Voranai: Why #WeDon’tWantSrivara

A mural showing police Gen. Srivara Ransibrahmanakul carrying poaching suspect Premchai Karnasuta has been circulating as a meme. Original artist unknown.

Voranai VanijakaThe hashtag revolution is a 21st century phenomenon, and we are seeing the beginning of it in Thailand. Because of social media, people who otherwise might pay little attention to politics are now actively involved, as anyone with a smartphone is able to participate.

The original hashtag revolution was of course #ArabSpring, and while the intent was to overthrow strongmen in favor of democracy, the outcome missed the mark. Egypt witnessed a military coup d’etat followed by a general election that saw the coup leader winning in a landslide. Here’s something Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha would love to see happen at home.

Syria and Libya are destabilized and ravaged by civil war. The region is a political mess, with global players such as the United States and Russia, as well as regional players such as Israel, Iran and Turkey, all involved. As well, it created a refugee crisis affecting both sides of the Mediterranean Sea.

Destabilization also gave rise to extremists, namely ISIS. In the Ukraine, #Euromaiden saw widespread violence, a democratically elected president ousted and Russian military intervention. The #UmbrellaRevolution in Hong Kong saw a crackdown by Chinese authorities, with the Beijing politburo discussing even more stringent governance of the island.

Intent versus impact can at times tantamount to botched plastic surgery. You went under the knife expecting to look gorgeous then woke up Mickey Rourke.

What then of Thailand?

Gripping the headlines is the case of deputy national police commissioner Gen. Srivara Ransibrahmanakul and his overly deferential treatment of Premchai Karnasuta, owner of construction giant Italian-Thai and suspected wildlife poacher.

Video clips going around social media highlight how deeply the deputy chief kowtows to the wealthy tycoon. Meanwhile, he speaks and treats others, namely wildlife officials, reporters and regular folks, with the contempt and pretentiousness a feudal master lords over his serfs.

This has led to a social media storm and the hashtag #WeDon’tWantSrivara.

In and of itself, this is hardly a revolution. But right before it was the scandal of deputy prime minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan and his collection of undeclared luxury watches worth tens of millions of baht – a legal case that hit a dead end as no state agency would dare go after the No. 2 junta man.

Add to that the first incident in what I shall call the “social media insurrection” against the junta regime, which was the aftermath of junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha’s emotional outburst against a fisherman. Multiply that by the numerous clips that have resurfaced to show both junta leaders and deputy police chief time and again smugly chastising journalists and people.

It all adds up to society getting fed up with grumpy old men in uniforms suffering delusions of self-importance and incurably rude behavior.

At the moment, other than the group protesting for immediate general election, no one else has hit the streets against the regime yet. The frustrations of the people are still very much confined to social media. But the beginning of something is better than perpetual grudging acceptance, voluntarily keeping head down and lips sealed.

Look to the streets where graffiti and murals of a black panther keep appearing around town. They are quickly painted over by the authorities, only to reappear again and again. Then see murals on the walls and T-shirts in the mall featuring the deputy prime minister and his fancy watches. These aren’t social media activities, but rather they harken back to old-school style of protesting.

Needless to say, the tide is turning against the old men and their old ways. We must continue to bring pressures to bear. But also, there is intent versus impact. Thailand has had over a decade of our own history of political conflicts to learn from, as well as lessons from around the world, as with the few cases mentioned at the beginning of this essay.

Keep up the pressure. Continue with demands. But do not allow opportunists to take advantage of the situation.