Monday review: fall of conservatives, civil resistance and China’s extraterritoriality

Last week, liberal values prevailed in social media controversies, while the junta faced unprecedented resistance to its attempts to abolish universal healthcare and the fast-track construction of a Thai-Chinese high speed train.
 
 
Thai people love a good drama, both on TV and in real life. Individuals who violate so-called Thai traditional norms, such as by dressing too provocatively, can be easily targeted as an enemy by the moralism of ‘good Thai people’.
 
But curiously this week, social media saw the repeated debunking of conservative values. 
 
The first defeat came when junta head Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha condemned rising country singer Supansa Wetkama, also known as Lumyai Hai Thongkham, for her revealing outfits and dancing style that, according to Prayut, are “about to show all her genitals”. Prayut’s wishful thinking was followed by a police visit to a Lumyai concert to check if her outfits really were that revealing.
 
It is no surprise that Lumyai is in the spotlight, given the fact that her band’s name “Hai Thongkham” sounds similar to “gold genitals”. One of her most popular songs tells the story of a party girl who is in love with someone else's husband. This goes against all the values that Thai women are traditionally expected to uphold. 
 
But the public reacted negatively to the junta head’s shaming of Lumyai. They expressed sympathy with the singer, especially after Lumyai pointed out via Facebook that she should not be judged by her superficial appearance, but the fact that she has had to feed her family from a very young age.
 
“Many people look down on me because I’m a dancer. … But every time I’m on stage, my mum is there giving me support. Other people might measure someone’s value by their appearance, their belongings or money. But for me, working hard to feed my family is what I truly value,” read Lumyai’s post.
 
Though Lumyai agreed to modify her outfits after Prayut’s comment, the junta head’s comment triggered the Streisand effect and unintentionally helped in promoting her. Her song “Party girl (Phu Sao Kha Lo)” has now generated over 200 million views on YouTube.  
 
 
Lamyai Hai Thongkham
 
Another case that reflected the rise of liberal values on Thai social media was a Facebook post from former anti-election protester Kru Lilly, which showed a candid photo of a teenage couple intimately hugging on board the skytrain with the caption, “I want to teach younger generations that love is not wrong, but they should be concerned about appropriateness.” 
 
The majority of comments, however, criticised Kru Lilly for posting pictures of individuals without their permission. Others pointed out that kissing or hugging in public is an individual choice. 
 
“Do you understand individual rights and freedom of [expression] in love? Kissing or hugging on a skytrain doesn’t kill anybody,” read one comment. 
 
Apart from gender and sexuality, liberal values also prevailed in the educational domain.
 
Earlier last week, the Student Council of Chulalongkorn University (SCCU) declared a ban on human rights violations during student orientation activities. The reform was spearheaded by the council’s new president Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, a progressive student activist who has repeatedly criticised traditional practices in Thailand’s education system. 
 
The reform was strongly opposed by representatives from the Fine Arts Faculty, notorious for the harshest orientation activities in the university. Fine Arts students insisted on hosting their activities in secret, with Fine Arts students themselves regulating their violence. 
 
After a video clip of a council debate between Fine Arts students and Netiwit went viral, the public slammed the Faculty for being old-fashioned and lacking human rights values. The Faculty received even more criticism after its student president explained to the media its students do not have much knowledge of human rights because they only study arts.
 
“I don’t know much about law, political science and human rights. I’m a bit confused by what the SCCU said. They’re way too formal. We study arts, not those fields, so I was quite confused,” said the Fine Arts student president. 
    
As ever, the junta is pressing on with cementing its authoritarian regime. The junta tried to push two major controversial reforms over the past week: amendment of the national healthcare law and plans for a Sino-Thai high speed railway. Both efforts, however, faced public opposition.
 
The Ministry of Public Health hosted four regional forums to collect local opinions on proposed healthcare reform after the People's Health Systems Movement staged a march in Bangkok on 6 June, demanding the Minister terminate the amendments to the National Health Security Act. The Movement fears the amendments will put an end to Thailand’s universal healthcare, also known as the ‘Gold Card’ medical scheme. 
 
Forum participants in Chiang Mai, Songkhla and Bangkok walked out early after finding the process to be tokenistic, rather than a platform for people to participate in policy-making. Protesters outside the Bangkok forum lay down in front of the hall entrance saying “If you want to start the hearing, step on the people’s toes first.” 
 
Participants at the Khon Kaen forum took over the hearing and turned it into a political stage where participants made a speech condemning the amendment process. The hearing was forcefully closed after authorities failed to negotiate with the participants. 
 
 
Participants of the Bangkok hearing lay down in front of the hall entrance 
 
The junta’s plans for a Thai-Chinese high-speed railway from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima also met with heated criticism. Facing various legal obstacles, the junta on Friday swept them all aside and gave a green light to the project by invoking its absolute power under Section 44 of the Interim Charter. 
 
Since the line will encroach on protected areas, Section 44 was used to circumvent the laws prohibiting this, as well as several laws related to public procurement, decreasing the transparency of the deal. To facilitate the hiring of Chinese engineers and architects, the order also overrides several articles of the 2000 Architect Act, allowing architects who have not been certified by the Architect Council to work on the project. 
 
This order enraged Thai architects and engineers who have to undergo numerous procedures to acquire work licences. “The use of the special law as an exception to building an approach to good governance … may cause confusion and mistrust in the rush to implement the project,” read a statement from the Engineering Institute of Thailand.
 
Legalities aside, Thai social media also raised concerns that the junta is giving unwarranted privileges to China, with little indication of how Thailand stands to benefit. 
 
 
This image was shared on Facebook after the Section 44.was invoked (Photo from Facebook)