Moves are underway to bring this crisis back to parliament after government MPs appear to have misjudged the public’s mood on September 24th last when they stalled efforts at constitutional reform. The leader of the ruling Palang Pracharat Party, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, on Sunday, emphasised that his party’s key concern was to protect the role of the monarchy and advance the wellbeing of all Thai people.
This past weekend may have seen the dye cast on the future of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha as protest activity in the kingdom appeared to strengthen despite the use of emergency powers since Thursday and the controversial use of force by police in central Bangkok on Friday evening. On Sunday, Progressive Movement leader, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, warned that the PM would have to resign as his position was no longer tenable and represented an obstacle to a resolution of the crisis facing the country.
The position of the Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha appears to have been considerably weakened after a weekend of widespread protests against his tenure as PM and his government despite a crackdown announced on Thursday and heavy-handed police action on Friday evening in the Pathumwan area of central Bangkok.
On Sunday, the leader of the Progressive Movement and former leader of the Future Forward Party in parliament, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, called on the Thai government leader to step down and to cancel the state of emergency announced on Thursday as a first step to clearing the air and a basis to allow for discussions to take place between all parties.
Progressive Movement leader was visiting protesters held by police in Pathum Thani on Sunday
Mr Piyabutr made his announcement after visiting protesters being held at the headquarters of the Royal Thai Police Region One in Pathum Thani.
Mr Piyabutr is reportedly acting as the named trustee for several arrested protesters including Panupong Jadnok alias Mike Rayong who was arrested on Saturday evening following a flash mob protest at Ramkhamhaeng University.
Mr Panupong, a top protest leader, accused the police of using excessive force to execute his arrest during which he claims his car window was broken and he was dragged out of the vehicle by officers.
Mr Piyabutr said those being held were upbeat at the latest news from the streets.
Use of ‘leaderless’ protests being employed as a tactic to undermine the government’s crackdown efforts
It is understood that the Royal Thai Police, on Saturday, were determined to track down key leaders of the rolling protests which, since Thursday, they have failed to quell despite the use of emergency powers and severe warnings to the public that they may face prosecution for their participation.
On Sunday, Mr Piyabutr pointed out that the protest activity was unfolding with ‘leaderless’ large crowds participating and where individual protesters in the crowd were being selected to address the gatherings.
He said that it was an indication of the futility of the government’s tactics since Thursday to repress the protests.
General Prayut has lost his legitimacy to run Thailand after last week says the opposition activist
He warned General Prayut that the more arrests made by the Royal Thai Police, the more people would come out to protest and insisted that the prime minister had already lost his legitimacy to lead the country.
The former law professor, and now full-time politician, said that further attempts to restrain the movement would only act to pour oil onto the fire and that the PM was an obstacle to resolving the problem.
Prime Minister adopted a more emollient tone on Sunday after widespread national protests
Mr Piyabutr’s comments coincided with a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister on Sunday which appeared to strike a more emollient tone even to the one issued by the PM’s aides on Saturday.
Following Friday nights’ forceful measures deployed by the police where chemical-laced dyed water was fired at peaceful protesters in central Bangkok causing them to flee in terror, the government leader later warned that protesters must not participate in what he termed illegal gatherings proscribed by the current emergency decree.
This remains the position of the Royal Thai Police who, even on Monday, were emphasising this as they have called for a range of media outlets to be banned for inciting unrest.
Tone contrasted to that used on Saturday
On Saturday, the prime minister again warned all those participating in such protests that they were breaking the law and running the very real risk of arrest followed by legal proceedings.
This appeared to have changed by Sunday when spokesman, Anucha Burapachaisri, told the media that the Prime Minister acknowledged the right to protest in Thailand. However, he reiterated that such protests must be in accordance with the law.
The spokesman said this: ‘The government is willing to listen to everyone’s problems and continues to solve problems in all areas.’
Nationwide nature of protest which appeared to be spontaneous, confident and uncontrollable
A key aspect of what may have changed the attitude of authorities on Sunday was the nationwide nature of the protests which started up spontaneously and were all conducted in a disciplined and largely peaceful manner.
Many observers are reporting that, throughout Thailand, there was considerable shock at the police measures used on Friday night which appeared to have generated momentum and increased support for the protest movement.
There is also similar concern about the mounting number of arrests despite the government’s assurances that all those detained are being treated in line with the highest international standards along with reports that many of those arrested are now able to obtain bail from the courts.
Resignation of the Prime Minister has been a key and consistent demand of protesters
Since the protests erupted in mid-July, the removal of General Prayut as PM has been a key demand as well as the dissolution of parliament and a new constitution.
Later in August and more controversially, reform of the monarchy was also added to the platform after being proposed by students at Thammasat University.
Before last week’s huge protest on Wednesday 14th, it was reported that the Free People movement which sparked the protests in July and the United Front for Thammasat and Demonstration had merged into one new political group calling itself the Peoples’ Party or Khana Ratsadon 2563.
This harks back to the peaceful revolution of 1932 which changed the then autocratic Kingdom of Siam into a constitutional monarchy known as Thailand.
On Sunday, the Progressive Movement leader, Mr Piyabutr, suggested that the resignation of the prime minister, the rescinding of the emergency law announced on Thursday and the release of detained protesters could form the basis for discussions allowing the country to move forward.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan issued a statement on Sunday as Palang Pracharat Party leader
In a noteworthy intervention on Sunday, the Deputy Prime Minister and General Prayut’s long time ally, fellow army officer and cabinet member, Prawit Wongsuwan also issued a statement which acknowledged his concerns about the current situation.
The statement was made in his role as the main government party leader and not in his role as a key government security official in the cabinet.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit was elected this year as the leader of the ruling political party in the government of which General Prayut is not a member.
Indeed there are a few heavyweights within the ruling party who are said to be somewhat resentful of the appointments made by the current Prime Minister of non elected ministers to the current cabinet.
In the statement, DPM Prawit highlights three key points of interest for his party.
First was Article One and Two of the Thai Constitution concerning the monarchy and its sacred role in the governance of the country. Another was the emphasis his party placed on duty to the monarchy and loyalty to the King and the third was the party’s determination to do everything possible to advance the welfare of the Thai people.
Initiative from the House Speaker
It was a curious intervention and came amid an initiative from the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of the Thai Parliament, Chuan Leekpai, which aimed at resurrecting stalled moves in parliament to reform the Thai Constitution.
The proposal now being advanced is to call an extraordinary session of parliament to discuss the crisis and advance matters.
This would require one-third of the current parliament which currently has 738 sitting members.
The opposition, including the largest political party Pheu Thai which currently supports such a move, commands 212 seats, so a further 35 MPs would be required from the government benches to advance the proposal.
Government’s legal advisor appeared broadly supportive of the move to involve lawmakers
On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, the government’s top legal adviser appeared broadly supportive of such a move when asked by reporters.
However, nothing can be taken for granted as the parliament had sent out similar mixed signals before. On September 24th, driven by government MPs, it voted to stall moves to rewrite the constitution with many government members claiming the student-led movement lacked public support.
This now looks like it was a mistake and that decision is being blamed for the current crisis that may see General Prayut’s role as Prime Minister sacrificed in order to avoid a wider conflict and to reach a peaceful way forward with the protest movement.
The alternative is for that movement to be crushed and that does not look like happening after last weekend’s developments on the ground. However, it must always be borne in mind, that this is Thailand where nothing is ever quite predictable.