There has to be a moderate and ‘safe space’ for debate on these issues for our country to move forward where people are not hounded for holding particular ideas or advocating for measured change. We need a middle ground built on conversation and respectful and open debate of all issues – nothing can be off the table.”

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