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Pavin Chachavalpongpun
Nationality Thailand
Ethnic Thai
Job Thai Democracy Activist
  Thai Activist
  Thai Political Scientist
Desc Pavin Chachavalpongpun is an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies and founding member of democracy and rights NGO ‘Forces of Renewal Southeast Asia’ (FORSEA). He is living in exile


Cofounding Forces of Renewal Southeast Asia [FORSEA]
Teaching Kyoto University


Book Reinventing Thailand: Thaksin and His Foreign Policy
  Coup, King, Crisis: Time of a Critical Interregnum in Thailand


April 2017 Ministry of Digital Economy and Society issued an order of prohibiting Thais from contacting three critics of the monarchy - historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, ex-journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall and Pavin Chachavalpongpun

2017 06 28 Publish: Lese majeste losing its magic

Following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October 2016 and the enthronement of his unpopular son, now King Vajiralongkorn, the Thai palace has continued to work intimately with its traditional ally - the military - to strengthen the position of the monarchy in politics during this volatile transitional period

In the past months, Vajiralongkorn has vigorously intervened in the political domain. He ordered the amendment of the constitution to increase his power and to more easily facilitate his frequent visits overseas. The junta enthusiastically granted Vajiralongkorn’s wishes, and saw an opportunity to exploit the monarchy for its own political advantage

The new king spends most of his time in the outskirts of Munich. Yearning for a quiet life in Germany, Vajiralongkorn soon discovered the aggression and intrusion of the European media. He has been constantly hounded by the paparazzi. On at least two occasions, images of him and his mistress in skinny tank tops revealing massive fake tattoos on their bodies emerged on the internet and appeared on the cover of a German tabloid

These photos and video clips undoubtedly damaged the reputation of the newly crowned monarch and shook the political stance of the junta. It prompted the military government to introduce drastic solutions to stop the proliferation of the video clip and photos - threatening to block access to Facebook in Thailand and banning prominent critics of the monarchy

Accordingly, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society issued an order in April this year prohibiting Thais from contacting three critics of the monarchy - historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, ex-journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall and me. Thais were told not to befriend or follow us on Facebook, as well as not to click ‘Like’ or share our content online. Those violating the order could be charged with lese majeste, a crime of injury to royalty punishable by 3 to 15 years in prison

Shortly after the issuance of the order on 3 May, six Thais were arrested and charged with lese majeste. Among them were university professor Saran Samantarat and well-known lawyer Prawet Prapanukul

The lese majeste law, as defined by Article 112 of the Criminal Code, has consistently been employed to attack enemies of the royal institution. This pattern of repression over the years has become normalised as a vicious device used to undermine opponents.

But overusing the law could be counterproductive to the military government and the monarchy itself. The sharp increase in lese majeste cases indicates that the law might have lost its royal magic. It also suggests the rise of anti-monarchy sentiment among some Thais. More than 100 Thais are currently doing jail time on lese majeste charges

Vajiralongkorn has been on the throne for only 6 months, but his short reign has already seen the highest numbers of lese majeste cases and the harshest punishment against violators of this law. Two weeks ago, a Thai court delivered a 70-year sentence to a Thai man accused of making a fake Facebook page and repeatedly offending the monarchy. He admitted his guilt and his sentence was reduced to 35 years

The junta is relentlessly searching for ways to intimidate the public regarding any negative comments about the new king. Cyberspace has since become a primary battlefield, with the monarchy and the junta both hoping to win the war using the lese majeste law as their desperate weapon

Of course, they are bound to lose. Under King Bhumibol, lese majeste was used in a limited manner, at least prior to the 2006 coup that overthrew Thaksin Shinawatra. After 2006, the use of lese majeste was more widespread, visibly becoming a political instrument against critics of the monarchy.

Bhumibol was highly revered. He was charismatic, divine and enjoyed moral authority. Royalists exploited those qualities of Bhumibol to justify cases of lese majeste and harsh punishments against violators. But Vajiralongkorn is not Bhumibol. Vajiralongkorn’s lack of charisma, divinity and moral authority makes the lese majeste law less authoritative. As the new king behaves badly, the law becomes less sacred

The military and royalists have arrived at a political deadlock. They are stuck with Vajiralongkorn. In the short term, there might be some attempts on the King’s part to construct a new public image, for example through a campaign like ‘Bike for Mom’. But such images of a supposedly engaging monarch stand in stark contrast with other darker portrayals of Vajiralongkorn - as a king inclined toward violence, an eccentric lifestyle and erratic moods

It is too late for the palace to remake Vajiralongkorn’s personality. It is too late for the military and the royalists to refrain from using the lese majeste law to defend the status of the monarchy. And it is too late to prevent Thais from talking openly about their king today

2019 03 21 Retrieve

[Prayuth Chan-ocha is contesting the poll with the newly formed Phalang Pracharat Party] He desperately wants to be the premiership, this is about his personal ambition

[Analysts say Thakisn and Yingluck Shinawatra are still calling the shots, despite both being in self-imposed exile] He’s still the one who pulls the strings behind the scene

2019 04 12 Retrieve

The March 24 election, which was supposed to bring Thailand closer to a democratic transition, has done just the opposite. In the period leading up to the latest vote, the Thai generals have been taking off their uniforms and switching to a new civilian look, suggesting that the military might be stepping out of politics. Yet the delay of the election results suggests that the military government of junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha is not ready to give up power any time soon

The March 24 election were the first nationwide polls since the coup of 2014 that overthrew the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra

Preliminary figures show that the Pheu Thai (For Thai) Party, a proxy of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, won the most parliamentary seats, making it eligible to form a coalition government … Miraculously, the Election Commission discovered extra ballots, boosting the vote totals for several parties - including, to no one’s surprise, the pro-junta Palang Pracharat (People’s State Power). Having apparently won the highest number of votes, 8.43 million (about 24 percent), Palang Pracharat is also claiming the right to form a government despite winning only 118 seats, 19 fewer than Thaksin’s party

Thanks to complicated electoral arithmetic, the highest number of popular votes doesn’t necessarily translate into the highest number of parliamentary seats. Hence, [Pheu Thai] the party that won the popular vote is not necessarily the winner of the elections [Palang Pracharat]

With the election failing to bring about a needed significant transition, Thailand is looking more like Myanmar, where the military has maintained its position of power in politics. The junta’s almost five-year rule has done nothing but deepen the military’s dominance of the Thai political landscape. Today’s civilian look is deceptive; in fact, it is merely camouflage that cloaks the continued exercise of power by the army

Meanwhile, the election results unveil a voting pattern that corresponds to the political parties’ power bases. Thai politics has remained largely regional … The deep regional identity reiterates the continued polarization in Thai politics. The red and yellow divide, crudely translated as the conflicts between the (conservative) urban elites and the (pro-Thaksin) rural residents, has not abated. Political reconciliation will be correspondingly difficult. If the current interregnum lingers on, the existing divisions could stir up violent conflicts

[Meanwhile] the election results unveil a voting pattern that corresponds to the political parties’ power bases. Thai politics has remained largely regional. The north and northeast regions are still loyal to Thaksin, who lives in exile. The south belongs to the Thai Democrat Party, long known to be associated with the royal elites. In Bangkok, most voted for the new Future Forward Party, which presents itself as a choice of the new pro-democracy generation with an aggressive policy some see as verging on anti-monarchism

Last month, another pro-Thaksin party challenged the palace by nominating Princess Ubolratana, an outcast member of the royal family, as the party’s candidate for prime minister. King Maha Vajiralongkorn almost immediately issued a statement condemning the move; the Thai Constitutional Court quickly followed his lead by dissolving the party, the Thai Raksa Chart. Hence, the king has already directly intervened in politics.

More recently, the king has gone a step further by stripping Thaksin of his royal decorations, highlighting the renewed antagonism between the monarchy and the Thaksin camp. Gen. Apirat Kongsompong, the army chief, has backed the king’s side in the feud by describing any democratic movement as a threat to both the nation’s security and the monarchy

The army and the monarchy depend on each other. Arguably, the junta staged its 2014 coup to take control of the royal succession (rather than leave it up to a Thaksin-led government). The junta has intentionally created the parliamentary interregnum as a delaying tactic to undermine the electoral victory of the Thaksin faction. What they may not realize is that it will also undermine the people’s trust in the electoral process. When that trust is gone, unrest can ensue

2019 09 24 Retrieve

[At about 4am on July 8, a man dressed in black broke into Pavin Chachavalpongpun’s apartment in Kyoto and attacked him and his partner with a chemical spray] This was an act of intimidation. They were letting me know they could do more, so I should shut up

The last coup took place in Thailand in 2014 and after that there have been attempts by the Thai state to eliminate those they perceived to be ‘enemies of the state’. People were forced to run away. They either crossed from Thailand to neighbouring countries, legally or illegally. A lot ended up in Laos or Cambodia

[Pavin Chachavalpongpun said that a few years ago the Thai state began to cross those borders to abduct or kill people who had fled] First, a prominent Red Shirt, DJ Sunho [Ittipon Sukpaen], was abducted in Laos and vanished. A year later another Red Shirt was abducted from Laos. This time, it was documented that he was killed brutally. Last Christmas, three dissidents were abducted from Laos. One was a prominent Red Shirt leader, Surachai Sae Dan, who was also a former Thai Communist Party member. Two bodies were found in the Mekong River; they were identified as Surachai’s assistants. We don’t yet know what happened to Surachai but we believe he was killed though his body has not been found. A few months later, another three Thai dissidents fled from Laos to Vietnam, one of them another prominent Red Shirt, Uncle Sanam Luang. The story has it that the Thai authorities contacted the Vietnamese authorities to have them deported to Thailand. Neither government admits this to this, but they have disappeared

She [Praphan Pipithnamporn] is an elder female activist, wanted for allegedly being anti-monarchy. She fled to Malaysia and was in the process of getting refugee status with the UNHCR. But after an official Thai request, the Malaysian government decided to hand her over. We tried to contact her family to find out what happened after she was deported back but they have heard nothing

[The issue of human rights has always been very contentious in ASEAN] As someone who once worked for the Thai foreign service, I know we cannot trust ASEAN to provide protection for dissidents. We see a trend towards loose, informal alliances of illiberal regimes in the region. Sadly this includes Malaysia. I was disappointed that even after Mohamed Mahathir came back as PM promising a new era of democracy in Malaysia, this government deported this poor lady [Praphan Pipithnamporn]

I have been very critical of the monarchy and the military in Thailand. I am an academic and I teach South East Asian politics, including Thai politics. To talk about Thai politics and not mention the relevant institutions would be to betray professionalism. As a Thai, I am concerned about the human rights and democratic situation in my country

[While Pavin Chachavalpongpun was working in Japan, the Thai authorities summonsed him twice for attitude adjustment] I don’t know when my attitude became so bad that it needed to be adjusted so, of course, I rejected the summons. I have done nothing wrong. But because I rejected the summons they issued a warrant for my arrest. Shortly after that they revoked my passport forcing me to apply for refugee status with the Japanese government.

They sent the military to harass my mother at least three times

I’ve had difficulties travelling overseas because the Thai government has tried to get other countries to stop me. A few years ago, the Thai government issued a public warning to Thais not to follow the social media of three dissidents. I was one of them, the second was another Thai academic abroad and the third was a Scottish journalist who wrote about Thai politics

[But this backfired, said Pavin] The ban gave me even more followers!

[In Thailand, people can be jailed for social media posts. The authorities target any criticism of the monarchy and Thais can be charged with lese majeste and they can be jailed for up to 15 years] Now the authorities have moved to laying charges under new ‘computer crime’ laws. From now on, it is not only if you criticise the monarchy but if you criticise the military you could also be charged. This change of tactics is probably because the monarchy has realised that using the lese majeste law excessively might damage the king’s image. But the end result is the same: They put people who disagree with them in jail

[2014 coup leader General Prayut Chan-o-cha was elected Prime Minister] Thailand has got stuck again with a government that has little concern about human rights and democracy. Behind the current government is the real power: the monarchy. The monarch is supposed to be above politics but, working with the military, it has continued to interfere in politics. And we can’t talk about it

We hold the record of having the most military coups in South-East Asia and third in the world for the biggest number of military coups. Since the abolition of the absolute monarchy in 1932, the military has strengthened its political dominance by its association with the monarchy. The two institutions have an interdependent relationship. Together they defined the political landscape in Thailand, creating a political system in which any elected government is kept weak and vulnerable

If an elected government proves to be threatening to the military and/or the monarchy, it will be eliminated through a coup. A lot of the middle class in Bangkok also see the military as protecting them from bad or corrupt elected governments. They are happy for the military to press the reset button when they are unhappy with a government. This is why we have had 21 or 22 military coups in Thailand

2019 05 09 Retrieve

[The scale of fraud on 2019 March election day was ‘unprecedented’ in Thailand. Irregularities, he said] included the state tampering with ballot boxes, using unauthorised vehicles to transport ballots, deliberately destroyed campaigning materials of opposing parties, as well as the obvious tactic of vote-buying

2019 05 22 Retrieve

A military dictatorship in Thailand is clinging onto power - with the tacit support of the western powers The junta fixed the elections utilising the usual repressive tactics. The country’s future now hangs in the balance. … For the international community, the election constituted an important step towards a return to civilian rule. Based on the junta’s promise to deliver free and fair elections, the European Union had even decided to resume political contact ‘at all levels’ with Thailand in 2017

Thanks to a partnership with the Facebook-based activist CSI LA, the pro-democracy organisation FORSEA of which I am a co-founder, was able to crowdsource and document thousands of instances of voter fraud sent by concerned citizens from all over the country. I compiled this evidence in a report published earlier this month, which offers an unprecedented and unequivocal insight into the scale of the election fraud

Despite the junta’s efforts, preliminary results showed that a coalition of seven pro-democratic opposition parties won a majority in the lower house of parliament. Pheu Thai, the party backed by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, won the largest number of seats in the lower house. More surprisingly, the upstart Future Forward party, created just over a year ago, won over six million votes, becoming the third political force in the country

The leaders of the Future Forward party, in particular, became the target of trumped-up charges. The party’s leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, will be tried before a military tribunal that will undoubtedly find him guilty. Indeed, Thanathorn is now facing disqualification as an elected member of parliament after the Election Commission accused him of violating the election law over his holding of shares in a media company

The pro-junta Palang Pracharat party has claimed the right to begin forming a government based on the official results of popular votes. Meanwhile, Pheu Thai party is attempting to form an anti-junta coalition and is offering the premiership position to smaller parties to unlock the political stalemate. Thailand is yet again facing a long period of political chaos and uncertainty

King Vajiralongkorn seems to want to play an active role in politics. He interfered to ensure amendments were made to the draft constitution. Most recently, he attempted to influence voters to by advising them to vote for ‘good people’, a message most people interpreted to mean those aligned with the junta. He also approved the list of senators handpicked by the military government amid a public outcry

At 4:45 a.m. on July 8, a man wearing black and a mask broke into my apartment in Kyoto. He walked into my bedroom, attacked me and my partner with a chemical spray and escaped. Nothing was stolen. The Japanese police arrived quickly. The investigation is ongoing; the perpetrator has not been apprehended.

No official conclusion has been reached about who executed, much less orchestrated, the attack, but it matched a trend of harassment - and sometimes abduction and even killing - targeting anti-monarchist Thai dissidents overseas

The 2014 military coup against the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra prompted hundreds of people to flee Thailand and go into exile, especially among supporters of Ms. Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, also a former prime minister who was deposed. Many backers of the Shinawatras, the so-called red shirts, went to neighboring countries seeking sanctuary, legally or not

I am a political scientist and have long been critical of the Thai monarchy. Just days after the 2014 coup, I was summoned by the junta. I did not go. A warrant was issued for my arrest. My passport was revoked. I was already residing in Japan then, and I was forced to apply for refugee status there. My relatives in Bangkok were harassed by military officers. I believe that the attack against me this summer, in my home in Japan, was a warning for my continuing to hold, and express, my positions

To my knowledge, the first two dissidents to disappear vanished from Laos. Ittipon Sukpaen, also known as DJ Sunho, went missing in June 2016. Wuthipong Kochathamakun, alias Kotee, was kidnapped by 10 men in black from his Vientiane home in July 2017. Both men were stridently against the junta and the monarchy

DJ Sunho rose to fame after releasing a series of YouTube videos ferociously attacking the Thai royal family

Kotee, was also a fierce critic, and he claimed to be training ‘civilian warriors’ against the military government. He was accused of dealing in weapons, including some that the authorities say were used during red-shirt demonstrations in 2010. Some observers claim that Kotee was set up

But the real power holders have remained the same. Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former general who led the 2014 takeover, is still prime minister. Even as the government continues to stay in power, though, judging by its tactics against thai activists, it seems anything but secure

In mid-December 2018, news came that three more dissidents in Laos had disappeared. One of them was the prominent ex-communist and anti-monarchist Surachai Danwattananusorn. He went missing with two of his assistants, Kraidej Leulert and Chatchan Bubpawan. Mr. Surachai had joined Mr. Thaksin’s party in 2006 and set up the Red Siam group, a militant faction of the red-shirt movement. In early 2012, he was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for lèse-majesté. He received a royal pardon in late 2013. He fled Thailand after the coup.

In late December, two bodies, cut open and stuffed with concrete, were found in the Mekong River at the Thai-Lao border. The Thai Institute of Forensic Medicine confirmed the identities of Mr. Kraidej and Mr. Chatchan. The whereabouts of Mr. Surachai are unknown

Then in May 2019, three dissidents reportedly were arrested by the Vietnamese authorities and secretly extradited to Thailand. They are Chucheep Chiwasut, widely known as Uncle Sanam Luang, Siam Theerawut and Kritsana Thapthai. Mr. Chucheep is among the exiles charged with lèse-majesté who were the most wanted by the Thai authorities. He regularly broadcast underground internet shows against the monarchy from Laos, until, fearing assassination, he tried to move to Vietnam. The fate of the three men is unknown. Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan of Thailand has denied they were ever extradited by Vietnam

… the four members of the folk band Faiyen, known for its lyrics mocking the Thai monarchy, sought to urgently leave Laos, where they have lived in exile since 2014. They said they feared the Thai state would come after them next - a claim that the Thai Defense Ministry has denied and shrugged off. (In August, the band managed to fly to Paris, to seek asylum in France)

[The Thai government] denies any responsibility to do with instances of brazen assaults against activists in Thailand - such as Sirawith ‘Ja New’ Seritiwat - after which the police fail to make any arrests or, it seems, to do much investigating

Laos, for its part, typically refuses to acknowledge the disappearance of Thai dissidents. Thai activists who have disappeared or been killed abroad number around a dozen may seem like a small number. But in the age of social media, their voices - potent alternatives to the official line - carried far, echoing with vast crowds

On Sunday, a pro-democracy political network known as the June 24 group (named for the day in 1932 when Thailand became a constitutional monarchy) gathered in Bangkok to honor Mr. Surachai Danwattananusorn and live-streamed their talks. Several dozen people attended, some wearing red shirts and at times raising a hand with three fingers extended, a symbol of the fight for democracy (and a reference to ‘The Hunger Games’). It was a somber reminder of the disappearances of Mr. Surachai and other dissidents. But it also was an implicit rebuke to the government. Just last week, Gen. Apirat Kongsompong, the army chief, lashed out at ‘communists’ supposedly out to ‘overthrow the monarchy’

The thai generals who continue to rule Thailand may have managed to oversee, as they had hoped, the country’s royal transition after the death of the long-serving King Bhumibol Adulyadej in late 2016. But they have less legitimacy than ever - and they know it