Advice to the current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha from his predecessor from 2014, Yingluck Shinawatra on Saturday, will not have been welcomed and indicates the scale of the challenge that his government may be facing if the running protests, orchestrated by students, continue.
After another day of protests on Saturday, a key aide to Pheu Thai leader, Sompong Amornvivat, has called on the leaders of other political parties in the coalition to break ranks with the government following the emergency laws introduced on Thursday and the heavy-handed police tactics being used to enforce the stringent new law. Pheu Thai is Thailand’s largest political party. Meanwhile, senior police officers have hit back at such claims and strenuously defended the measures being taken. A spokesman for the Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, on Saturday, pointed out that the best outcome for Thailand would be an end to the protests as the ultimate result will only be damage to the country.
At the end of a day which saw by and large, peaceful protest activity in Bangkok in defiance of the newly declared state of severe emergency, it is being reported that Pheu Thai, the main opposition party, is moving to set up a centre to monitor the use of police force in quelling the protests. The new unit will also assist in providing support and aid to those arrested and in need of bail.
It is also understood that overtures may be made to parties in the coalition government encouraging MPs to break ranks with the ruling Palang Pracharat Party and the government of Prayut Chan ocha.
Mr Phumitham Vejachai, an advisor to Pheu Thai leader Sompong Amornvivat, in a Facebook post, made the appeal to the government party MPs including the leader of the Bhumjaithai Party and current Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul and the leader of the Democrat Party, Jurin Laksanawisit.
Students gathered in Bangkok on Saturday at three locations around the city revealed online
There were large crowds again on the streets of Bangkok on Saturday as protesters gathered in the locations designated by the student groups at Thammasat University. The three locations were Udom Suk BTS station, a roundabout at Wong Wian Yai and Lat Phrao.
The protest activity in Bangkok, which passed off peacefully, drew a large crowd of 20,000 people. Police appeared to be adopting a softer line than that seen on Friday night.
In anticipation of the day’s events, the Bangkok mass transit system or BTS shut down key stations with management citing security concerns.
It was reported that at least 14 BTS stations ceased operations in Bangkok after 2 pm as the numbers of protesters grew.
Police are later reported to have ordered a more widespread closure to restrict the mobility of the protesters who have shown an ability to move about in recent days unimpeded.
Nationwide protests on Saturday
The organisers of the protests had advised their supporters to board mass transit trains at 3 pm and that the protest activity sites would be announced later allowing the protests to begin at 4 pm.
This highlights the significant role of the internet and online messaging in the current wave of protests.
There were also simultaneous rallies reported on Saturday throughout the kingdom from up to 30 different locations outside Bangkok including confirmed protests in 17 provinces.
These were Udon Thani, Nong Khai, Roi Et, Phayao, Chiang Rai, Nakhon Sawan, Kalasin, Uttaradit, Nakhon Pathom, Udon Thani, Nakhon Ratchasima, Surin, Sakon Nakhon, Chon Buri, Khon Kaen, Trang and Songkhla.
Police defend their robust dispersal of protesters on Friday night at Pathumwan with water cannon
The situation followed expressions of concern on Saturday in relation to the robust action taken by police in Bangkok particularly in Pathumwan yesterday evening when protesters were left reeling in the face of powerful water cannon spraying blue-dyed water mixed with a stinging mix of chemicals.
On Saturday, Police Major General Yingyos Thepchamnong defended the police operation.
‘The police abided by international standards to disperse the demonstration,’ the police officer stated and pointed out that no harmful weapons were used by officers who, he said, had a duty to uphold the law.
Major General Yongos said just because the protests were peaceful did not mean that they were not illegal.
The actions drew criticism from human rights bodies and academics on Saturday. The international media coverage of events in Bangkok also reflected poorly on the kingdom and is increasingly seen as an impediment to confidence.
Government struck a more cautious note on Saturday and called for the protesters to stand down
The government itself struck a cautious note on Saturday.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister, Mr Anucha Burapachaisri, was speaking to Reuters when he said this: ‘There is no win or lose for any side. It’s all damage to the country. The government would like to ask protesters to not gather and remain peaceful.’
However, he emphasised that the Prime Minister, General Prayut, wants to see the protest activity halted as the risks involved were too high.
The state of severe emergency is scheduled to last for 30 days.
He warned that continued unrest would only further weaken and inflict harm on the country. He said that the government was committed to acting within international principles and standards with regard to human rights.
Former PM Yingluck Shinawatra wades into the current crackdown, points to the situation in 2014
On Saturday also, the former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, ousted by a court ruling at the height of anti-government protest activity which occurred just before the coup led by General Prayut in 2014, waded into the current debate.
Prayut was army chief at the time of those protests.
The intervention by the former PM is a timely reminder of the political instability that continues to dog Thailand.
Ms Yingluck called on the current prime minister to resign and agree to a new constitution. She reminded him that when her government was faced with similar protests in late 2013 and early 2014, she called a snap General Election in February that year.
Of course, this was followed by that election subsequently being boycotted and later annulled within weeks in another court decision before Ms Yingluck herself was removed in early May and the coup took place on the 22nd of May 2014.