Muscat Daily

Their voice is vi­tal: Thai celebri­ties break si­lence on democ­racy protests

- Politics · Rioting · Bangkok · Thailand · Nichkhun · Twitter · 2PM · Instagram · Facebook · Cambodia · New Westminster · BNK48

Bangkok, Thai­land - A K-pop su­per­star, beauty queens and TV per­son­al­i­ties are among a grow­ing wave of celebri­ties back­ing Thai­land’s pro-democ­racy move­ment, send­ing out mes­sages of sup­port to mil­lions of fol­low­ers on so­cial me­dia.

Po­lit­i­cal state­ments are un­usual from Thai celebri­ties, whose lu­cra­tive en­dorse­ments rely on the bil­lion­aire clans that are a pil­lar of the coun­try’s es­tab­lish­ment. But some prom­i­nent fig­ures broke cover af­ter po­lice fired wa­ter can­non at peace­ful pro­test­ers in Bangkok on Fri­day.

Thai-Amer­i­can K-Pop idol Nichkhun, bet­ter known as the ‘Thai Prince’, told his 6.9mn Twit­ter fol­low­ers he can­not ‘stand idly by’ af­ter Fri­day’s scenes, an es­ca­la­tion af­ter months of stu­dent-led protests.

“The use of vi­o­lence is some­thing I can­not watch and stand idly by,” said Nichkhun, a mem­ber of ul­tra-pop­u­lar South Korean boy band 2PM, in a mes­sage that was retweeted by tens of thou­sands within hours.

“Vi­o­lence has never helped any­thing. I hope ev­ery­one stays safe... and take care of your­selves.”

Fri­day’s showdown was the first such use of force against the pro­test­ers, who are call­ing for the res­ig­na­tion of Pre­mier Prayut Chan-O-Cha, a for­mer mil­i­tary chief brought to power in a 2014 coup, and de­mand­ing re­forms to the pow­er­ful monar­chy.

It fol­lowed a tense week in the Thai cap­i­tal when pro­test­ers de­fied a ban on demon­stra­tions, and the ar­rests of scores of lead­ing ac­tivists, to re­turn to the streets in their tens of thou­sands.

Nichkhun wasn't the only celebrity to speak up. Amanda Ob­dam, the newly crowned Miss Uni­verse Thai­land, took to In­sta­gram with pic­tures of a lone pro­tester push­ing against riot po­lice wield­ing their shields.

‘A pic­ture says a thou­sand words,’ the Thai-Cana­dian model wrote. ‘Your job is to pro­tect the peo­ple not harm them.’

Pre­vi­ously, many stars have re­mained con­spic­u­ously silent

Pro-democ­racy pro­test­ers give the three-fin­ger salute at Asok dur­ing an anti-gov­ern­ment rally as they con­tinue for the fourth con­sec­u­tive day to defy an emer­gency de­cree ban­ning gath­er­ings, in Bangkok on Sun­day

on hot-but­ton is­sues in celebri­ty­ob­sessed Thai­land, where their ca­reers and in­come are closely tied to prod­uct en­dorse­ments.

Alien­at­ing po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers may be a rea­son - es­pe­cially in a king­dom where ev­ery sec­tor hums along un­der the over­sight of the multi-bil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness em­pires, tra­di­tional sup­port­ers of the ul­tra-wealthy royal fam­ily.

But busi­ness stu­dent Min, who ar­rived at Satur­day’s protest with a hel­met and a gas mask, said celebri­ties have a moral obli­ga­tion to speak up.

“They are in the elite along­side

the gov­ern­ment,” the 18 year old said. “Their voice is vi­tal.”

That voice grew louder this week. An­other for­mer beauty queen, TV per­son­al­ity Maria Poon­lert­larp, said in a video on Face­book that the treat­ment of pro­test­ers was ‘com­pletely un­just’.

She had grown more vo­cal since the July dis­ap­pear­ance of Thai pro-democ­racy ac­tivist Wan­chalearm Sat­sak­sit, who was kid­napped off the streets of Cam­bo­dia where he lived in self­ex­ile.

“Peo­ple have been si­lenced from speak­ing up about the dou

ble stan­dards and the abuse of power,” she said in tears, switch­ing be­tween Thai and English.

“We’ve had a lot of in­jus­tice go­ing on in Thai­land for decades, fight­ing against our gov­ern­ment for democ­racy,” she added.

Seated next to Maria in the video was her part­ner Wan­nas­ingh Prasertkul, a tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter whose par­ents were part of a stu­dent move­ment that saw a mas­sacre in 1976 by roy­al­ist forces in Bangkok.

Even some celebri­ties who have mixed with Thai­land’s lead­ers have spo­ken out. Pop­u­lar girl band BNK48 vis­ited Prayut at

Gov­ern­ment House in 2018, where of­fi­cially re­leased photos showed the nor­mally gruff pre­mier chat­ting cheer­fully with the group.

The visit drew ire from crit­ics who saw it as an at­tempt to soften the im­age of the for­mer army chief, who mas­ter­minded the 2014 coup and re­tained power in con­tro­ver­sial elec­tions last year.

But BNK48 mem­ber Milin ‘Nam­ne­ung’ Dok­thian left no room for doubt about her feel­ings in a mes­sage urg­ing pro­test­ers to ‘stay safe’ this week.

‘We wouldn’t have to say ‘be

safe’ if we had a true democ­racy,’ she wrote on Face­book, in a post shared by fel­low band-mem­bers.

The sup­port from some celebri­ties, and si­lence from oth­ers, are not lost on the young pro­test­ers. Jug­gling gog­gles and a hel­met at Satur­day’s protest, 25 year old Aim scoffed at those who refuse to speak up.

“Per­haps they are out of touch and have grown up in a (priv­i­leged) sit­u­a­tion,” she said, adding that the fans are pay­ing at­ten­tion. “We will aban­don them be­cause they are ig­no­rant peo­ple and are silent.”

 ?? (AFP) ??

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