Debate on the Street: Ekachai-Chokchai vs. Dr. Rianthong

It’s now official: the election will be held on 24 March 2019. Even though political parties, politicians, activists have started on their election campaigns, something that happened during election delays merits retrospection: a debate on the street between an ultra-right winger and a democratic activist.

Rianthong on the right, Ekkachai on the middle,
Chokchai on the left. Source: UDD News

Among the 6 delays the government announced, the last delay saw an interesting development. The NCPO government lifted restrictions on freedom of speech to prepare for the election, but the election announcement was unexpectedly delayed. Pro-election and anti-election demonstrations were held. Statements were made. Tension arose between dissidents and regime supporters who can speak more freely, giving birth to a debate between two sides.

On one side is Ekachai Hongkangwan and Chokchai Paibulratchata. After 2 years and 8 months in prison from 2012 to 2015 under Article 112 for selling CDs of an ABC documentary, Ekachai became a political activist famous for his fearlessness and direct nonviolent actions against a corrupt military government, even though he has been assaulted 5 times. Chokchai, an activist himself, became well-known after he was involved with #MBK39, a group of 39 people arrested after joining a protest to call for the election on the sky walk next to MBK department store. He often tags along with Ekachai to carry out political activism. Recently, both have faced lawsuits for defaming the military.

On the other side is Dr. Rianthong Naenna. In 2014, he established an organisation called the Rubbish Collection Organization (RCO) to confront individuals who violated the lèse majesté law. In 2015, he even attempted to sue Facebook and YouTube for spreading anti-monarchy content . After Dr. Rianthong threatened a lecturer supporting the election, Ekachai and Chokchai wanted to talk to him about that issue as well as everything else that was happening. On 11 January the two sides met each other during the election delay, and shed light on contemporary issues of Thai politics under transition, including the election, the coronation, Article 112, liberty, and what protecting the monarchy means.   

Why does Dr. Rianthong like to track down people that speak about the institution, ready to label them as disloyal?

Ekachai: To begin, after the 2010 protest was broken up, you started to move on matters concerning Article 112. You tracked down and gave clues to the police and state officials especially with regard to Article 112. I would like to pose a few questions about this. 1) Why do you have this prejudice against people related to Article 112, because I was charged for a violation of Article 112 as well. That’s why I would like to ask, since I feel that you are very prejudiced against people that talk of the institution, or even those that speak about elections – you are making efforts to connect it to politics.

Dr. Rianthong: I will answer so that the people can hear. Mr. Ekachai asked why I am prejudiced against people involved in Article 112 cases.

Ekachai:  You are trying to force the claim that it is related to Article 112, even if it’s about the election like the Mahasarakham University teacher earlier.

Dr. Rianthong: Have you read what he posted? Would you help read it again?

Ekachai: This election is more important than any ceremony, something like that.

Dr. Rianthong: I would like the people to listen to me right now. I haven’t opposed you, whether the election will be postponed or there is no election. I’m saying that postponing the election, you can oppose it or whatever, but don’t speak sarcastically about royal ceremonies. When Acharn Vinai said that the election is more important than any ceremony, I asked him to clarify further, but he had already closed down his Facebook account to escape. What does this mean?

Ekachai: This you would have to ask him.

Dr. Rianthong: See, there’s no honesty.

Ekachai: How do you know that there’s no honesty?

Dr. Rianthong: I don’t know, so I asked him to prove it. This is why I am clear on the matter of Article 112. Actually, when you said that I talked about this in 2010, I’m sorry, I talked about this only in 2014.

Ekachai: That’s not right, that time when you created the group, just a few days before Mainueng K. Kunthi passed away, was before I entered prison.

Dr. Rianthong: 2014

Ekachai: I entered prison in 2013.

Dr. Rianthong: In 2013 I hadn’t founded the organisation yet. [Prachatai has not been able to find any reference to the RCO before 2014.] Okay, let’s talk about why I need Article 112. I ask that the people know and acknowledge that I was born in Thailand. Since the beginning, my clan lived under the royal grace of Rattanakosin city, under the king. Thailand is a nation with the king as the head of state. 1) My family always taught me not to be ungrateful and I have not been ungrateful. And 2) I am a soldier. I have taken an oath to the Royal Thai Army flag that “I will protect the royal power of the great King and I will provide safety to his majesty until death”. I took this oath for my soul, that’s why I did not force anyone. The problem is the behaviour that appears as sarcastic and provoking. It has happened. And what do you want me to do?

Ekachai: What behaviour? What you said, you mean the teacher at Mahasarakham University, but others, like the election or the ‘People that Want an Election’ protest, last Sunday you posted ‘Democracy maniacs, be careful about not having any country to live in’.

Dr. Rianthong: Okay, I will answer. I used the words ‘democracy maniac’. I used them intentionally and with deep consciousness and you should read to the end: ‘Democracy maniacs, without knowing what is proper and without knowing what is decent’. You may be crazy about democracy or not. That’s my accusation.

Ekachai: And what does ‘not knowing what is proper’ mean?

Dr. Rianthong: Today, whether the government will postpone the election or not, I don’t care. Whether you people are going to continue or not, I don’t care, but don’t ridicule the royal ceremony.

Ekachai: We’re not opposing it, but we’re saying that the election should happen before the coronation.

Dr. Rianthong: I didn’t say that.

Ekachai: What? But you said ‘don’t be crazy about democracy’. At first I told the ECT [Election Commission of Thailand] that if you stick to the election roadmap, 24 February, everything will end no later than 26 April. That means it’s in time for the coronation, so it’s not about the ceremony. Then why do you try to drag it in; drag in that this election affects the royal ceremony as well?

Dr. Rianthong: When your lot said this election is more important than any ceremony, what does that mean?

Dr. Rianthong reveals he likes Article 112 since it protects the monarchy

Ekachai: I don’t know which ceremony he’s talking about. The election is about the election, this you would have to ask him about.

Dr. Rianthong: He closed down his Facebook account to escape.

Ekachai: Then you have to ask him. I came here today, I already clearly asked since the start, 1) Why are you prejudiced about Art 112?

Dr. Rianthong: I’m not prejudiced about Art 112. I like it.

Ekachai: Then how do you like it?

Dr. Rianthong: Well, Article 112 protects my king.

Ekachai: I meant that Article 112 is used as a political tool. For example, if you don’t like someone, you would be prejudiced there, then you would force Article 112 on them

Dr. Rianthong: I don’t like you. Have I done anything to you? You don’t do anything wrong, and I don’t say anything about Article 112 for you.

Ekachai: Then what about others? They didn’t do anything wrong. You still try to pick a fight with them related to Art 112 like the Mahasarakham University teacher.

Dr. Rianthong: You’re forcing me.

Ekachai: It’s you that’s forcing him, since most recently you pressured the Ministry of Education to deal with him. When you say if they don’t deal with him you will go see him.

Dr. Rianthong: They’re dealing with him now, so I didn’t go.

Ekachai: I don’t know, but the meaning is, was it a threat? And you said that me coming here is a threat even though there are only the two of us. How could that be called a threat?

Dr. Rianthong: Today there are two of you, so I’m not threatened. But if you came with many people, just try it. If there aren’t too many then it’s alright. You are of no value to me at all.

Ekachai: You’ve picked quarrels with people who want an election for a long time. I feel something is strange. What prejudice do you have against people who want an election?

Dr. Rianthong: See, there are many people who want an election (points to the listening crowd) but they don’t speak sarcastically about the royal ceremony.

Ekachai: But those that went to protest on the skywalk didn’t speak sarcastically about anything, and yet you say they’re crazy about democracy. What does that mean?

Dr. Rianthong: It’s some people amongst your group who like to speak sarcastically.

Ekachai: But you are generalizing, which affects other people.

Dr. Rianthong: This doesn’t matter.  Before anything else, I want everyone to know: 1. I have the rank of major general, but I am not in service.  I have civilian status like them.  2. I am not the NCPO.  3.  I am not part of the coup group.  I do not have state power.  But when I come out today, it’s the same as your lot coming out to fight.  I come out to fight to protect the monarchy.  I have not put pressure on anyone.  You are defaming me by saying I put pressure on other people.

Ekachai: You are trying to put pressure on others. If they were really guilty, the police would have arrested them by now.

Dr. Rianthong: Okay, those that have been defamed by me, have any of them got arrested yet?

Ekachai: Before this, in 2015-2016 when you reported them.

Dr. Rianthong: Ah, that’s true.

Ekachai: True or not I don’t know, but you tried to monitor these things especially.

Dr. Rianthong: Actually, if you’re trying to provoke me, I’m someone who can control their emotions

Ekachai: There’s no difference.

Dr. Rianthong: Okay, okay, okay, ask your next question.

Those that defame the monarchy won’t be given treatment, because they’re buffalos in human form and are regarded as rubbish

Ekachai: Second, much of your behaviour, such as saying patients are buffalos in human form, or when you said that you dreamed of having sex with a depraved woman, or most recently, you called me a ‘bum’, can I just ask, Is this rude behaviour appropriate for someone … er … let’s not say a director, even for a normal doctor to speak to their patients like this? Is it appropriate?

Dr. Rianthong: It’s not appropriate.

Ekachai: Ah, if it’s not appropriate then why do you act this like this?

Dr. Rianthong: Because I am me.

Ekachai: Ah, then I would like to give you something. Since you call me ‘bum’ (Holds up a paper with ‘Doctor Foul-mouth written on it, shows it to the reporters), I would like to give this to Dr. Riansalueng ‘Doctor Foul-mouth’. I made you an alias. [Translator’s note: ‘Riansalueng’ is a play on the name ‘Rianthong’, which literally means ‘gold (thong) coin (rian)’.  ‘Thong’ is replaced by ‘salueng’, the name of the 25-satang coin, the smallest in Thai currency, worth 0.7 US cents.]

Dr. Rianthong: Ah, I’ll let you carry on this disturbance.

Ekachai: Since you call me a ‘bum’ (Someone shouts out ‘you bum’).

(Dr. Rianthong took the paper and tore it up.)

Dr. Rianthong: I have received it.

(He then threw the pieces at Ekachai and people around began clapping and cheering the doctor on; ‘do your best, go doctor’.)

Chokchai: I came today to explain and I want to talk at this time that there should be an election before or after the royal ceremony. Today I would like to clearly confirm that I am living in a country with is governed by a democratic with the king as the head of state. It is very proper that the country will have a government that comes from an election according to the democratic system, holds the royal coronation which is a very auspicious ceremony for the people of Thailand for it to be an honour for His Majesty. Thailand has never lacked a king even for a day, but today Thailand has lacked a democratic system for 4 years and 8 months. It is very proper that the government comes from an election by the people in a democratic system, that will arrange the ceremony in His Majesty’s honour. I stand by this.

Dr. Rianthong: Okay, I would like the reporters to record my voice, and both sides. Actually, I came down only to waste my time. At first I didn’t know that Mr. Ekachai was coming. I didn’t know at first that this ‘bum’ is coming.

Ekachai: You call me a bum like this, then I will call you a buffalo inside a doctor’s body.

Dr. Rianthong: Okay okay, I don’t know if the ‘bum’ is Ekachai or not, I don’t really want to drag this on or anything. I would like to answer Chokchai. Today, I would like to tell the people that I have nothing to do with the current government. Even if I’m a soldier, I have nothing to do with them or anyone in the NLA [National Legislative Assembly] at all. However I would like to say that in the past 4 years and 8 months, what is there that is not democratic? Today you insult those with state power. What have they done to you? I am one of the people. I didn’t ask for any help from the government and the Minister of Justice criticised me. I see no problem. I also oppose him. See, there’s democracy.

Whether it’s democratic or not, I don’t know, but I would like to ask for one thing and that’s to not instigate anything against the monarchy. However much you want the election, just remember one thing. This person named Rianthong, if the monarchy is touched, I take offence. And someone like me, however many there are I don’t care, okay, Mr. Ekachai. I am like this. I answer you, you’re not clear, I have to make it clear. You want me to answer, I answer. I’m answering this in the open because I want the people to know. I have a clear stance. I ask you, if you were me, a policeman, soldier, had sworn an oath, even a civilian government official, today, have we really acted by our oath? I do it 100%. I would like you to know, and I am like this no matter what, for no matter how many years, how many lives, I would still do this. I fight against groups that defame the monarchy. If you’re going to protect them, do it. I’m not going to say anything. You’re on the opposite side to me. I am clear on this.

You said that I’m ‘Doctor Foul-mouth’. I’m sorry, I am like this. Those that come to insult me, I feel nothing. I’ve seen quite a lot. I’m a soldier, I’m not chicken-hearted or cowardly. I’m a good soldier of the king, Bhumibol the Great’s army is not like this and I will continue this for the current supreme commander; that I will protect him like this.

Ekachai: I heard you’ve never been on any battlefield. I’m curious about your courage, at what level is it at.

Dr. Rianthong: Where did you hear that?

Ekachai: … that you’ve never been on a battlefield, didn’t protect King Rama IX, something like that.

Dr. Rianthong: Hey, this person, he’s crazy.

Ekachai: Then which battlefield were you on?

Dr. Rianthong: I’ve been on a battlefield before, Chiang Kham. They don’t know anything and are talking nonsense. Okay, the people here today please listen. This person is speaking nonsense. I’m a border soldier, 31st Ranger Taskforce. I fought on the Thailand-Laos border that had a problem at that time.

Ekachai: That time the Thai soldiers lost.

Dr. Rianthong: See, they insult soldiers in this way.

Ekachai: A loss is a loss.

Dr. Rianthong: And there are very few. At the hospital, do I really discriminate? I only ask this.

Ekachai: Discriminate … buffalos in the shape of people, is it discrimination?

Dr. Rianthong: For buffalos in the shape of people, I have not discriminated at all. I have it as a special category.

Ekachai: You mean you won’t treat this type of person.

Dr. Rianthong: If it is proven that they’re buffalos in the shape of people, then they’re rubbish.

Ekachai: Do you feel it should be medical ethics, because you discriminate. Or even in war, enemies – you still have to treat them. But now you discriminate by class. What you said, buffalos in the shape of people, you won’t treat. You said it yourself, right?

Dr. Rianthong: Do you know that people like you, that sometimes post on Phanthip that they won’t come for treatment at this hospital, some say poisonous hospital or some say filthy hospital, complain to the Gold Card Office [National Health Security Office], complaining to Social Security that we did this, we did that. I get it often. I’ll say this, these people don’t have pure hearts. So I say don’t come to get treatment here. This hospital doesn’t accept ‘buffalos in the shape of people’.

Ekachai: If you don’t like them, you don’t need to insult them, as ‘buffalos in the shape of people’.

Dr. Rianthong: Why do I have to believe you? I am like this.

Medical ethics; go and look for it from the Medical Council 

Ekachai: Then like this you don’t have any medical ethics, since you discriminate against people.

Dr. Rianthong: You said “rights and freedoms”. I’m like this.

Ekachai: Yes, rights and freedom but this is about medical ethics.

Dr. Rianthong: Then you can go ask the Medical Council.

Ekachai: Then what about the words ‘depraved woman?

Dr. Rianthong: Well, she is evil.

Ekachai: Then when you go and sleep with a woman, are you evil?

Dr. Rianthong: I sleep with someone good.

Ekachai: Eh, but you said you slept with a depraved woman. Doesn’t that also make you a depraved man?

Others: You. you saying all this is useless because you know what? Someone like you shouldn’t have posted insults about this person, that person.

Dr. Rianthong: Okay, what do you say?

Others: You should best do nothing.

Dr. Rianthong: You want me to do nothing... Hey, I protect the king. Don’t be overly-optimistic with me.

[The people yell out that it’s already a long time. Two patients are already disturbed.]

Chokchai: Alright, let’s get to the main topic. We’ve lost a lot of time already.

Why must you tie the royal coronation to the election?

Ekachai: The third question, why must you compare the coronation and the election, about which one should be inappropriate even though they’re two separate matters.

Dr. Rianthong: I’m not comparing them. I’m just saying that the coronation is very important.

Ekachai: See, this is comparing it to the election.

Dr. Rianthong: But you’re the ones that are doing the comparison.

Ekachai: We don’t, we’ve never spoken about it.

Dr. Rianthong: Well, alright then.

Chokchai: I would like to speak, please.

Dr. Rianthong: Why are you in a hurry to cut in?

Chokchai: We’ve used up a lot of time and we thank you for allowing us to use this space in the hospital. I would like to address this; I want society, society of the whole country, alright, and the mass media, today we should already know that the royal ceremony is a separate matter. The agencies organising the ceremony and the election are different. The election is work of the ECT. The election in Thailand can be held before. In the amount of time it takes, the election results can be announced before the ceremony. If the NCPO really intends to hold the election, they can. We can have a new government even before the ceremony. Today I would like Thai society to calm down. Matters of this kind are separate and I don’t want some people to fear that if there is an election campaign before the ceremony it is something improper towards the monarchy. It’s really a separate matter. If the NCPO government really tries we can definitely get a new government before the ceremony.

Dr. Rianthong: Okay, it’s like this. I’m not the NCPO but I would like to speak on their behalf. The election is the job of the ECT, therefore the NCPO is not involved.

Ekachai: It’s involved, because the election decree still hasn’t appeared, so the election cannot be held.

Dr. Rianthong: I’m not involved. Why are you picking a fight with me?

Ekachai: The question is if we look at King Rama IX’s coronation that occurred during the coup government of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram, it could be some sort of omen, putting the country into a cycle of tens of coups all through the reign of King Rama IX. And right now we’re also under a coup government and on the day of the ceremony, if we’re still under the coup government or under a democratic government, which government would you want to see the country under?

Dr. Rianthong: I don’t see anything. I just think it’s a matter that the current reign should determine. I mean I don’t care what government it is.

Ekachai: If it’s under a coup government, would it be inauspicious?

Dr. Rianthong: I don’t think so. I don’t think General Prayut’s government is inauspicious. I don’t think so! And I also don’t think a government from an election is inauspicious. I only think that it would be proper if the ceremony scheduled for that day must be held as it should be.

Ekachai: And how is it not proper? I don’t see that it’s improper.

Dr. Rianthong: Well, there is some behaviour like that. I judge, and it’s my business. Whatever it is, I am like this, it’s my home.  Alright it’s okay. This is a situation for incitement. We won’t fall for it. I would like to confirm right here. I will never change my own stance. I will protect the royal power of the king and this subject will provide safety to His Royal Majesty, from the former supreme commander to this new supreme commander and in the future. These things, Thai people all over the nation have to indoctrinate their children and grandchildren in.

 [Applause]

Ekachai: You don’t like this kind of person, and if you have the opportunity, you’ll deal with them.

Dr. Rianthong: That’s right.

Ekachai: Even if it seems violent, excessive or even for just expressing their opinions maybe without wanting to defame or if it is balanced, you still wouldn’t accept it,

Dr. Rianthong: Yes, that’s right.

Ekachai: That shows you don’t respect different opinions from other people who may not have the same ideas as you.

Dr. Rianthong: That’s correct. How can I respect a difference in opinion that is lèse majesté? I don’t care, I don’t care about anything else. But if they think differently about the king, I care, and I will do something about it!

Ekachai: That shows that you admit that you yourself are an extremist about royalty, violent in an unreasonable way.

 [The crowd yells out but Dr. Rianthong dissuades them.]

Dr. Rianthong: That’s right. You can say I’m an extremist about royalty or not an extremist, or whatever. I don’t care, I’m fine. I’m an extremist about royalty, I don’t hurt royals. So that’s why I am like this. Other people like me are also like this, and many more. I accept differences in opinions. I accept them except for just one thing, Incitement, or defaming his majesty or the monarchy. Remember this, listen carefully to this!

[The crowd interrupts again]

Dr. Rianthong: Let him speak, let him reveal his true nature.

Ekachai: In summary, your rude behaviour, you admit that it’s your nature and you’ll be like this forever. You will insult patients, the female sex, everything that you want to insult. You don’t care about anything.

Dr. Rianthong: I don’t insult patients, I insult buffalos in the shape of people.

Ekachai: They’re the patients that come to see you, and you used the words ‘depraved woman’ to revile females.

Dr. Rianthong: These ‘depraved women’ are women who are depraved . Good women, I don’t revile .

Ekachai: How you sleep with any woman? You call them depraved women. Why don’t you also call yourself a ‘depraved man’?

Dr. Rianthong: Which woman did I sleep with? I didn’t say she was a depraved woman.

Ekachai: But you said that in your dream you had something to do with a depraved woman.

Dr. Rianthong: Ah, today I’ll lower myself down to meet with rubbish.

Ekachai: No, it’s me that’s lowering myself to meet with filth like you.

Dr. Rianthong: You can have free rein, Mr. Ekachai. There’s no need to explain or decide anything. Today the mass media has seen my true nature. I am like this. Whatever my nature may be, I will protect and stay loyal to the king and other members of the royal family. You can think however wicked it may be. I am like this. I believe many others in the country are like me. I’m not saying everyone. I am speaking on behalf of those who feel as I do. I say everything today. I will not reply to comments on Facebook. I came out to say everything like I have today, through the media. The media please report all of this. As long as I am breathing or am still alive, [I will] protect the majesty of the king, and this subject will safeguard His Majesty to remain steadfast.

[Applause]

Ekachai: I would like to summarise again that the fact of this upcoming coronation, you don’t care which government it is held under, democratic or coup. Even though the history of the reign of King Rama IX, whose coronation was held during the Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram’s coup government, made it inauspicious, putting us in a whirlpool of tens of coups, you don’t care.

Dr. Rianthong: I don’t believe it’s going to be a whirlpool. I don’t know, I don’t know. I only believe that those that defame royalty are inauspicious.

Ekachai: Those that defame are inauspicious, how so?

Dr. Rianthong: There isn’t any need at all for me to explain to you what inauspicious is.

Ekachai: Oh, it’s the same as how you refused to explain your nature that likes to insult people here and there.

Dr. Rianthong: Yes, okay.

Ekachai: Okay then. Is there anything else you would like to ask me?

Dr. Rianthong: I don’t have anything to ask you because you’re not the person I would like to ask. I don’t see any value with someone like you

Ekachai: I don’t see any value with someone like you either.

Chokchai: Please excuse me.

Dr. Rianthong: Eh, Chokchai, why are you in a hurry to cut in?

Chokchai: I insist that those who want to campaign for an election before the royal ceremony are also those that are loyal

Dr. Rianthong: Stop stop stop, this is someone who’s taken advantage of the situation to speak about the election.

Chokchai: Even if the people came out saying that they want a new government, they are also loyal. For today, I would like to thank Major General Rianthong for coming out and giving us the time. I think that today we have talked quite a lot. Really, we had a lot of questions and still have many questions left, we’ll write it up on Facebook later.

Rianthong: Thank you very much.