Opinion: Friday’s Political Drama Reignited Political Divisions

Thai Raksa Chart Party leader Preechapol Pongpanich talks to reporters Friday morning outside the Election Commission in Bangkok.
Thai Raksa Chart Party leader Preechapol Pongpanich talks to reporters Friday morning outside the Election Commission in Bangkok.

Between the time Ubolratana Mahidol’s candidacy was announced and effectively ended less than 14 hours later, all of Thailand was turned upside down.

Tribal allegiances, enmities and identities were called into question, and closely held certainties threatened.

Due to the self-censorship that exists due to entirely valid fears, the Thai press, including Khaosod English, is not free to unpack, analyze and speculate as so many people have been doing for the past 36 hours as to why Feb. 8 was arguably the most intriguing day since absolute monarchy ended 87 years ago.

But what is clear and can be said, is that the short-lived nomination of Princess Ubolratana by the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party of Thai Raksa Chart brought back to the surface the bitter enmity between the pro- and anti-Thaksin camps like nothing else since the May 2014 coup.

Any claims by the junta that it has been a salve on these wounds or solved political the division evaporated as social media exploded with Thaksin hate, with raging users launching attacks on not just Thaksin but the erstwhile candidate almost as soon as it was announced at 9am.

The other side turned on their own as well. When most of the usually Pro-Thaksin Redshirts and a large segment of the so-called pro-democracy camp jumped on the bandwagon to praise the princess, they were put on blast by an unyielding minority. To the most democratically virtuous, the maneuver stood to do more harm to democracy in the long run.

Those who supported Thai Raksa Chart’s nomination of Ubolratana argued that it was probably the most reliable if not the only viable path to defeating the junta led by coup-leader Prayuth Chan-ocha. Some even began to assume the mien of ultra-royalists, checking and recording defamatory messages made by anti-Thaksinites online and calling for them to be prosecuted for royal defamation.

If anything, the result for Thailand of those shocking 14 hours is the complete reignition of the smoldering volcano of political hatred on both sides like never before since the coup.

The silver lining may be voter turnout. More people may be motivated to cast their votes in what has shaped up to be an unfair election. After all, the 250-member upper house of Prayuth appointees will have the biggest say in choosing the next prime minister, deepening the enmity of those who were happy to declare for an alternative.

The pro-/anti-Thaksin and pro-/anti-junta fault lines have plunged to new depths and been brought into sharp relief as a result of Friday’s extraordinary events. Both camps will definitely be out in full force before the March 24 general election to support their respective factions.

Given how long the these nearly two-decade-old sentiments have been simmering, it is unlikely this will just dissipate. They will only be gone when ousted and fugitive former premier is gone along with every supporter and hater.