Thai students taunt ‘Rolex General’ in latest burst of dissent

Agence France-Presse
The watch scandal has seized a kingdom growing weary of military rule and sparked a spate of creative protests that are challenging the junta's stranglehold on dissent

'ROLEX GENERAL'. University students carry a parade float mocking Thailand's junta number two Prawit Wongsuwan over a current scandal over his undeclared collection of luxury watches, during the annual football match between Thammasat University and Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok on February 3, 2018. Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP

BANGKOK, Thailand – Thai students with huge banners and caricature puppets on Saturday, February 3, delivered the latest satirical swipe at the junta’s number two – known as the “Rolex General” for his collection of undeclared luxury watches.

The watch scandal has seized a kingdom growing weary of military rule and sparked a spate of creative protests that are challenging the junta’s stranglehold on dissent.

On Saturday, students leading an annual pre-football match ceremony in Bangkok wheeled a series of massive parade floats around the pitch – including several poking fun at junta No. 2 Prawit Wongsuwan.

The 72-year-old general has been the a target of public ire ever a since photo circulated of him in December lifting a hand to block his eyes from the sun, revealing a diamond ring and a pricey Richard Mille watch.

Since then, online sleuths have unearthed photos of the junta bigwig wearing some 25 luxury timepieces that he allegedly failed to list when declaring his assets.

One parade float on Saturday showed a puppet in the general’s now iconic sun-blocking pose, with a glittering ring and watch beaming from his massive paper mache hand.

Students marching alongside were linked together by chains and held banners saying “Stop making fun of the watches,” in a nod to the junta’s efforts to suppress the scandal.

Another float mocked Prawit’s excuse that he borrowed the timepieces from friends – an alibi now being probed by an anti-graft agency.

The football parade, held annually ahead of a match between rival universities Thammasat and Chulalongkorn, is often provocative and political.

But the show was especially anticipated this year as the watch scandal wakes up Thailand’s civil society.

In recent weeks, a growing number of activists have taken to the streets to defy a junta ban on protests and call for elections.

The generals promised a swift return to democracy after seizing power in 2014 but have repeatedly delayed poll dates. 

“Thais are becoming exhausted with the military regime. Prawit is a simple indicator of what these people think is wrong with the (junta): impunity and double-standards,” said Thailand-based political analyst Paul Chambers.

The regime hit back by filing charges against dozens of activists this week over their protests.

But that has not stopped the flurry of internet memes and other sly expressions of dissent, including graffiti of Prawit’s face framed by an alarm clock.

The street art was left untouched on a Bangkok pedestrian bridge for four days before being whitewashed by police, according to its creator, who goes by “Headache Stencil”.

The street artist, who says he has since gone into hiding after police visited his home, told Agence France-Pressse the image represented “an alarm clock set off by nobody but the general himself, waking people up to see what junta strongmen are like.” –