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For a party that won an election but was denied power and which faces multiple legal and political attacks, the future looks surprisingly good for Move Forward.  The general consensus is that if they stay united and unprovoked, the next election will be a landslide. 

The current government has no political legitimacy. Its only unifying principle is ‘anything but Move Forward’.  Its jumbled mess of parties has had trouble even arriving at common policies, let alone carrying them out.  And it includes enough characters with shady pasts to virtually guarantee one scandal after another.

If MFP look certain to win big in the next election, you can be sure that the Forces of Darkness will be striving to ensure there is no next election. Or no MFP. Or both.  There are already steps being taken in this direction, but all seem too transparently vindictive to claim any widespread public support or legitimacy.

So what could turn public opinion massively against reform and reformists and derail the seemingly inevitable disintegration of the military-monopolist-monarchical grip on power and the establishment of political and economic reforms based on demilitarization, decentralization and demonopolization?

Well, any number of things.  And in Prachatai’s recent multimedia publication ‘We love the King: The far-right in the age of three-finger salutes,’ Acharn Kanokrat Lertchoosakul mentions one possibility – disinformation.

Thailand has form here.  In a society given to gossip and with often a scarcity of reliable sources of information (and on some important issues, an almost complete absence of them), lurid conspiracies easily gain currency and can have massive repercussions, even when devoid of any truth or legitimacy.  Let me talk you through 3 past examples, because public memory seems unforgivably unreliable.

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In 1946, someone stood up in a Bangkok cinema and shouted ‘Pridi killed the King.’  The King in question was Ananda Mahidol, Rama VIII, who had been found dead of a shot to the head in the palace. 

The shout had been encouraged, some say paid for, by the Democrat Party, then led by the royalist Pramoj brothers, Seni and Kukrit, both of whom later became prime minister.  Pridi Banomyong had been regent during World War 2, a position that was retired when the King returned to Thailand at the end of 1945.  After some political turbulence, Democrat Khuang Aphaiwong resigned as Prime Minister, and Pridi became PM after elections in January 1946. 

Pridi was unpopular with the conservative elite for his socialist policies and disliked by the US for supporting causes like Vietnamese independence.  When the death of the King on his watch remained unexplained, rumours began circulating that Pridi was hiding the culprit or had even masterminded the affair.  These unfounded allegations were used as a pretext for ousting him and a military coup brought in a constitution that restored to the monarchy a number of the powers that had been removed by the 1932 revolution. 

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In 1976, the third anniversary of the toppling of the Thanom-Praphas-Narong dictatorship was approaching and the right-wing, and some in the middle, were chafing at the somewhat chaotic formation of a somewhat democratic system of government.  The stage was being set for a confrontation that would turn back the clock to the comforting certainties of authoritarianism.

The trigger that set it all off was the return from exile of Thanom of the erstwhile dictatorial triumvirate and the inability of the elected government to do anything about it.  Youth-led protests erupted, attacked by counterprotests, culminating in the hanging from a now notorious gate in Nakhon Pathom of 2 electricity workers who had been disseminating anti-Thanom leaflets.  The police failed completely to solve the crime, possibly because there were signs that they had perpetrated it themselves.

To publicize the case, protesting students at Thammasat University staged a mock hanging on campus.  But they first had to solve the problem of making it look like a hanging when the actors were supported by hidden ropes round their waists.  Some candidates were therefore eliminated on the grounds of body weight and the choice was very last minute.

The mock hanging featured on the next day’s front pages and a number of people, especially on the right wing, remarked on the similarity between the facial features and the clothing of one of the actors and the then Crown Prince, now King Vajiralongkorn.  Funnily enough, those attending the original performance, myself included, saw no resemblance.  Cue strident charges of lèse majesté, the bloodshed on Oct 6 and another military coup leading to the dictatorship of Thanin Kraivichien.

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In May 2006, after a series of allegations of shady dealing against then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, some true, some fabrications, the Manager Daily ran a series of articles about a Finland Plot by Thaksin and some of his coterie (a few can be found in the current government) to abolish the monarchy and establish a one-party republic.  Under different iterations, the objectives of the plot changed, but the monarchy was always under threat.  (Some accused Thaksin of trying to introduce democratic ideas like the election of provincial governors – the horror!) 

The owner of the Manager group was Sondhi Limthongkul who was at the time instigating yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy rallies calling for the overthrow of the Thaksin government.  Despite the complete absence of any evidence for the plot, the reputation of the Thaksin government suffered severe damage and later that year the military cited Thaksin’s disrespect for the monarchy as one justification for yet another coup d’état (a coup being a show of disrespect for the royally approved constitution, of course).   

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Readers of a numerical bent will have spotted that these 3 episodes of disinformation occurred 30 years apart. So by the non-existent law of coincidences, we shouldn’t be due for another one until 2036.  But there are common threads: the disinformation emanated from the authoritarian forces in politics, the same people who today are ranged against the MFP; and the accusations centre on some form of alleged disloyalty to the monarchy, again something that the MFP is already experiencing.

So watch this space. And I don’t think we’ll have to wait till 2036.

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