A country for old men no longer

A country for old men no longer

Last week, outspoken hardliner Maj Gen Rienthong Nanna, who operates Mongkutwattana Hospital, called on Thai businesses and government agencies to stop hiring students found to have been involved in pro-democracy protests in a move he claimed was "a project to protect the future" of these young demonstrators by somewhat counterintuitively creating "list of individuals which companies, government agencies, and educational institutions must ban from being employed, enrolling for study or receiving scholarships".

An ultraroyalist and also a doctor at the hospital, Maj Gen Rienthong first came to prominence in 2010 when he caused widespread outrage after calling on doctors not to treat pro-democracy protesters injured in a bloody state crackdown.

Since then he has made the headlines many times over for his hardline stance, including in January of this year when he insisted that his hospital's suppliers and partners must provide access to their social media accounts because "I won't support purchases and hiring of companies whose salespeople oppose me". He also demanded that applicants for jobs at his hospital do the same.

His controversial Rubbish Collection Organization was established in 2014 and is one of the most extreme outfits fighting instances of lese majeste on the internet. He was also a key member of the protests that led to the overthrowing of the Pheu Thai government by a military junta in 2014. Given his staunch support of the armed forces that form the heart of the current government, it came as no surprise to see him appointed as an adviser to the prime minister on ways to reduce the social and economic impact of Covid-19. However, both the government and Maj Gen Rienthong appear to have taken a rather loose approach to this remit.

Now he is calling on authorities and state infiltrators to use Big Brother surveillance technologies and hidden cameras to identify those attending student rallies.

He argues that allowing those with beliefs that don't match his own to take prominent roles within the country will undermine Thailand's core values. So, he has decided that they should spend the rest of their lives blacklisted and voiceless. It is an oppressive way of thinking and ironically contrary to the notion that a country he clearly believes is so magnificent can't inspire enough faith in its ideals among the common people to maintain those characteristics without need of spies and infiltrators. His move coincides with student rallies that many fear could become another bloody moment in Thai political history.

In terms of many of the protesters' demands, it's hard not to agree that Thailand is at a point where logic and the will of the people are being ignored by the rich and the powerful for purely selfish reasons. At the core of these young activists' demands is the desire for a constitution that is fair to all and a right to free speech without threats or risk of detainment. The hallmarks of a modern, accountable democracy, in fact. The uncomfortable truth is that the country's systems of patronage have allowed for the aggregation of such wealth and resources among the ruling elite to the extent where only the threat of civil unrest carries any weight in forcing any but the most minor of reforms to be enacted. Yes, constitutions may be forever written and rewritten while carelessly corrupt officials often find themselves spending time in "inactive" posts until enough time has passed for them to quietly return to frontline roles, but these remain token gestures to keep the anger of the masses from boiling over.

However, with the dawn of social media and a switched-on and ever-growing number of young citizens, traditional efforts to prevent knowledge of the unfair practices of those in positions of power and prominence from spreading are no longer effective. Section 27 of the constitution bans discrimination based on political affiliation, although it remains to be seen whether the prime minister will seek to censure his new adviser over his prejudice against these democracy-keen students.

The world has changed and Thailand will change too whether some like it or not. Without a long-ingrained and vastly wealthy authoritarian state to subjugate the citizenry into obedience, the age of information is changing Thailand, and those who refuse to acknowledge this will find themselves on the outside looking in as our nimble young minds inevitably sweep into positions of power and authority. This may be a revolution fought using smartphones and social media. But that won't make it any less effective.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : ploenpotea@bangkokpost.co.th

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