【明報專訊】Known for its unfailing hospitality, Thailand has always topped the list of holiday destinations for Hong Kongers. But tourists tend to enjoy a handy license to temporary oblivion, allowing the inconvenience of social reality to retreat into the hazy background.
In fact, modern Thai history is marked by constant coups, constitutional changes and a long struggle for freedom. Although absolute monarchy was brought under the constitution in 1932, it continued to enjoy an insurmountable position by the lese-majeste law, which prescribes up to 15 years in jail for anyone who "insults" the monarch. Meanwhile, the military feeds off the monarchy's fear to consolidate its power and persecute the opposition. During a cycle of student protests in 1976, Thai police and right-wing politicians besieged Thammasat University and lynched protestors with war-grade weapons. To date, no investigation has been done. No persecutor has been punished. Collectively traumatised and hushed, it wasn't until two decades later that the survivors erected a statue in Thammasat University to commemorate the victims.
In less than a century, Thailand has seen 20 constitutional changes, each marking the ebb and flow (高低起落) of the fight for freedom. In general, the monarch was held accountable by the constitution while the royal army was subordinated to the National Assembly. Sadly, the constitution was repealed in 2019, followed by tightened censorship and a highly manipulated general election. In 2020, the progressive Future Forward Party, which had garnered the third largest seats at the previous parliamentary election, was ordered to dissolve by the Constitutional Court over allegations of illegal loans. All these set off initial rounds of protest in February. Obstructed by COVID, the protests resumed in greater scale and strength in June.
Since then, protests have been met with unyielding crackdowns from the police and the army. Furthermore, over 300,000 URLs with information deemed "harmful for national security" were arbitrarily taken down by the authorities, while four media outlets were forcibly closed due to their reporting on the movement. Student leaders were arrested, prompting protestors to reach a new consensus — everyone is a leader; everyone is a journalist.
COVID has temporarily prevented us from enjoying Thailand as tourists. Instead, it revealed the clogs deep in the veins of their society. Knowing these could perhaps provide more texture to the place next time we visit. Just as Hong Kong was never just a metropolitan financial hub, Thailand was never just a haven for relaxation and hospitality.
Mona C. has a strong appetite for stories. Feed her enough.