mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Red Shirt Radio
Nationwide Manhunt for Radio Host Who Insulted Thai King

A firebrand radio host known as Ko Tee, one of the most uppity leaders in the pro-government Red Shirt movement, is being hunted by police after committing one of Thailand’s most serious crimes: insulting the King. The crime doesn’t carry an especially heavy sentence (15 years), but disparaging the monarchy is one of the most flammable issues in the country.

Ko Tee has been a prominent figure in pro-government protests around Thailand, as the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. The police and army are hunting him now after a court issued a warrant for his arrest, apparently on charges that he insulted the King by complaining about how anti-government protestors invoke his name in support of their cause. The flimsiness of this accusation might reflect the anti-government sympathies of Thailand’s courts and police. It also shows how both sides of the political divide play up the monarchy to support their cause, with or without evidence.

As Thailand’s political crisis lurches onward with no resolution in sight, the King might be eventually forced to name a new government by decree, as the Economist reports. Efforts to unseat Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, a populist and sister to a controversial exiled former leader, are gaining momentum in the courts, the national anti-corruption commission, and on the street. If the opposition manages to have Yingluck thrown out, her supporters may invoke a constitutional clause that calls on the King to choose a “neutral” replacement. Though the King has so far remained apart from the current crisis, both the Red Shirts (Yingluck’s supporters) and the Yellow Shirts (the opposition) treat him like a god. He is probably the only person who can return peace and calm to the streets of Bangkok and beyond.

As the crisis drags on, ethnic and regional divisions are reappearing and deepening. “I’ve never seen the country this divided,” one farmer in northern Thailand told the New York Times. In the north, where the vast majority of people support Shinawatra, people complain about the “arrogance” of the “extremist” opposition protestors in Bangkok. One Red Shirt leader, in a recent speech in the northern city of Chiang Mai, lionized a monk who died decades ago for the “mightiness” of his struggle against Bangkok’s authority. Anti-government protest leaders, meanwhile, call the Red Shirts “buffaloes,” an insult to their perceived lack of urbanity and education. In Thailand’s distant south, a car bomb recently exploded, a sign that rebels sense an opening to renew their struggle for independence.

At times Thailand appears to be coming apart at the seams. Meanwhile the octogenarian King, so central in the consciousness of Thais no matter one’s politics, remains aloof and is in failing health. If talk of secession enters mainstream discussion—a possibility in both the south and the north—the King might be forced to enter the fray.

Features Icon
show comments
© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service