BANGKOK — Thousands of users flocked to the popular Clubhouse application to listen to what the self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has to say about Thai politics on Monday night.
Using the pseudonym “Tony Woodsome,” the former PM discussed a wide range of issues, from the coronavirus pandemic and the economy to human rights – though he was clearly struggling to address the latter topics. Thaksin was joined by some of his former Cabinet members, like ex-education minister Chaturon Chaisang and then-technology minister Surapong Suebwonglee.
“We should open up the market and care more about the economy,” Thaksin said to his audience, which swelled to 8,000 users within 15 minutes. “What [the current government] is doing right now is a slow death for Thai people.”
The chat room was named “Thai Rak Thai: Whoever Lived in That Era, Come Join Us,” referring to Thaksin’s political party that swept him into power in 2001 through a landslide election victory.
Thai Rak Thai was later dissolved by a court in 2007, following the coup that toppled Thaksin a year earlier. Another court found him guilty of corruption in 2008, though not before he fled the country. Thaksin, 71, called the verdict politically motivated.
Although Thaksin has been giving numerous interviews since he went into his self-imposed exile, his appearance at Clubhouse was the first time an ordinary person can shoot questions directly to the former premier.
The Q&A session began with some casual questions like “why does he have to call himself Tony?” (to which he said was an English name he picked during his study in the United States) and “why PM Prayut Chan-o-cha has to become annoyed every time someone mentions Thaksin?” (he said he doesn’t know either).
Prayut himself appeared to be unamused when a reporter asked him on Tuesday morning whether he’d also join Clubhouse to counter his political nemesis.
“I don’t have time for it,” Prayut said as he shook his head.
“Why do you keep listening to that damn person who broke the laws?” the Prime Minister shot back, without naming anyone. “He damages our laws. Yet you keep giving him credits.”
But Thaksin also seemed to be put on a defensive when someone asked him what he thinks about the three key demands of the ongoing pro-democracy protests, which include resignation of PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, constitution amendments, and monarchy reforms. He gave a vague answer.
“I would get into talks. Everything has its own reasons,” Thaksin said. “The monarchy has been with our country for a long time, so we must respect it. They are particularly concerned about revolution.”
He went on, “Everything depends on negotiations. This issue can’t be ignored and every party must get together to work on it.”
When another user pressed him with questions about the excessive use of royal defamation law, Thaksin refused to comment.
“I prefer not to answer,” Thaksin said. “I’m only interested in world issues right now. I haven’t been following news in Thailand.”
He also appeared to be caught off guard by a question about the massacre at Krue Se Mosque under his tenure in 2004.
Thirty-two separatist insurgents barricaded themselves inside the historic mosque in Pattani on April 28, 2004, following an coordinated attack across the province. Security forces responded with an all-out assault that left all militants dead and the mosque devastated.
Critics questioned why the government did not resort to bringing the siege to an end through negotiations. The killings also escalated the separatist violence in the three southern border provinces that came to marr Thaksin’s civilian rule.
“I feel sorry about what happened,” Thaksin said. “The situation was under military control back then. I received reports and I was remorseful. I can’t remember well enough.”
The current deputy prime minister, Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, served as the commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army when the Kru Se siege unfolded.
The chat lasted for two and a half hours and ended at 11.30pm, but many users went on to join other rooms where they critiqued and discussed Thaksin’s responses.
The invitation-only audio social networking app became increasingly popular in Thailand after monarchy critic Pavin Chachavalpongpun announced that he would start discussing the monarchy on the platform earlier this month.
The app allows users to listen to chat rooms, and speak when nominated by the moderators, though it is only available on iOS devices. It also attracted the attention of politicians, business figures, social media personalities, and even the Thai government, who warned users not to break the law while using the platform.
Thaksin is currently living in exile, alternating between his residences in London, Dubai, and Hong Kong. Despite his distance to Thailand, he continued to command massive support among his base and influence Thai politics through proxy parties loyal to his political dynasty.