By: Pavin Chachavalpongpun
Major General Jakchai Srikacha, the Thai palace’s information chief, has issued instructions to start a new operation to undermine critics of the monarchy. The target of the day is me.
In this leaked Line chat among teams of IO under the royal patronage, Jakchai (below) instructed the following. This is a translation of the conversation:
“Urgent, I instruct Team 3.2A to report to Facebook the account of Pavin Chachavalpongpun and that of the Royalists Marketplace Facebook group, especially reporting the publication of the leaked photos of the Royal Noble Consort [Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi] and reporting any references to all members of the royal family. This is an urgent task.
“Please do not use just one account to report them. Use several accounts to avoid being banned by Facebook. I instruct Team 3.2B to support the work of Team 3.2A by refuting the originality of those photos of the Royal Noble Consort.
Please say that they are all fake/photoshopped, done by those who wanted to overthrow the monarchy. (Princess Sineenat, below, shows her cleavage)
“Then Team 3.2C must attack the Facebook account of Pavin, attacking him for wanting to overthrow the monarchy, running away from charges (by questioning that if he thinks he is innocent, then why did he run away?), being a dangerous person, and being a homosexual.
“I stress here that you must try to infiltrate and express your opinion in several ways. Do not write the same things over and over. Follow my instructions closely. You already took a course on how to write this kind of messages. So do not repeat your messages on social media. I ask all teams to build up your own credible account. Tell your story too, and not just posting attacking messages so as to raise the credibility of your profile.
“I order all of you to do this. And for Team S3, please keep the records of any public Twitter accounts with more than 10,000 followers that tweet more than 5 times a day in support of the protests. We will deal with them.”
Jakchai is a close friend of General Jakrapob Bhuridej, known as the king’s henchman. They graduated from the Military Academy together (class 28). Jakchai serves as a middleman who links the Rachawallop regiment (the king’s private army) and the national army. This signifies a close cooperation between the two institutions—the monarchy and the military.
This is not the first time the public has been exposed to this supposedly clandestine operation. It also went against the government’s earlier statement which denied the existence of an IO team.
The attacks against private citizens, like myself, have taken place during which time the monarchy is encountering a crisis of legitimacy. Months of protests have proliferated across the nation. They have demanded an immediate monarchical reform, purposefully to bring the monarchy back into the constitution.
Among the demands are the abolition of lèse-majesté law; the revocation of the Crown Property Act of 2018 which approved the transfer of all shares under sole possession of Vajiralongkorn; the reduction of the national budget for the promotion of the monarchy; the nullification of the transfer of two army units under Vajiralongkorn’s direct command; and the cessation of propaganda and glorification programs on the monarchy.
Since Vajiralongkorn’s enthronement, he has been preoccupied with consolidating power. This has been done through a weaving of relationship between the monarchy and the military and vigorous propaganda (through the IO operations). King Vajiralongkorn initiated a royal program called jitarsa (the spirit of volunteering) among government officials in order to support the promotional work of the monarchy.
Despite the description of “volunteering,” the program is compulsory for those government officials. On top of this, both the government and the palace have organized hardcore yellow-shirt groups—or indeed hyper-royalists—to counter the protesters. They often incited violence or provoked confrontation.
This seems to suggest a non-compromise position of the monarchy, which stands in contrast with what Vajiralongkorn told a CNN reporter – that “Thailand is a land of compromise.” Up to now, Vajiralongkorn has continued to ignore the demand of the protesters. Instead, he has been seen on several occasions giving support to yellow shirt royalists. For example, he told a yellow shirt who raised the portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in defiance of an “anti-monarchy” protest, “You are good, you are brave, thank you!”
The encouragement from the palace prompted the government to resort to violent crackdowns against the protesters. High-speed water cannons with toxic agents, as well as rubber bullets have been used against them. Apart from physical measures, the government announced last month that the lèse-majesté law would be brought back to deal with critics of the monarchy. Lèse-majesté cases have stopped since the end of 2017.
The cessation of the law’s application was confirmed by Vajiralongkorn in early 2018 when he told social critic, Sulak Sivaraksa, that the law hurt the monarchy and that he wanted Thailand to become democratic.
That the law has stopped its operation and that Vajiralongkorn was interested in democracy has proven to be bogus. All core protesters leaders have been filed lèse-majesté complaints last week. Thailand is heading toward a head-on collision since the palace has chosen a non-compromise strategy vis-à-vis the protesters.
The leaked Line chat fits this analysis of the non-compromise strategy. In cyberspace, the palace and its proxies are taking an aggressive approach. But this approach will eventually be counterproductive, since social media users today, mostly in their youths, have access to alternative information about the monarchy and refuse to be “brainwashed” by the state, like their predecessors.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun is an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies. He is a longtime contributor to Asia Sentinel