The Prayut dictatorship in Thailand is a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theories. This is because Prayut and his military gang tell lies, instinctively, in order to justify their rule and to protect their interests. This means that the population quite rightly do not believe most of what they say. The problem is to find alternative truths. But real scientific truths are not the only alternatives on offer, especially in a society with little freedom of expression and accountability. What is seen by many people as an alternative “truth” can often be the nonsense of a conspiracy theory.
I shall give two examples of conspiracy theories circulating in Thai society right now: theories about the Covid vaccines and about the King. Both examples are a danger to those wishing to struggle for an alternative and democratic society.
The military government’s handling of the second and more serious wave of Corona virus infections in Thailand has been a total shambles, especially when vaccination of the population is concerned. In mid-June 2021, the total number of people who had contracted the virus reached nearly 200,000, with the total number of deaths standing at 1,449 in a population the size of Britain. Only 4.5 million people have received 2 doses of a vaccine, just over 6% of the population. Despite the number of deaths being significantly lower than in Western Europe or the United States, the Thai government has failed in its vaccination programme. This is due to the fact that protecting the health of the general population has never been a priority and also due to the mindset of the generals who are running the country. They arrogantly believe that soldiers can solve any crisis, usually by military means. The government failed to order enough vaccines early in the day and initially restricted it to just one single company; the local production unit of AstraZeneca, owned by the King. The junta were clearly aiming to revive the flagging popularity of the monarchy. Later, they have had access to the Chinese Sinovac vaccine in larger amounts.
The lack of a welfare state or single national health service is also a huge problem, allowing for fragmentation of vaccine delivery and allowing private institutions to import some vaccines. One such private organisation is linked to a princess. Corruption and nepotism have also been playing their part, with big-shots jumping the queues.
In such circumstances conspiracy theories about the lack of efficiency and dangers of Sinovac have been circulating, despite the stamp of approval from the WHO. Other un-scientific rumours about AstraZeneca have also been doing the rounds, with people favouring the Pfizer vaccine, which is not being offered to the general public. The efficiency of all three vaccines are comparable and all three have side-effects. But the benefits of the vaccines for the vast majority of people outweigh the potentially dangerous side-effects. In a properly organised vaccination programme, different vaccines would be available to different people to try to minimise these side-effects. Such a programme does not exist under the Thai junta.
By swallowing conspiracy theories, activist become unable to make powerful criticism of the government and unable to offer real alternative visions of how to run the health service or other aspects of society.
“The King is dead”
Another conspiracy theory doing the rounds of social media a few weeks ago, was the “news” that king Wachiralongkorn had “died”. There was no reliable evidence to back this up and unfortunately it was not true. But this conspiracy theory was lapped up by those who are obsessed with the royal family. When it was found to be untrue, no apology or explanation was forth-coming.
These people also believe a much more harmful conspiracy theory that the idiot king Wachiralongkorn holds real political power in Thailand and can give orders to the military junta, which these people believe to be “merely” a tool of the king.
As I have explained in previous posts, that the myth about the power of the king lets the junta off the hook because many activists see the junta as irrelevant. This results in ignoring important discussions about vital strategies to overthrow military rule. The conspiracy theorists merely say that if you overthrow the junta, the monarchy will still remain in power. This is not actually true, as the survival of the monarchy is totally dependent on the military and important sections of the capitalist class who use it for their own purposes. [See: Wachiralongkorn’s power https://bit.ly/2EOjsNL and Can an absolute ruler hold power from abroad? https://bit.ly/3hxGFCv .]
What is more, none of these royal conspiracy theorists have, or are interested in having, a credible strategy for overthrowing the junta. Recently when someone on the popular (anti-royal) “Royalist Marketplace” site suggested the need for strike action, like we are seeing in Burma/Myanmar, in order to overthrow the dictatorship, this was dismissed out of hand by one leading light on the site. No alternative strategy was on offer. [See: Rubber ducks cannot defeat the military http://bit.ly/3tmU5YB .]
This is a very serious issue as the youth-led revolt, which erupted last year, is going down to defeat, with the leaders facing serious lèse-majesté charges and the prospect of spending years behind bars as a result. Unless a realistic strategy for overthrowing the military is taken up in order to revive the movement, this could be the depressing outcome.
Giles Ji Ungpakorn