The rally on Saturday was attended by former Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit accompanied by Pannika Wanich, another key member of the Progressive Movement. Mr Thanathorn spoke of a shared ‘ideology’ and praised the crowd for upholding the ‘strength of the people’. A key development was the police seizure of 50,000 booklets with a red and white cover which outlined the student’s call for reform of the monarchy. Police indicated that the consignment of booklets was illegal and would be used as evidence in further proceedings.
A crowd of between 30,000 and 50,000 people turned up on Saturday in the largest anti-government rally since the military coup of 2014 calling for the ouster of the current government led by General Prayut Chan ocha. Themed ‘Reclaim the People’s Power’, the protestors at the rally camped overnight ahead of a march on Government House on Sunday. The key leader of the protest, Mr Parit Chiwarak or ‘Penguin’, suggested that a surprise may be in order on Sunday afternoon even as he confirmed that the march will be targeting Government House. It is understood that this may be related to the establishment of a new ‘People’s Party’. The key leader emphasised the determination of the protestors to push for radical constitutional and legal change in Thailand including, most controversially, reform of the monarchy.
At a hastily convened press conference on Saturday night behind the stage of the large and growing anti-government protest, the largest by far since the 2014 coup, the leader of the protest or the Thammasat Alliance, Mr Parit Chiwarak, more familiarly known as ‘Penguin’, threw down the gauntlet to the government ahead of Sunday second leg of the protest.
It comes as a Super Poll opinion poll with a sample of over 2,500 throughout Thailand showed over 83% of the Thai public broadly supports today’s demonstration with a small minority in opposition.
This weekend’s protest has also been carried by international news media around the world as one of the biggest news stories with footage of the events being regularly updated.
The Penguin, who earlier on Saturday was involved with the police seizure of 50,000 printed copies of a booklet detailing the student’s 10 point plan for reform of the monarchy, said that Sunday’s march would go ahead and that Government House would be its target.
This came amid swirling rumours that a change of plan may have been in the works with talk of a march on another venue.
Students and young people joined by redshirt stalwarts this weekend in a call for political change
One thing is clear from the events of Saturday and that is that the student-led protests, which swelled to include many middle-aged and older people as well as former Redshirt activists, is now determined to follow through on its calls for fundamental change to Thailand’s constitutional system, its government and quite shockingly, for many ordinary Thais, the monarchy.
Some protestors came dressed as military tanks while one group brought a 3-metre submarine to highlight the government’s proposed ฿22.5 billion purchase of submarines from China, a move heavily criticised by opposition parties at this time of economic crisis and hardship.
Mr Parit or the ‘penguin’ told reporters that Thailand needed a new constitution written by the people and made it quite clear that this would involve reform of the monarchy and a complete overhaul of Thailand’s existing laws
Proposed reform of the monarchy is anathema and a red flag to conservative factions in the kingdom
This is anathema to many conservatives in Thailand and is a direct challenge to outgoing Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong who last October gave a high profile press conference in which he warned of changes to the Thai constitution or any attempt to impinge on the monarchy and its relationship to the people.
On Saturday, it was revealed that the Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, responsible for security during the protests this weekend, was not now going to establish a command centre or ‘war room’ as previously reported but had decided to leave the matter to the appropriate authorities.
Panupong Jadnok tells officials that Thammasat is owned by the people as the crowd moved in
On Saturday, just after midday, as electricity generators and barricades arrived at the scene, the gates of Thammasat University were still closed.
As the crowd built up, another key protest leader, Panupong Jadnock, also known as ‘Mike Rayong’ attempted to negotiate with university officials. After matters reached a stalemate even with a smaller gate open, Mr Panupong shouted loudly through the gate to the officials that the people owned the university and that they would be entering at the same time as the crowd charged the gates open and rushed into the famous campus, the scene of a massacre of students in 1976 by conservative militia groups.
This occurred around midday and Mr Panupong was accompanied by Ms Panusaya Sithijirawattankul, another key student leader who is very popular with Thammasat University students.
Protestors confronted the police over full access to Sanam Luang which police deemed illegal
The protestors, three hours later, clashed with police as they entered the Sanam Luang parade ground near the Grand Palace where an area was cordoned off.
This was at approximately 3 pm.
Initially, police had allocated them a small area at the edge of the park where a stage was erected but as leaders engaged police officers, the crowd simply pushed on through the barricades.
Later, it was reported that police officers made an application to the court on the matter but no further action was taken.
Between 30,000 and 50,000 people took part
Estimates of the crowd varied during the day.
At one point, police claimed that only 5,000 people were present which they later amended to 20,000.
As the crowd settled down for speeches, it became clear that it had occupied nearly all of the Sanam Luang area although many people were taking space to sit and sleep overnight.
The organisers claimed that the crowd was already more than 100,000 but objectively it appears that a crowd approaching 50,000 was in attendance which would be in excess of police intelligence reports which informed the government that they were expecting 40,000 people.
‘Penguin’ promised a surprise for the government on Sunday afternoon, talks of a new party
The Penguin alerted the media to the fact that a surprise may be in store for the government on Sunday at approximately 3 pm.
There has been some speculation that this could be the announcement of a new political party or force called the ‘People’s Party’ but it could also mean a sudden change in protest tactics to bring about the removal of the government.
Mr Parit also predicted that the government, led by General Prayut Chan ocha, would not last another month even if it chose to ignore calls by protestors over the weekend for it to step down.
Former Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn praised people for showing their strength
Among the large crowd that settled in with flashing smartphones, music and stage speakers on Saturday night was the former Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit accompanied by Pannika Wanich, another member of the Progressive Movement.
Mr Thanathorn, commenting for the press, drew attention to the peaceful nature of the protest.
‘Today the rally as seen has been peaceful. The suppressed people came together to show their strength,’ he said.
The leader of a highly successful new political party that was dissolved by the Constitutional Court earlier this year, suggested that all those gathered at the rally shared the same ideology. The theme of this weekend’s protest is ‘Reclaim the People’s Power’.
Seizure of 50,000 booklets by police calling for reform of the monarchy to be used as evidence of a crime
The leader of the Move Forward Party, the successor to Future Forward in parliament, MP Pita Limjaroenrat, was also seen in attendance on Saturday as well as other MPs who became involved as police moved in to seize the 50,000 booklets on the monarchy which were to be distributed to the crowd.
In relation to this, police told MP Rangsiman Rome of Move Forward that the seized booklets would be used as evidence in any criminal proceedings which may be brought against those involved.
A preliminary examination of the booklets by officers suggested, according to police sources, that the material was illegal.
The content of the booklets with a red and white cover was later published online as a PDF for those attending the rally to read.
Rally organisers had intended to distribute copies to all attendees at the mega protest.
Academic warns leaders about going too far
On Thursday in Bangkok, at another event, a well known academic at Thammasat University warned of the danger of the current situation.
He spoke of inadvertently transferring good intentions into hatred. He called for a peaceful outcome and solution to what he termed a generational divide.
‘Can we achieve it without losing blood and inciting hatred? We can become a civilised society where people can quarrel and get better as we see issues more clearly,’ said Professor Chaiwat Satha-Anand.
He said that this young generation had a different outlook and view of the world to past Thai generations. ‘Growing up in a virtual world, they have a different perception of time and history.’
He warned strongly of the danger of the protest leaders taking their demands too far and said that he fears this even more than the possible infiltration of the protest activities by rogue elements in an attempt to generate violence.
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