Thailand : Endless din hinders rather than helps

This Wednesday is touted to be another day of mass protest by the “reincarnated” anti-establishment Khana Ratsadorn group, formerly known as the Free Youth Movement, Free People Movement and, lately, the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration.

No matter the names which have kept changing like their changing demands, they are the same group of hot-headed young people, with human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Panupong Jardnok, alias Mike Rayong, and Ms Panusaya “Rung” Sitthijirawattanasakul as the permanent faces of the group.

Mr Arnon has claimed that, this time around, the protesting crowd will be as large as the one at Sanam Luang on Sept 19. He even predicted that if the crowd swells to about one million, they will be able to force Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha out of office.

Wishful thinking. That is the answer of critics who doubt the group’s ability to mobilise a huge following like the one on Sept 19, pointing out that it is likely that most of the red shirt followers who turned up in force at the rally last month will stay away from this Wednesday’s protest due to the sudden change of heart of their major financial sponsor.

Political protests are a numbers game — the bigger the crowd, the louder the voice and the greater the bargaining power. But in the real world, a bigger crowd does not always translate into victory.

The People’s Democratic Reform Committee(PDRC), led by Suthep Thaugsuban, learned they were unable to bring down the Pheu Thai-led administration even though they were able to muster more than a million protesters on Bangkok streets six years ago.

Khana Ratsadorn has replaced its demand for parliament’s dissolution with a call for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha while retaining its two earlier demands — reform of the monarchy and a new constitution to be drafted by the people.

The three demands are easier said than done and there is only a very slim chance that any of them will be achieved. The prime minister, for instance, will not step down just as he did not when the opposition made repeated calls for him to do so.

The demand for reform of the monarchy was submitted to the Privy Council through the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police on Sept 20 at Sanam Luang. So far, there has not been any response from the Privy Council.

How about the demand for a new people’s charter? The delaying tactic of setting up a joint House-Senate committee to study the six drafts proposed by government and opposition parties instead of voting on them has sent a clear message that the amendment process will take a long time — perhaps a year or more — let alone the writing a new constitution which is unlikely to happen at all.

The protest leaders and their cheerleaders should have realised that their demands have very little chance of success, especially the demand for reform of the monarchy which will face stiffer resistance from royalist and conservative groups and even the general public if they keep talking about the issue at the protests in a disrespectful manner. The hard-core royalists have stepped up their attacks against the leaders, saying they have a hidden agenda to overthrow the monarchy and declare Thailand a republic instead of just reforming the institution as claimed.

One worrisome aspect about the Oct 14 protest is that a Royal motorcade of HM the King will pass through Democracy Monument on its way to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace to present ranking fans to monks who completed their Parian 9 and Parian 6 studies.

What if the road is blocked by protesters if the crowd is large and spills onto Ratchadamnoen Avenue? What if some improper posters are shown? What if there are people who show up to express well wishes to the King?

Protest leaders have given assurances that rallygoers will not block the road. But can they control the crowd? Some of them have criticised the police for choosing the route despite knowing the protest is being held there — why not take an alternative route to avoid any undesirable consequences?

It is usually standard practice for security services to observe a safety-first policy when escorting their leaders anywhere and avoid travelling through areas deemed a risk. An alternative route should be considered.

Hopefully, the protest will go smoothly and peace will prevail. And no hiccups involving the royal motorcade will occur.

For the protest leaders, their courage in breaking the silence on the unspeakable issue is admirable.

What they need is the right approach so that their demands can be heeded where appropriate, and this should involve endless noisy street protests.

By : Veera Prateepchaikul – BANGKOK POST.

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