With the end of Ubolratana Mahidol’s candidacy and rumours of an impending coup, a Somsak Jeamteerasakul nostalgia movement has surfaced on the internet.
Between 7-10 February 2019, there was a lot going on in Thailand. On 7 February, a rumour started that former princess Ubolratana Mahidol would be nominated as PM candidate by the Thai Raksa Chart Party (TRC). On 8 February, it turned out to be true. But on the same day a royal announcement was released saying that it is impertinent and unconstitutional to nominate a high-ranking royal member for PM.
On 10 February, a political rumour about a coup spread as tanks went out onto the streets in Lopburi Province, explained as ‘for military practice’. Crowd Control Police were also ordered to assemble to prevent chaos. Although both were passed off as normal procedure, there was an anti-coup vigil on 11 February to make sure that the resistance would be ready if it really happened.
In other words, the political situation in Thailand has been like rollercoaster in just a few days, and the public doesn’t know much about it. Chalidaporn Songsamphan, a prominent Thai political scientist tweeted:
เป็นไปได้ว่าความพลิกผันในการเมืองไทยก่อนและหลัง 8 กุม อาจออกอาการปิดลับ-หลังฉากมากกว่าจะเปิดเผยชัดเจนให้คนไทยนอกวง elites รับรู้ #ThaiPolitis
— Chalidaporn S (@chalidaporn) February 10, 2019
“It is possible that the twists and turns in Thai politics before and after 8 Feb may be the sign of something secret or behind the scenes rather than openly exposed to Thai people outside elite circles.”
Under these circumstances, people rely on rumours. Thanes Wongyannava once described succinctly, “the more closed your society is, the less information you can access, the more rumours there are”. Rumours have also caused more stress and stories have been posted about how to deal with stress from political news.
Under these circumstances a movement has resurfaced around Somsak Jeamteerasakul. An Octobrist historian who has fought for reform of the monarchy for many decades, he is a public figure who gets mixed feedback. But putting his political activism aside, his insights on the monarchy are always accurate.
Before Rama IX passed away, even some royalists relied on Somsak’s Facebook page for veracity to follow the situation, as official information was ambiguous. However, while in exile after the coup in 2014, he disappeared from Facebook in August 2018 due to a haemorrhagic stroke.
During 7-10 February, scrolling through social media one may see posts with the message “I miss SSJ” every day. On Twitter, there are around 400 nostalgic posts about Somsak, even though there is still no specific hashtag. Mentions are made using different Thai keywords including “Som Jeam (สมเจียม)”, “Somsak Jeam (สมศักดิ์ เจียม)”, “SSJ (สศจ.)”, etc.
On Facebook also sees posts saying he is missed. One of them is Kai Meaw, a highly popular political cartoon page. The picture of Pavin Chachavalpongpun waiting for Somsak to wake up has gone viral with 18k likes and 1.6k shares:
Suchart Sawasdsri, a national artist award winner, felt the same way. On the morning of 8 February, before the nomination went official, he posted on Facebook that he “…misses Somsak Jeam” as well as other victims of Article 112. Rawee Siri-issaranant, a famous poet, also tried to analyse the situation and ended up saying he misses Somsak.
On the night that the rumour spread about a coup, Jessada Denduangboripant, a scientist and public figure, reshared a post of Somsak’s: “It’s not worth it to get injured or die in political conflict. In the end, ordinary people gain relatively very little.” The re-post has gained 378 shares with 3.7k likes.
Another of his posts from July 2018 also resurfaced. In it he argues that Thaksin and Ubolratana have long been friends. Thaksin has given Ubolratana a birthday gift every year, before they together attended the Cannes Film Festival in May and a World Cup match between England and Croatia in Russia in July. In the same post, he also argued that the red shirts were very uncritical of Thaksin and that the focal point would have been a “deal” that Thaksin wanted to make with King Rama X which will have an impact on the upcoming election.
So precise, so relevant.