Anti-establishment protesters rally in Bangkok to demand repeal of lèse majesté law

Anti-establishment protesters, which included the Ratsadon group, LBGT supporters and Talufah members, rallied in Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong shopping district this afternoon (Sunday) to demand the repeal of the country’s controversial lèse majesté law (Pe…

Anti-establishment protesters, which included the Ratsadon group, LBGT supporters and Talufah members, rallied in Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong shopping district this afternoon (Sunday) to demand the repeal of the country’s controversial lèse majesté law (Penal Code §112) and the release of their core members currently being held on remand at various locations on the lèse majesté charges.

The main purpose of the demonstration was to collect the signatures of at least 10,000 supporters of a change in the law, which will be submitted, with the demand, to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at Government House tomorrow.

Many paintings, conveying the protest messages, were placed in front of the Central World shopping mall by protesters. Various speakers took turns to give addresses, all blasting the government, the prime minister and the lèse majesté law.

Some key protest figures are currently being held on remand on lèse majesté and various other charges, including Arnon Nampa, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Panupong Jadnok (aka Mike Rayong).

The rally was temporarily disrupted by heavy rain at about 5pm.

Before the rally began at 4pm, the protesters’ “Vivo guard” group entered into an agreement with the police, under which the protesters promised not to march to the Royal Police Office, which is only a short distance from Ratchaprasong intersection, in return for not forcing the rally to disperse.

Rally organisers announced that the event will end at 9pm.

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service

‘Phra Kiew’ parade: How Thailand’s oldest university became epicentre of country’s bitter political divide

Thailand’s oldest and arguably most prestigious seat of learning, Chulalongkorn University (CU) has undergone a transformation in recent years, as witnessed in controversial decisions made by its student union. The latest concerning the university’s s…

Thailand’s oldest and arguably most prestigious seat of learning, Chulalongkorn University (CU) has undergone a transformation in recent years, as witnessed in controversial decisions made by its student union.

The latest concerning the university’s symbol, the Phra Kiew coronet, has triggered a bitter clash of opinions between conservatives and liberals, royalists and reformists – as well as the university’s current students and its alumni.

Established by King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) in honour of his father King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) on a vast plot of donated royal land, CU is often seen as the conservative and royalist counterpart of Thammasat, Thailand’s second-oldest university and a bastion of political dissent.

Controversial move

On October 23, as Thailand marked the 1910 passing of the university’s namesake King Chulalongkorn, CU’s student union announced its decision to cancel the traditional Phra Kiew parade ahead of the annual football match between CU and Thammasat.

The parade sees a male and a female student seated beside a Phra Kiew display atop a platform borne by about 50 students.

The student body voted unanimously to scrap the tradition, explaining in its statement that the Phra Kiew parade represented an “authoritarian system” and promoted social inequity that is at odds with universal values of democracy, equality and human rights.

In response, CU’s Office of Student Affairs last Wednesday (Oct 27) launched a fact-finding investigation to determine if the student union’s decision breached university regulations. If so, those involved would face disciplinary action, it said.

Critics claimed the announcement was made on Chulalongkorn Day to attack the monarchy, pointing out that it had no impact on the next football match, which has been postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19. The next event, the 75th, will be hosted by Thammasat.

Support vs criticism

The student union’s move sparked heated debate and fiery exchanges in social media, drawing much support as well as strong criticism from CU alumni and others.

Social critic Sulak Sivaraksa defended the student union, suggesting the Phra Kiew display could be borne by a vehicle rather than by students.

National artist Win Lyovarin was less happy with the decision to scrap the tradition. The former CU student and SEA Write Award winner quoted words attributed to “1984” author George Orwell: “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

For the Thai writer, a rootless future is like a people without shadows. “Human value lies in gratefulness. People should repay their debt of gratitude, or at least avoid being ungrateful,” Win wrote in his recent Facebook post.

History of defiance

The CU student union, which is led by well-known activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, had created controversies more than a few times before.

After the military coup of 2014, several CU students have become more politically active, participating in many anti-government protests as well as rallies calling for reform of the monarchy.

Netiwit, 25, himself displayed his resistance to the university’s long held traditions since he was a freshman in 2017, when he and seven other students walked out of a ceremony in which new students were prostrating before the statue of Kings Rama V and VI.

In May, the student union voted 9-8 to apologize for Chulalongkorn students’ participation in the 2013-2014 street protests against the Yingluck Shinawatra government’s bill for blanket amnesty to everyone involved in past political conflicts, including politicians convicted for corruption. The rally, joined by many others from across the country, culminated in the May 2014 military coup.

Again, during the university’s online orientation ceremony for new students in July, the student union broadcast recorded speeches by three lese majeste defendants, including student activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak from Thammasat, who shared his “trick” on how to deal with university executives.

“I often flip them the bird” to remind the executives that students are the boss, he said in the video clip while raising both of his middle fingers.

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service

Fever of excitement and anxiety as Thailand goes back to school

Like many Thai children, 12-year-old Thayan “Fhan” Wirojsakulchai can’t wait to get back to school, the joy of studying at home having long since evaporated.For Thayan, it’s great news that his school, Roong Aroon, is about to let him return to classes…

Like many Thai children, 12-year-old Thayan “Fhan” Wirojsakulchai can’t wait to get back to school, the joy of studying at home having long since evaporated.

For Thayan, it’s great news that his school, Roong Aroon, is about to let him return to classes every day.

“I’m so excited that I will get to see my friends in real life,” the boy said happily. The fully vaccinated youngster will start attending school from Monday (November 1).

Roong Aroon has given parents the choice of sending their children to school, taking online classes or a mix of both. Thayan’s parents have signed him up for “going to school every day”.

Thayan was in Pathom 5 when COVID first emerged in Thailand. He then ended up spending most of his Pathom 6 year online.

“In the beginning, I enjoyed studying from home, but I don’t want that anymore,” the youngster said.

Asked if he was worried about school life in the “new normal” under strict COVID-19 control measures, Thayan said he understands that everyone must adapt to the new situation and respect the rules.

“I’m fine with that,” he said, proudly declaring that he was going to carry a tube of alcohol gel and two masks to school.

He added that he would maintain a safe distance from his friends, even while they’re chatting. As for his favorite sport – football – he realizes that it should be avoided because it would involve risks from close contact with his playmates.

What parents say

Despite worrying that his son might pick up COVID-19, Thayan’s dad Ekapoj says he believes his child is better off at school than at home.

“My wife and I work,” he said. “If our son stays at home, he will be left with our helper, who can only give him food and water. She can’t take care of him in other aspects, which means he will only end up playing games all the time.”

Ekapoj believes it’s time people accepted that COVID-19 is here to stay, and they have to learn to live with it. “I think we should take all the precautions but otherwise live our lives as normal. If we get infected, then we must simply seek treatment.”

He said his son has some protection against the virus since the boy has had two jabs of vaccine. He will review the decision to send Thayan back to school if there is an eruption of new cases.

University lecturer Sakulsri Srisaracam supports the idea of children returning to school, believing that human and social interactions are key to child development.

“I’m not worried about where my son is taught. I know he can focus during online classes, because he’s been studying from home for nearly a year now. But I believe it’s time for him to go back to school so he can develop social skills,” the mother of a seven-year-old said.

She added that her son prefers going to school because he wants to catch up with his friends. However, the bad news is that his school has chosen to continue providing classes solely online.

If the school is unable to resume normal classes, said Sakulsri, then it should at least consider a hybrid set-up.

“For example, they could allow students to attend class in school some days of the week,” she said.

The Education Ministry and schools should come up with a system that is more effective and responsive to the COVID-19 crisis, she added.

“After two years, children have been trained to live with COVID-19. They know how to protect themselves. They wear a mask and wash their hands frequently.”

What the Education Ministry says

Education Minister Treenuch Thienthong said more than 10,000 schools nationwide have either registered for on-site classes or a hybrid setup. These schools will start their new semester on November 1 in some areas and 15 days later in others.

The minister said schools planning to provide on-site learning will have to pass the Thai Stop COVID Plus (TSC+) test and report regularly via the MOECOVID application. Requirements for schools are based on the severity of outbreak in their local area.

For instance, schools in strictly controlled provinces like Bangkok will be able to resume on-site classes if 85 percent of their staff have been double-jabbed. Both students and teachers must also be regularly screened with ATK tests.

“Physical distancing must be strictly observed, and group activities must be staged in a ‘small bubble’,” Treenuch said. “Students must sit at least 1.5 meters apart, etc.”

Schools also need to prepare an emergency response protocol in case of COVID-19 infection among staff or students.

For instance, schools run by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration will shut down a classroom for three days if a student tests positive for the virus. During the closure, the room will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

What the Public Health Ministry says

As of late October, about 70 percent of students aged 12 to 18 had been vaccinated against COVID-19. Though breakthrough infections may emerge, experts confirm that vaccination considerably decreases the risk of severe symptoms or death.

According to Dr Somsak Akksilp, director-general of the Medical Services Department, more than 100,000 children in Thailand have caught COVID-19 since April this year. Of these children, 30 or 40 have developed COVID-related multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), and at least four developed severe symptoms. No children in Thailand have died of MIS-C.

Vaccination and regular ATK tests are the two core controls for Thailand’s “Sandbox Safety Zone in School” guidelines aimed at ensuring students can safely return to class.

Schools in Bangkok and most other parts of Thailand have been closed for more than 10months since COVID-19 emerged, according to UNESCO (the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service

Paetongtarn Shinawatra: the new heir of Thailand’s controversial political dynasty

After seven years out of government, the Shinawatra family appears to be keen on making a comeback.Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of former prime minister Thaksin, made a surprise appearance at the opposition Pheu Thai Party’s general me…

After seven years out of government, the Shinawatra family appears to be keen on making a comeback.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of former prime minister Thaksin, made a surprise appearance at the opposition Pheu Thai Party’s general meeting in the northeastern Khon Kaen province on Thursday (Oct 28).

Introduced by outgoing party leader Sompong Amornwiwat, the 35-year-old spoke briefly to announce her appointment as the party’s chief adviser on participation and innovation.

Analysts view Paetongtarn as a potential Pheu Thai prime ministerial candidate – a possibility she neither denied nor confirmed. Asked by the media to comment on whether she would take the role, she responded: “That’s a matter for the future. I am focusing on my current duties.”

At 35, Paetongtarn has reached the Constitution’s minimum age requirement to be a government minister.

It is no secret that Thaksin, his former wife Khunying Potjaman Na Pombejra, and other members of his family have retained strong influence over the former ruling party, though they hold neither membership nor executive posts.

However, the fact of Thaksin’s influence is often denied by Pheu Thai heavyweights, including Chonlanan Srikaew, who has just replaced Sompong as party leader. He told Thai PBS that he only became aware of his “selection” as leader shortly before the general meeting, when an unnamed senior party figure approached to offer him the job.

Pheu Thai patriarch Thaksin was deposed by a coup in 2006 and has lived in self-exile overseas since 2008, escaping prison sentences passed in absentia for abuse of power and corruption during his rule.

What the appointment means

Paetongtarn’s appointment – albeit to a non-executive post – signals the Shinawatras’ intention to regain political power by first reclaiming official control of Pheu Thai, analysts say.

Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of Ubon Ratchathani University’s Political Science Faculty, sees the move as the Shinawatra family reclaiming “ownership” over the party.

“It shows that Pheu Thai still belongs to the Shinawatra dynasty. It’s not a political institution that belongs to the people,” he said.

The analyst added that in order to become a genuine social institution, the party must break from Thaksin and his family.

He was unsurprised by Paetongtarn’s appointment, saying that such practices were typical of Thai political dynasties.

Desire to return home

Recent media reports claimed Thaksin and Potjaman do not want their family members to enter politics for fear that they may end up like Thaksin and his younger sister Yingluck – but observers say the stakes are high for the wealthy and powerful family.

Yingluck served as prime minister before the 2014 military coup and fled Thailand in 2017. She was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison for negligence in her government’s corruption-plagued rice-pledging scheme.

“It’s inconceivable that Thaksin would withdraw from Thailand’s affairs completely. His family still has a big stake and businesses in the Kingdom,” explained Titipol.

He added that his daughter’s new party role signaled Thaksin was still hoping to return to Thailand in the future.

Thaksin frequently engages with Pheu Thai supporters online under his social media alias, “Tony Woodsome”. He mentioned his desire to “return home” during a recent Clubhouse talk with members of the CARE group, a Pheu Thai think-tank. He even sang a recently released song that asks his supporters to vote for Pheu Thai in the next election if they want him to “come back to our home”.

Paetongtarn reiterated her father’s wish to return to Thailand during her party speech in Khon Kaen.

“He has never forgotten the debt of gratitude he owes to Thailand. He has never forgotten Thai people. His strong desire is to return to Thailand and pay back the debt of gratitude he owes to its people,” she said.

Paetongtarn and her brother Panthongtae often use social media to defend their father and the family against criticism.

Connecting with young voters

Pheu Thai is apparently hoping that Thaksin’s youngest daughter can connect with the young generation and win back youth voters lost to the opposition’s second-largest party, Move Forward.

That task will not be easy, however, according to Titipol. He pointed out that both Pheu Thai and the coalition Democrat Party introduced youth wings in the run-up to the 2019 election, but still failed to attract as many young voters as Move Forward’s former incarnation, the now-disbanded Future Forward Party.

“I doubt Paetongtarn will be able to mobilize support from young voters or reconnect with them,” said Titipol, explaining that Pheu Thai had not addressed the demands of youngsters who want structural reform of the country, including the monarchy.

Since last year, the student-led protest movement has been calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a more democratic Constitution, and reform of the monarchy.

Possible PM candidate?

While other major or middle-size parties have already unveiled their prime ministerial candidates for the next election, Pheu Thai is keeping the public guessing, delaying its nomination to as close to the national vote as possible.

Pheu Thai’s secretary-general Prasert Jantararuangtong, who managed to retain his seat on the new executive board, told the Khon Kaen meeting that the party would adopt three PMcandidates who “can connect with older and younger generations alike”.

Thaksin said recently that Thailand’s next prime minister must be someone of working age who has a good understanding of modern-day technologies. He said the PM’s seat should go to someone from Gen X, not baby boomers.

For observers like Titipol, Paetongtarn’s new advisory role is a stepping-stone to an executive post in the party – and perhaps PM candidacy. Pheu Thai was just testing the water and the public sentiment, he said of her appointment.

“We cannot rule out the possibility [of PM candidacy] if she receives strong backing from party supporters.”

The analyst added that her young age and lack of political experience were not a problem, since in reality, her father is the one in control.

“She can be a surrogate for her father,” he said.

Academic scandal brewing?

Nicknamed “Ung-ing” by her family, Paetongtarn was born in the United States on August 21, 1986. She is married to commercial airline pilot Pidok Sooksawas, and the couple has one child.

Paetongtarn is worth more than Bt4.3 billion thanks to her status as the largest shareholder of property developer SC Asset Corporation, which is listed on the Thai stock exchange.

She graduated from Chulalongkorn University (CU)’s Political Science Faculty and then studied international hotel management at the University of Surrey in England.

However, suspicion was raised over her exam scores in 2004, while Thaksin was serving as prime minister.

Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, a lecturer at Paetongtarn’s former CU faculty, wrote on Facebook on Friday (Oct 29) that she achieved “miraculously high scores” in her second tests for the national university entrance exam in 2004.

Paetongtarn’s score in her math tests soared from 27 on her first attempt to 63 on her second attempt, while she made similar improvements of 20 points for English and Thai, and 26 points for sociology, according to the academic.

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service

Fintech revolution poses challenges to Thai consumers

Banks and big corporations have seen disruption of their business models, but they have adjusted their operations quickly enough to cope with radical changes in financial services.While Thai consumers can reap the benefits from these winds of change, t…

Banks and big corporations have seen disruption of their business models, but they have adjusted their operations quickly enough to cope with radical changes in financial services.

While Thai consumers can reap the benefits from these winds of change, they also face challenges.

The emergence of financial technology (fintech) companies a few years ago had raised concerns among bankers as they had to compete with their peers and startups or other outsiders who had stepped into financial services.

Fintech companies, such as those who provide cross-border money transfer services, have a competitive advantage over banks due to their lower cost. Startups or new companies can raise capital via crowdfunding channels instead of applying for bank loans.

Big banks fight back

Among local banks, fast movers have worked with startups or technology companies to defend their position and to expand into new markets.

Kasikornbank has been successful in steering through uncharted territory. Its K Plus mobile banking app is reportedly the most popular among users.

Krungthai Bank has taken advantage of the government’s economic stimulus packages, which provide assistance via applications. As the government mainly uses the state-owned bank as a channel to provide services, Krungthai has drawn large numbers of consumers to its mobile banking app.

Siam Commercial Bank is currently undergoing restructuring, with a corporate vision to become a regional financial technology conglomerate by 2025.

“At first, banks seemed to lose some business to fintech startups but now they have been able to rebundle their services and expand their businesses,” said Krating Ruangroj Poonpol, chairman of KBTG, the technology arm of Kasikornbank.

Banking digitalisation combined with upgrading of financial infrastructure have boosted mobile payments.

“PromptPay registrations recently surpassed 60million with daily transactions worth about Bt85billion,” said Bank of Thailand (BOT) Governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput.

Consumers find it very convenient to withdraw or deposit money via online channels instead of going to bank branches.

Complicated financial products

A BOT survey of Thai households found overall improvement in financial literacy last year compared with the previous survey conducted in 2018.

However, the majority of respondents did not understand compound interest rate, present and future value of money and investment diversification, leading to poor management of their debt and savings, said BOT assistant governor Nawaporn Maharagkaga.

Among Thai households, financial literacy has increased but actual practice to manage debt and savings needs to be strengthened, she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic might also have contributed to rising awareness and it also made their financial management more challenging due to the steep decline in the incomes of many people, she noted.

Retail investors eye digital assets

Disruption in the financial market has also created a new class of assets, so-called digital assets that offer opportunity and challenges to consumers.

Consumers have more choices on where they put their money as digital assets, such as digital tokens and cryptocurrency, rather than traditional products like deposits, shares and bonds.

Digital assets, however, are beset with high volatility in their value, making regulators worried about high risk for investment.

In order to protect investors, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulates the trading of digital assets.

The SEC limits the amount of investment in initial coin offering by retail investors at Bt300,000 each per project. The SEC has been holding public hearings on tentative conditions for individual investors. It is considering a regulation requiring an income of Bt1 million a year to be able to directly invest in cryptocurrency.

The SEC so far has not allowed digital exchanges to trade utility tokens — meme token, fan token and non-fungible token.

Some critics are questioning the policing role performed by the SEC.

“The SEC should not set strict regulations governing investing in digital assets,” said Vimut Vanicharoentham, an economist at Chulalongkorn University.

He suggested that investors should not be discouraged by complicated regulations which will potentially close their investment opportunities.

Meanwhile, fraudsters take advantage of rising popularity of digital assets by cheating people to invest in their pyramid schemes.

“These criminals usually target pensioners who have large savings by luring them to invest in pyramid schemes disguised as digital assets,” warned Nawaporn.

Investors interested in investing in digital assets should choose only those regulated by the SEC, she added.

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service