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Top Ten of Excitements and Tragedies: Thailand in 2014

The curtain is drawn. The year 2014 is coming to a close. In the past twelve months, Thailand has experienced some excitements as well as tragedies. This article revisits the year’s calendar and picks the ten most memorable events that have characterized 2014.

One: The military coup of 22 May. This was the 19th coup since the abolition of the absolute monarchy in 1932. The coup effectively overthrew the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra who was accused of condoning corruption. Earlier, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a MP from the Democrat Party, launched months-long demonstration, which instigated a military coup. Since the coup, the constitution was torn, civil liberty curbed and martial law put in place.

Two: Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn’s divorce from Princess Srirasmi, on 10 December. It was rather unusual for the Thai media to report on a once prohibited subject. The royal break up came after a number of arrests of Srirasmi’s relatives who were allegedly involved in some corruption schemes. Stripped of her royal titles, Srirasmi has retreated to her hometown of Rachaburi and refused to talk to journalists. Meanwhile, the Crown Property Bureau offered Srirasmi 200 million baht as a compensation for the divorce.

Three: Thailand winning the 2014 ASEAN Football Championship, on 20 December. The triumph has resurrected the reputation of Thailand’s football team, which ended a 12-year wait for the coveted ASEAN championship title. The victory also put a spotlight on the coach, Kiatisak Senamuang, and a rising football star, Charyle Chappuis; the latter has become a new heartthrob.

Four: Increasing lèse-majesté cases. After the coup, many Thais have been jailed for lèse-majesté, with no chance to obtain bail. For examples, two university students have been imprisoned for their stage play deemed critical of the monarchy. One lady whose Facebook account was hacked was also charged, since the lèse-majesté content appeared on her page, even without her knowledge. Another woman is also under investigation for wearing black on the King’s birthday, 5 December—this was interpreted as malice toward the King. And earlier in December, a man was charged for criticising the King’s speech, which praised his pet dog named Thongdaeng for her loyalty in comparison with corrupt politicians. He expressed anger and questioned the comparison followed by curse. The overuse of lèse-majesté law has caused a huge impact on the state of human rights.

Five: Prayuth’s visit to Milan, in October. To search for a new source of legitimacy, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has embarked on overseas visits, including his trip to Milan to attend the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). He took this chance to cement Thailand’s ties with neighbouring countries, from Cambodia to China and Japan. But the real highlight were not his bilateral talks with those leaders. Simultaneously, an anti-Prayuth protest was staged at the ASEM meeting. Anti-Prayuth posters were found around the city. Junya Yimprasert, a Thai activists residing in Finland, led the protest in Milan, which gained a considerable Italian media’s attention.

Six: Historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul lost and found. In the aftermath of the coup, the National Council for Peace and Order—the governing body of the coup makers—launched a series of orders summoning certain individuals, including those in the academia. Somsak is among one of them (so am I). A known critic of the monarchy, Somsak disappeared from his Facebook page without a trace. He managed to escape the arrest, running away from the Thai law and now seeking an asylum in a Western nation. Until recently has Somsak resurfaced on Facebook. But this time, he is even more vocal about the monarchy issue. This immensely infuriated Prayuth and his government.

Seven: The Thai election of 2 February being invalidated. After Prime Minister Yingluck dissolved the parliament following an anti-government protests sustained by the PDRC, she announced the election date of 2 February. The PDRC kicked off its anti-government campaign after the ruling Pheu Thai Party proposed a blanket amnesty, which could set Thaksin free from corruption charges. But the election was marred by violent PDRC protests and as a result voter turnout was low. At the intervention of the Constitutional Court, it invalidated the election on grounds that it was not completed within one day throughout the kingdom.

Eight: British tourists killed on Koh Tao Island, 15 September. At dawn on 15 September, the bodies of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller were found on the popular beach of Koh Tao. The gruesome murder immediately attract public attention and raised the issue of safety of tourists in the charming nation. But the case proved to be complicated as Thai police was criticized of attempting to arrest two Burmese scapegoats. The murky investigation prompted the British authorities to send their team to Thailand. A group of protesters against Thai judicial system was seen in front of Downing Street. General Prayuth made the matter worse by commenting that Thailand might not be safe for girls wearing bikini.

Nine: Post-coup economic troubles. Succeeding the Yingluck administration, the Prayuth regime sought to earn its domestic legitimacy by focusing on keeping the Thai population economically happy. Even though this could mean he had to imitate Shinawatra’s populism to win political scores. But Prayuth has not been successful. The prices of rice and rubber have fallen. This has stirred up anger on the part of the farmer against the seemingly ineffective government. On 15 December, the Thai Stocks slumped most in 11 months as the world’s oil prices fell. But many Thais believed that rumours inside the walls of the palace could have affected the slump, too.

Ten: Prayuth becoming the 29th Prime Minister on 24 August. Rising from the powerful Queen Guard unit, Prayuth was behind the coup in May and formed the new military government through which his own cliques elected him as the new premier. A top student at the military academy, Prayuth is known to be garrulous, yet insensitive, to certain issues. He told the rubber farmers to sell their product on Mars. He suggested Thais to help pick 10-20 water hyacinths to clean up the river. He also complained that homework for first-year primary school students was too difficult for him.

 

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.