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On Being a Public Figure and Being Thai

Daraneenute Pasutanavin, Thai actress

Once again, Thailand is in a political turmoil. Once again, people with diff erent political stances came out to express their opinions. Once again, the peaceful rally turned into violence. And once again, Thailand is seeing her democratic progress back to square one.

Added to the complication of the country’s complex political landscape is the protesters who took to the street and led the movement. Call them Bad Student, Mob Fest, Student Union of Thailand, and whatever you want, they are young faces, mostly university students, some fresh out of high school. Their demand is simple: resignation of Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-ocha, a new election, and reform of the monarchy.

Apart from Prime Minister who is in the political hot seat, Thai actress “Top” Daraneenute Pasutanavin is

certainly facing a similar attack.

She was among the famous faces who joined the Yellow Shirts royalist groups during the 2013-2014 Thai

political crisis to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. On one occasion, Ms Daraneenute mocked and made a snide remark on the shooting incident in which an old man was shot dead. Her comments attracted public outrage and accusation that she reveled in someone’s death in a fi ght for democracy. A later investigation showed he was not a protester but came to the rally site to look for his daughter.

For years, she never responded or explained what was exactly going on at the time…until now.

“When I said that, I wasn’t referring to his death. I didn’t know about him at the time,” she said. “But it’s no

use to say anything. Nobody was willing to listen anyway. They don’t want to hear my explanation. All they want is to criticize and attack me.”

Her name was in the public spotlight again in August when someone released the VDO clip of her making the remark. She was unfazed and even publicly declared her admiration and loyalty to the monarch by posting about it more often than usual on her Instagram.

Asked whether she was worried her image and career will be further aff ected, the 52-year-old actress

said she doesn’t pay attention to it as she only wants to express her voice as a Thai citizen.

What she does refl ects the sentiment of the whole nation which has been fed up with the government’s

mismanagement and oligarchs. True reform they seek, but only democratic one. Her actions have become a source of inspiration for tens of thousands of Thais to come out and fi ght for their stance.

In fact, the so-called anti-youth protesters demonstration is largely triggered by the youngsters themselves. Despite the immature bravado from time to time, they were viewed by the public as the new hope that would bring Thailand out of decades of political circus…until their behavior turned undemocratic. In fact, it was completely anti-democratic.

The protesters’ aggression and harsh criticisms against those with diff erent opinions, calling them

dinosaurs, and demanded celebrities to publicly support their demands are unacceptable to the majority

of the public. The latest case is the Thai member of K-pop supergroup Blackpink Lalisa “Lisa” Manoban.

Apparently, they forget that they don’t represent the whole country.

Thailand used to be under absolute monarchy until the ‘democratic revolution’ in which King Rama VII

handed over his power to Westernized protesters led by military offi cers, university students, and bureaucrats in 1932. Currently, it is a constitutional monarchy with a prime minister as the government head.

However, the landscape of Thai social and political structure is quite diff erent from that of the West.

The nation’s long history of survival, prosperity, and even modernization were initiated by the monarchy.

Among the most outstanding contributions were peaceful end of slavery, the protection of Siam from

colonialism, and introduction of modern infrastructure, and the pilot project on democracy called Dusit Thani. Those contributions are what make Thais have deep admiration for the royal institution.

Ms Daraneenute believes the country needs a major reform that has more to do with the political

system and the government’s failure, rather than a particular group of people. The goal, as she sees it,

is that Thais should do everything it takes to weather the country through the political storm peacefully and without a bloodshed.

“I’m an actor and yes, it could aff ect my career but we should do our best as a Thai, and let go of the

part we can’t do. The venerable monk Luangpu Cha Suphatto said when the roof is leaking, are we really

going let go by not fi xing it? It’s not about sleeping at the dry spot to avoid getting wet. It’s about us trying to fi x the roof without feeling frustrated with it”