Petition to scrap a Thai right-wing retirement plan in Australia gains 14k signatures

Hyper-royalist doctor Maj Gen Rienthong Nanna has said that he wanted to visit Perth, Australia, from time to time as a part of his retirement plan. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai political academic in exile, launched an online campaign on Change.org, calling for the Australian government to deny him entry in response to his witch-hunts against free speech activists. 

On 10 Nov Maj Gen Rienthong announced a retirement plan which included passing the management of the family-owned Mongkut Wattana hospital on to his 3 children after their graduation in the next few years and living as "an old granddad" in Perth, Western Australia. "I am almost 63 now. I am old. I can no longer hold up the shield," said Maj Gen Rienthong on Facebook. 

Many see the move as hypocritical for a patriot and recalled his actions against democratic dissidents. Maj Gen Rienthong contended that his father had bought a house in Perth in 1992. It was not 'nation-hating' to pay a visit there from time to time when Thailand is hot. Unlike the dissidents who fled to other countries to evade imprisonment or out of disappointment with the nation, he said he will always come back to defend the Thai monarchy. 

However, his retirement plan to take his family to "do the cleaning at his parents' house so that it doesn’t deteriorate, to take care of the roses for his mother, to buy lobster to eat with fish sauce with chilies and lime" in a foreign country has faced growing obstacles. On 14 Nov, Pavin Chachavalpongpun launched an online petition on Change.org calling on the Australian government to deny him entry, citing his right-wing activism against Thai dissidents as a reason for disqualification. 

"In 2013, he set up “Rubbish Collection Organisation”—a Thai state-sponsored ultra-royalist vigilante group to supposedly eradicate Thailand’s “social rubbish” and to annihilate lèse-majesté offenders completely As a result of this effort, many Thais were charged under lèse-majesté law, and some decided to escape from Thailand to seek a refugee status overseas," wrote Pavin in the campaign statement on Change.org.  

"Last month, I was asked to write a reference letter in support of a Thai who ran away from the lèse-majesté and now resides in Vancouver, Canada. This Thai was a medical doctor who wrote a comment on Facebook—a comment that was interpreted as lèse-majesté. Maj Gen Rienthong then began a witch-hunt process, putting pressure on hospitals in which this Thai person was working. Eventually, he was fired and was also charged with lèse-majesté. He sought exile in Canada." 

On 15 Nov, Maj Gen Rienthong claimed on Facebook that there had been campaigns against him like this for almost 10 years to deny him entry to Australia, Europe, and the United States. But he was still able to travel freely several times a year except during the Covid-19 pandemic from 2020 to 2022. He was also contacted by companies asking him to be a sales agent and a distributor of medical equipment and products from these western countries. 

On 16 Nov, Maj Gen Rienthong posted on Facebook again saying that Thais in Australia sent him messages welcoming him to the country via various social media platforms. He insisted that he was not 'nation-hating' and was not running away from any criminal charges, was not going into exile, and was not relocating to a foreign country out of disappointment. He further elaborated his plan on Facebook, saying that he would stay in Perth for less than one month each time. 

Five days after the campaign launch, Pavin, together with the rights group 112 Watch, the Australian Alliance for Thai Democracy, Thai Rights Now (USA), the Association of Thai Students in Europe for Liberal Democracy, and Thai Democratic Movement in Canada, also submitted letters to Angela Macdonald, the Australian Ambassador to Thailand, and the Australian Embassy in Thailand, asking the Australian government to reconsider Maj Gen Rienthong's entry permission.

Pavin also said on Facebook on 19 Nov that the campaign will step up their actions. "Thais in Australia will also submit letters directly to the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Australian Border Control. The next step is to collaborate with the Australian media, especially in the west (where Perth is located) to provide coverage on Rienthong's relocation to Australia."

As of 25 Nov, the petition had reached 14,428 signatures.

Apart from right-wing activism in his home country, Maj Gen Rienthong also supports China and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

The controversy surrounding his retirement plan is not the first time that a right-wing figure has been criticized for living or sending their family members abroad despite their paranoia about foreign interference. Sitala Wongkrachang, for example, left the K-pop band H1-Key 5 months after its debut. Netizens called her out for participating in the ultraroyalist protests which her father led and which paved way for the military coup in 2014.  

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