Well over 10,000 police officers have been mobilised to control the situation with reserve forces of anti-riot police and military units on standby in case the situation deteriorates. The government’s security operation is being led by the Deputy Prime Minister, Prawit Wongsuwan, who is reported to have established a special command centre to monitor the weekend’s events in Bangkok and deliver a coordinated response. There are genuine and growing fears surrounding the event considering the strident and aggressive political stance taken by the students which has evoked the dark days of 1976 and 1992 which saw bloody crackdowns.
As Thailand’s biggest anti-government protest activity in years is due to take place over the weekend, there has been a disturbing and concentrated effort by ultra-conservative forces in the kingdom to portray the protest as the work of western foreigners and governments including the United States who, they claim, are intent on destabilising the kingdom. The campaign being mounted marks out former Future Forward Party leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, as the mastermind of this current wave of protests including what could prove to be a decisive and ultimately unpopular attempt to draw the Thai monarchy into the debate.
In the run up to Saturday’s protest and large anti-government demonstrations, attempts are being made by pro-establishment groups to link the student protests to foreigners with suggestions that the activity is being supported and abetted from outside Thailand.
Less than one week ago, a Super Poll survey in the kingdom with a sample of 1,575 people conducted for the popular Thai language national newspaper Thai Rath, indicated that a massive 85% of Thai people now believe that there is external or foreign support behind the increasingly strident rhetoric of the students who are expected to gather in force on Saturday at Thammasat University’s Tha Prachan campus despite official permission having already been refused by the university’s management.
At least 40,000 people expected at the two-day anti-government protest in Bangkok this weekend
Thai security services are now estimating that at least 40,000 people are expected to take part in the two-day protest, many of them younger people, students or with links to anti-establishment groups such as the Redshirt movement.
Protest leaders are targeting a crowd of 100,000.
The Super Poll survey was followed, this week, by a conservative support group of vocational students calling itself the Coordination Centre of Vocational Students and People Protecting the Institution staging a small protest outside the headquarters building of the Thai Summit Group in Bangkok, a business owned by the family of former Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
Billionaire Thanathorn is being portrayed by right-wing forces as the leader of this wave of agitation
The leader of the now-disbanded Future Forward Party has, since that political party, which came in third place in the 2019 General Election, was dissolved, been associated with a new group called the Progressive Movement along with other former Future Forward Party leaders Pannika Wanich and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul.
This week, Jakkapong Klinkaew of the conservative action group who along with 25 protestors brought their message on placards to Mr Thanathorn’s family company and later marched on to the US Embassy in Bangkok, said that Mr Thanathorn’s presence has been noted behind the scenes in supporting arrested protestors and agitators in the past few weeks.
Thanathorn accused last September of hiring a US lobbying firm to target the PM on US soil
In September, last year, the government and security sources including Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan launched a probe into Mr Thanathorn’s alleged use of a PR consulting and lobbying firm in Washington DC and linked it to anti-Thai government protest at the same time, during a visit to New York by the Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha.
Two polls relating to the protests showed a major shift in public opinion from early August to now
The Super Poll results, published last week, stands in direct contrast to a Bangkok Post Nida Poll published in early August, which showed that less than 1% of Thai people believed then that the student protests were linked to foreign backing or support.
That poll in August showed a slight majority in favour of the protests at 56% with a sizable minority of just over 41% opposed to the rallies of which 23.76% were adamant in their opinion.
If the latest Super Poll is to be believed, there appears to have been a major shift in opinion which some observers are linking with the controversial August 10th protest demonstration at Thammasat University during which the protestors called for reform of the monarchy.
The Super Poll now suggests that over 75% of Thai people believe that these protests represent an effort to undermine Thailand and sow chaos for some ulterior motive.
Wave of protests being linked to US-China trade war and the undermining of Thailand’s economy
An accompanying article on the widely read Thai national newspaper, Thai Rath, linked this campaign to the ongoing US-China trade war which since early 2019, had thrown the Thai economy into a tailspin well before the Covid 19 outbreak caused a catastrophe to descend on the kingdom’s GDP which is 70% dependent on exports and foreign tourism.
The US Embassy, this week, rejected the claims by the ultra establishment protestors that it was attempting to interfere in Thai politics.
An embassy spokesperson dismissed photos of a former ambassador in the company of some protest or opposition leaders and simply stated that the United States supported democracy.
However, this was not enough for the conservative protest group who responded by insisting that the US Embassy clarify its position and state that the US supports democracy in Thailand with the King as Head of State.
Huge security operation centred on Bangkok
The Thai capital Bangkok has seen a huge force of police from different agencies and divisions of the Royal Thai Police called in to protect the safety of the protestors and uphold law and order.
The political rally itself will see 9,000 police officers at hand to escort and monitor the protest while units of the special branch have been deployed to Government House which is the aspired to finishing point for the two-day event.
The student protests erupted out of nowhere on Saturday, July 18th and are calling for the resignation of the current Prime Minister and his government, a new constitution and an end to harassment of political activists.
The movement, since August 10th, has also clearly called for reform of the monarchy, a move which the student leadership was warned against by leading and former Redshirt leaders.
Opposition parties give student protestors their support and MPs will monitor the rally
However, the protests over the weekend are being supported by key opposition parties including the Move Forward Party, the successor in parliament to the Future Forward Party who will have MPs at the rally sites to observe proceedings.
Last week also, the leader of the Thai opposition and the largest opposition party, Pheu Thai, Mr Sompong Amornwiwat, gave his support to the students on the streets this weekend.
Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan to oversee the security response to the protests in the coming days
It is being reported that a large force of military police units and other forces are being held in reserve near Bangkok and the rally sites, ready to be deployed if the situation warrants it.
The government’s security operation is being coordinated by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan who will oversee the extensive security operation from Saturday.
Prime Minister in last-ditch appeal to protestors to call off the event and help maintain the ‘unity’ of the country at this time of crisis
On Thursday, the Thai Prime Minister, while promising that security forces have been instructed to take care to treat the ‘young’ protesters fairly and in a gentle manner, requested the protestors to be aware that, nevertheless, the law will be upheld.
He also called for the rally to be cancelled and the ‘unity’ of the country put first.
A key flashpoint may be repeatedly stated plans by the protesters to use the open Sanam Luang area in Bangkok near the Grand Palace, which earlier in the week, Thai authorities declared a prohibited move.
The government has also warned the protest leaders that any efforts to come too close to Government House or efforts to provoke a clash or confrontation will not be tolerated.
The protest is expected to camp near Thammasat University on Saturday night and then on Sunday, march to Government House to present their demands.
Danger to Thailand’s fight against Covid 19 and efforts to reopen the kingdom again to tourism
In a plaintive appeal to protestors on Thursday, Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, urged the protestors to call off the demonstration saying it was clearly a danger to Thailand’s efforts to fight the Covid 19 threat and would distract the government.
The PM also warned that the protestors were both undermining efforts to attract badly needed foreign investment into Thailand and that the strife would delay further the government’s efforts at reopening the kingdom to tourism.