Political experts in Thailand are not holding out much hope for the flash protests staged on Saturday evening and Sunday organised by a body calling itself ‘Free Youth’, making any real impact on public affairs. The rally in Bangkok, however, appeared to take authorities by surprise. One expert, Chulalongkorn University’s Pitch Pongsawat, has even warned that the development could play into the hands of current Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha from a political point of view.
Following last Saturday’s surprise anti-government protest in Bangkok, police have said that they are investigating the incident with a view to bringing charges. It comes as the government remains tightlipped in response to the demands from the protestors with many academic experts suggesting that the student protest will not succeed in dislodging the government or bringing about radical change. It comes as a leading conservative activist has called for decisive legal action against those behind the protest activity at this time.
A prominent activist is calling for legal action against the leaders of last Saturday’s protest against the government which was followed by similar but smaller rallies on Sunday in Chiang Mai and Ubon Ratchathani.
Srisuwan Janya is the secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution and has been active in the past against the activities of the now-defunct Future Forward Party which was disbanded earlier this year.
Protests last weekend organised by ‘Free Youth’ linked to Move Forward Party in parliament
The Future Forward political party, whose leading members among its national executive were also removed as MPs and from politics by this year’s Constitutional Court order has been superseded in parliament by a new political party called Move Forward which is led by Bangkok MP, Pita Limjaroenrat.
The new party makes no secret of its links with the radically progressive agenda of Future Forward which came out of nowhere in March 2019 to become Thailand’s third-largest party.
Nattacha Boonchaiinsawat, a spokesman for the Move Forward Party admitted on Monday that he was present on Saturday night when the flash demonstration went ahead between 5 pm and midnight. He told reporters that he was there to observe the event and to give moral support.
Crowds at Bangkok protest now estimated to have been 2,500, a surprisingly high number
Estimates of the number of people who attended the evening protest have now been raised upwards to 2,500. The turnout appears to have surprised the organisers themselves.
Pundits have attributed it to a growing appetite for protest among younger people, driven now not only by the dissolution of the Future Forward Party in February this year, but also by the growing economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis.
The event is believed to have been organised by a group called ‘Free Youth’ also linked with events on Sunday in Chiang Mai and Ubon Ratchathani along with the Students Union of Thailand.
Conservative activist called on police to investigate and prosecute the leadership of the protests
On Sunday, Mr Srisuwan called on police to investigate the leadership of the protests and bring charges against the group. He also called for action against MPs in parliament who appeared to give their support to the events.
Mr Srisuwan even claimed a conspiracy by some MPs had been in place to put up personal assets to help provide bail to protestors if police began to arrest those involved.
As it turns out, no one was arrested at last Saturday’s protest in the centre of Bangkok near the Democracy Monument.
Police from three precincts were in attendance. They were from Samranrat, Nang Loeng, and Chana Songkhram.
It is also understood that Special Branch police and officers from the Technology Crime Suppression Division were at the scene from the outset.
Protestors and organisers guilty of numerous crimes including breaches of the emergency decree and criminal code says pro-government activist
On Sunday, Mr Srisuwan argued that the protestors, and those who had organised the rally on Saturday evening, were guilty of numerous crimes under the legal provisions underpinning the Emergency Decree based on a 2005 law and under Thailand’s criminal code in relation to sections 209 and 215 which could lead to a term of imprisonment of up to 7 years against the organisers for conducting an illegal assembly.
Mr Srisuwan said he wanted to see the protest leaders brought in and questioned by police as well as MPs who, he claims, were acting in concert with the movement.
Police investigation in Bangkok aimed at bringing charges against the protestors in due course
On Monday, police confirmed that they were actively investigating the protest activity in order to bring charges.
Lieutenant General Pakkapong Pongpetra, the Metropolitan Police Bureau Chief, has indicated that his officers are currently considering charges under the emergency decree, the Communicable Disease Act and for traffic violations.
Police officers engaged in a short running confrontation with protestors on Saturday night over crowd barriers designed to avoid a conflict with road traffic in the area.
On Saturday night, the police, while they highlighted their role in managing security and keeping order in the vicinity of the protest also warned the protestors about impeding the rights of others.
At Sunday’s protests in Chiang Mai and Ubon Ratchathani, protesters were called upon by police to halt their activities as they were in contravention of the emergency laws and posed a danger of spreading the Covid 19 virus heightening the risk of a second wave of infection.
Reports of ‘Men in Black’ from Saturday nights protest in Bangkok dismissed by police
Some protestors on Saturday had made claims that they had seen men attired in black trying to sabotage the protest. However, on Monday, the police rejected any such activities or infiltrations took place.
Colonel Kissana Pattanacharoen, the deputy police spokesman, hit out strongly at reports of a future protest outside the headquarters of the Royal Thai Army. He warned of the danger of third party violence in such a provocative step.
‘Police have no conflict with the protestors,’ Colonel Kissana assured his audience. ‘We have to do our duty in taking care of the protestors, for safety and public order.’
Redshirt leader calls on protest leaders to leave the monarchy out of politics and clarify demands
Meanwhile, there has been no official response from the government to the protestors on the key demands laid before it on Saturday night. These were that the House of Representatives be dissolved, the constitution rewritten and the harassment, legal and otherwise, of political activists halted.
Redshirt leader, Jatuporn Prompan, the Chairman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) has called on the protest leaders to make their demands clearer.
He also advised strongly that the protests should resolve to keep the monarchy out of and above politics for the good of the country.
Political experts suggest current protests will change little in Thailand, the government will survive
While some respected political scientists accepted that there is a groundswell of opposition to the current government developing due to the Covid 19 economic crisis, they were near-universal in their judgment that these protests do not threaten the government in the medium term with most assessing that Prime Minster Prayut Chan ocha’s administration will see out a four-year term.
Chulalongkorn University’s Pitch Pongsawat was categorical: ‘It’s impossible. I haven’t seen any protests in Thailand so far that can successfully force the government to dissolve itself.’
Deputy PM Prawit tight-lipped, says security agencies are closely monitoring the situation
Mr Pitch even warned that the demands, as currently framed, could play into the hands of the Prime Minister who might welcome another General Election which is likely to see him returned to power under the current constitutional provisions.
Other experts have suggested, however, that a new election may see the Move Forward Party emerge as a stronger force but still without the capability to form a government
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, the new leader of the ruling Palang Pracharat Party which has won several competitive by-elections in recent months, when questioned on this weekend’s protests, was tightlipped and chose not to comment. Nonetheless, he did point out that security agencies were monitoring the situation.