Deploying ultra-royalist and xenophobic discourses as political tools to discredit and crush political opponents is not a new tactic in Thailand. But it has recently become more widespread. Now, even some red-shirt media groups, long accused by the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) of being anti-royalist, are playing the ultra-royalist card too.
"Expose the Monarchy-Abolition Movement," was the title of an article on pages five to 12 of the December 2009 issue of the Voice of Thaksin red-shirt political news magazine. The article accused the PAD leaders of being the "real" anti-royalists, and stated: "It's about time subjects of His Majesty opened their eyes and ears and discovered who are the real anti-monarchists".
Second example came from the December 11-17, 2009 edition of Thai Red News. An article on page 24 questioned Oxford-educated Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's "Thainess" and "loyalty to the throne" by doubting Abhisit's ability to sing both the national anthem as well as the royal anthem, and warned that he "might be forced out of Thai
territory" by low-ranking Thai officials who may see him along the Thai border and may not recognise him and ask him to sing the national anthem to prove his Thai identity.
Another example came from pages 16 and 17 of Truth Today news magazine, which depicts thousands of people lighting candles in celebration of His Majesty the King's birthday. One could swap the red shirts for yellow and assume it to be right out of the yellow-shirt mouthpieces ASTV and Manager magazine. Even part of a red-shirt media slogan, Thai Red News, reads: "Repaying a debt to the father [of the nation]". It reads strikingly like the ultra-royalist yellow media.
Not to be outdone, the PAD's ASTV Manager Daily is coming out with a fourth edition of its book about Thaksin and the monarchy-abolition movement, while Prachatouch Daily newspaper, a blue-shirt media outlet which supports the Bhum Jai Thai Party and Newin Chidchob, ran a full-page copy of an anti-communist song and claimed that "Prachatouch protects the Institution".
Some may see these moves by the red-shirt media as a tactical effort to deflect anti-royalist accusations. One can also see it as a move to reposition the red-shirt movement in the medium term to gain terrain if there is great political upheaval.
Tactical ploy or not, anticipation of a new political reality or not, the deployment of ultra-royalist and xenophobic discourse by some red-shirt media constitutes yet another step in the digression of Thai democratic development. Instead of competing to convince the public which side is more democratic, all sides now appear to be competing to prove that they're the most loyal royalists.
This politics of ultra-royalism will restrict even further the already near-non-existent public space that is critical of the royal institution. Unrealistic expectations will likely result, and Thai democracy will fall deeper into the black hole of anti-democratic language and intolerance.
Some of the red media have proven themselves no better than the yellow-shirt media, as the competition appears to hinge on who is the greater royalist.