11 July 2024

Once an outspoken royalist, Rukchanok “Ice” Srinork has just been elected as a monarchy reformist after scoring a shock victory over a political giant in Bangkok.

Elected as a Move Forward Party MP, Rukchanok changed her mind about the monarchy a few years ago when she became convinced of the need for changes.

“My ideology changed after I started questioning and searching for information,” she said of her transformation from a conservative into a liberal progressive.

Growing up revering the King

Rukchanok, who was born in 1994, told Thai-language media outlet “The Matter” in 2021 that her love for HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej was such that she would have been willing to live 10 years less if that meant he could have lived one week longer.

She described how she became uncomfortable whenever other students at Thammasat University, where she studied statistics, criticized the monarchy. She often lashed back and harbored a deep resentment towards people who made critical comments about the country’s revered institution.

Looking back, Rukchanok believes that two elements fueled her unquestioning love for the monarch: Thai Buddhism’s explanation that kings achieve their position through accumulated merit, and authorities that equated loyalty to the monarchy with virtue.

Turning point

While Rukchanok said her transformation into a pro-democracy liberal took several years, a key turning point happened during her period of work and travel in the United States.

“While in the US, I worked as a housekeeper four days a week. But I earned enough to live a decent life, enjoyed holidays, and could afford a designer bag,” Rukchanok recounted. “So, I wondered if Thailand was still lagging behind because of political problems or if it was some kind of structural problem.”

Fascination with Move Forward Party

Rukchanok voted for the Future Forward Party in the 2019 election because she liked its policy on military reform. She became interested in its stance after hearing that a student at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School allegedly had suffered brutal punishment and died but legal proceedings over the alleged beating had stalled.

When Future Forward was dissolved and its executives banned from politics over a loan deemed as an effort to evade party donation rules, Rukchanok was devastated.

She had already joined several rallies and openly discussed political, social and sensitive issues on social media.

Rukchanok caused a particular stir when she interviewed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose youngest daughter is now a prime ministerial candidate of the Pheu Thai Party, during a Clubhouse social media show in 2021.

In 2023, she decided to run as an MP candidate for Move Forward Party because it had roots in the Future Forward Party and its policies resonated with her beliefs.

Triumph over political giant

When Rukchanok registered her candidacy in Bangkok’s Constituency 28, few thought she would be able to dethrone Pheu Thai candidate and former MP Wan Yubamrung. This political giant’s family had, after all, ruled over the area for several decades.

But Rukchanok worked incredibly hard on the campaign trail and devised an ingenious way of reaching out to voters. She campaigned on a bicycle and presented campaign leaflets as garlands to people she encountered on her travels.

Her efforts, coupled with the fever her party whipped up, paid off big. Rukchanok earned 47,592 votes, dwarfing the total of 26,749 votes collected by Wan.

“I am ready to work,” Rukchanok declared after winning the seat. “I will continue to ride my bicycle among locals so that I can listen to people and help solve their problems.”

Outside politics

Rukchanok was a Team Thammasat basketball player during her time at university. These days, she still trains and competes in the sport as a Thammasat alumnus. Her other favorite hobby is diving.

Before Rukchanok entered politics, she made a living selling stationery items and gifts online.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk