Political divide deepens in Thailand

A new term is gaining ground in Thailand’s political vocabulary: “Chung-Chart”, which translates roughly as “nation-hater”.

The term is used by ardent supporters of the monarchy and military to label anyone they see as a threat to the kingdom.

“Chung-Chart” is now a stock phrase for pro-government media and politicians as well as conservative nationalists waging an increasing battle against the opposition on social media and in the courts, illustrating the deepening political divide in the southeast Asian nation.

Although it echoes a global rise in nationalism, Thailand’s brand is rooted in royalty, the barracks and the “yellow” camp which for decades has been at odds with ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s “red” supporters.

The term was first popularised by Warong Dechgitvigrom, a senior figure in the Democrat Party which floundered in the March election.

“I see this as liberalism that destroys traditions and the monarchy by claiming to be democratic,” Warong said.

But the strident nationalists’ messages are very much aligned with those of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former junta leader, and army chief Apirat Kongsompong, who has described Thailand as being in a “hybrid war” against enemies of tradition.

At the March election, held under rules widely seen as favouring establishment parties, 40-year-old tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s new Future Forward party made significant gains with pledges to change the army-drafted constitution, end conscription and cut army budgets.

Parties backing Prayuth only just edged out an alliance uniting Future Forward with the main party linked to Thaksin.

The election aftermath has been characterised by increasing vitriol in parliament and on social media.

Use of social media targeting youths was widely credited as helping Future Forward. The party has over 800,000 followers on Facebook compared to fewer than 142,000 for the pro-military Palang Pracharat party.

For the right-wingers, social media can also be a source of ammunition for legal battles.

Songklod “Pukem” Chuenchoopol, 54, a retired army captain and founder of the right-wing “Thai Wisdom Guard” spends most of his day trawling for evidence to file a case under the strict computer crimes act or other laws.

Legal complaints have also been brought by members of Prayuth’s Palang Pracharat party in a system where police generally investigate all such cases.

Thanathorn and senior party members face at least 22 cases brought by individuals.

Some of the opposition politicians targeted have launched their own legal counter moves against their opponents.

The right-wing leaders all say they reject violence, but opposition figures and activists accuse them of at least encouraging an atmosphere of confrontation.

Thailand’s government has said it has no knowledge of any of the disappearances of dissidents abroad. – Reuters

  Panarat Thepgumpanat and Matthew Tostevin also contributed to this analysis.