United Thai Nation (UTN) Party leader Pirapan Salirathavibhaga has vowed to take drastic action against “nation haters” if his party forms the next government, saying Thailand is a land for patriots and those who don’t like it can go live somewhere else.
Mr Pirapan, the party’s No 2 prime ministerial candidate in the May 14 election, made the declaration during the party’s first major campaign rally at Benjakitti Park in Khlong Toei district of Bangkok on Friday night.
Caretaker Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the party’s top PM candidate, led key figures to take the stage at the rally. They included ML Chayotid Kridakon, head of the party’s economic team; Dr Rianthong Nanna, the ultra-royalist owner of Mongkutwattana General Hospital and chairman of the party’s committee on quality-of-life improvement; and party secretary-general Akanat Promphan, stepson of Suthep Thaugsuban, who led the 2014 street protests that paved the way for the military coup led by Gen Prayut.
Mr Pirapan proudly said the UTN was the fastest-growing political party at the moment and that it intended to be around for a long time.
"It is common for political parties to exist and vanish, but the UTN will live forever under the polices of Uncle Tu (Gen Prayut’s nickname) and the heart of the party is the nation, the monarchy and people," said the former judge who served as justice minister in the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Some people, he told the crowd, had expressed concern about the country and asked him why a handful of people out of a population of 70 million often created chaos and turbulence, and why they hated the nation and the highest institution.
“Someone asked me what I would do if my party is taking care of the country, and I replied it’s very easy,” he said. “Thailand is the land for patriots and the land is holy with the monarchy serving as the pillar of the country. If you don’t like it, you have no right to change it because the entire nation wants it.
“If you don’t like it, please go to another place. No one is stopping you. Go now. Any country you like, you can go and stay there. But Thailand will be like this forever.
“Under the administration of Ruam Thai Sang Chart (the Thai name of UTN), we will not change. If the UTN is a core party that forms the next government, we will get tough against chung chart (nation haters) and those who want to overthrow the institution.”
Mr Pirapan did not name names, but some discussions about Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the tough lese-majeste or royal defamation law, have been heard on the fringes of the campaign.
Many people were also shocked last month when a man spray-painted a “No 112” message on the wall outside Wat Phra Kaew, part of the Grand Palace compound. He was charged with violating the Ancient Monuments Act, and a charge under Section 112 was added this week. Several copycat graffiti incidents have since taken place at other sites and the original message is featured on a popular T-shirt.
Meanwhile, two activists who staged a 52-day hunger strike to press for political prisoners’ rights and the repeal of Section 112 have been attending various parties’ rallies to seek their views. The Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties allowed them on stage, but at a rally of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party led by Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, the activists were turned back and some of their supporters were beaten by security guards and local toughs.
Earlier this month, Gen Prayut, 69, said he wanted Mr Pirapan, 64, to succeed him if he is chosen as prime minister after the general election.
The Constitutional Court ruled on Sept 30 last year that Gen Prayut’s tenure as prime minister began when the 2017 constitution took effect on April 6, 2017, not when he led the in May 2014.
Under the ruling, Gen Prayut’s eight-year term in office would expire in 2025.
According to data from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) to March 31 this year, 1,898 people have been prosecuted for political participation and expression since the beginning of the Free Youth pro-democracy protests in July 2020. At least 237 are facing lese-majeste charges and 130 have been charged with sedition.
Among those charged under Section 112 is a 15-year-old girl who was arrested on the same day as the Wat Phra Kaew graffiti incident. After refusing to recognise the court on her first appearance, she was ordered detained at the Ban Pranee Juvenile Vocational Training Center for Girls in Nakhon Pathom. She has now been there for 10 days and has been denied access to a lawyer during that time.
UTN members surround Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the party’s top prime ministerial candidate, at its first major rally in Bangkok on Friday evening. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)