A monster rally at the Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok on Wednesday ended peacefully despite the outrage among participants at what transpired in parliament hours earlier when a constitutional amendment supported by the student-led movement was shot down by senators. A disconcerting street arrest came on Tuesday night when soldiers of the Thai army’s 2nd Cavalry Division arrested a monarchy supporter retrieving a hidden gun and 10 rounds of ammunition near the protests. The violence on Tuesday night, in its wake, left over 50 people reported as injured. One hospital, the Faculty of Medicine Vajira Hospital, recorded 6 people suffering from gunshot wounds. There is also growing alarm at the tactics being used by anti-government protesters at the vanguard of the mobs with some commentators comparing the violence seen to the activities of BLM and Antifa seen in the last 6 months in the United States. Some of those injured on Thursday were police officers on duty attempting to maintain order as violent counter-demonstrators in yellow shirts contributed to the mayhem.
On Wednesday evening, Thailand’s unelected Senate exercised its power and shut down a constitutional amendment supported by anti-government protesters who have taken to the streets en masse. The kingdom’s ongoing political tensions had flared up more violently in the previous 48 hours as large and more aggressive anti-government protests converged on central Bangkok as parliament debates constitutional change while galvanised support has also emerged for the monarchy which many Thais want to see kept above the increasingly bitter political struggle. On Tuesday night, a dangerous situation developed when yellow shirt counter protesters attacked anti-government demonstrators who had already forced back police near the Thai parliament where MPs of all parties were briefly united when they were forced to escape by riverboats which collected them on the Chao Phraya River in a flurry of activity.
Crowds were again gathering in Bangkok on Wednesday as police issued a stern warning concerning fears that police headquarters in the capital may be the next target of anti government demonstrators who were involved in violent scenes on Tuesday outside parliament.
Then came the news, just before 6 pm, that one of seven proposed constitutional amendments, the only one explicitly supported by the protest movement and introduced into parliament externally by a group called the Internet Law Reform Dialogue, had failed to pass its first reading in the parliament when the unelected Senate flexed its political muscle to protect its powers under the 2017 Charter which the protesters want to see replaced or, at least, substantially reformed.
Deteriorating situation as rallies turn nasty
The protesters are calling for the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, the adoption of a new constitution and increased constitutional oversight of the powers of Thailand’s revered monarchy.
Protest leaders participating on Tuesday and Wednesday are understood to have included key figures such as Parit Chiwarak or ‘Penguin’ and Anon Nampa. Mr Anon has called for protesters to come prepared for police use of tear gas, at rallies from now on, in a sign of the deteriorating situation.
Seven constitutional amendments debated with the main opposition party supporting all of them
On Tuesday, the main opposition party, Pheu Thai, announced that it was supporting seven bills or measures to amend the 2017 constitution put before the House of Representatives including the one drafted by the external group.
The rejection of the proposal by parliament on Wednesday in a clear setback for hopes of some parliamentary compromise or breakthrough.
Some of the provisions have been put forward by the pro-government parties while, Palang Pracharat, the main party in the coalition government led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha has thrown down the gauntlet and vowed that legal measures or changes will not be tolerated if they impinge on the monarchy.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha facing a critical court judgment on December 2nd next
In the past few weeks, the Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, as he leads the country through a growing economic crisis and the ongoing threat from Covid-19, has indirectly ruminated about relinquishing power.
General Prayut’s position could already be under review as he awaits a judgment due from the Constitutional Court on December 2nd dealing with the question of his continued use of a home provided by the 1st Infantry Regiment, King’s Guard, in Bangkok since he became a top-ranked army officer.
It is thought that the court case could see his premiership imperilled if the decision goes the wrong way. The PM has refused in the last week or so to comment on the case saying only: ‘I am leaving that to the court.’
Prime Ministers removed by the Constitutional Court, it’s quite common in the kingdom since 2006
In the past few decades, it is not at all unusual for a Thai prime minister to be removed from power as the result of a Constitutional Court decision. It has, in fact, removed three sitting prime ministers since 2006 out of six who have held the role.
Only one has been removed by an uncontested General Election. That was in 2011 when Oxford-educated and dual UK Thai citizen, Abhisit Vejjajiva, was replaced by Yingluck Shinawatra.
On May 7th 2014, two weeks before the coup, Yingluck Shinawatra and nine ministers were also removed by the court in a case concerned with a government official who was ousted from his position.
In September 2008, another Thai Prime Minister, Samak Sundaravej of the People’s Power Party was removed from his position by a Constitutional Court decision over his role in a TV cookery show.
His successor, Somchai Wongsawat, a brother in law of both Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, was removed some months later, in December 2008, when the People’s Power Party itself was dissolved and he was banned from politics, again as a result of a Constitutional Court decision.
Prayut led the 2014 coup but was elected PM in 2019
General Prayut was army chief before he led the coup in May 2014 as the head of the National Council for Peace and Order and was appointed prime minister at the same time on the 22nd May 2014.
In July last year, he was elected to the role by a joint session of parliament including the 250 members of the upper house or Senate, following the March 2019 General Election and significantly, barely achieved majority support in the lower house, the 500 member House Of Representatives winning the vote by 500 votes to 244 over key opposition leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit who now leads the Progressive Movement.
Protests have flared up this week with over 50 injured on Tuesday night, six with gunshot wounds
Thailand’s political struggle flared up dramatically on Tuesday night as the parliament debated the constitutional amendments and growing crowds stormed police barricades outside from 5 pm into the evening.
The situation became so fraught with danger that police in the parliamentary building and marine police had to perform a logistical operation to allow sitting MPs from all parties escape the Parliament Building by deploying a convoy of riverboats which docked behind parliament as violence and lawlessness descended in the front while under heavy police guard, the last line of defence.
Later in the evening, the Vajira Hospital, near the Thai parliament, reported that it had treated at least 50 injured people including some suffering from tear gas conditions while, pointedly, 6 people were admitted to hospital suffering gunshot wounds.
Police fired chemical and tear gas laced water spray as well while they threatened to use rubber bullets
Police had tried to halt the crowds with coils of razor wire and substantial barricades at Kiak Kai intersection near the parliamentary seat in the Dusit district of Bangkok but gradually fell back even after firing three volleys of water cannon and later firing a fourth with tear gas, red dye and a skin itching chemical formula.
It is reported that the worst of the day’s clashes and violence occurred after 8.30 pm as police let the protesters advance on the parliament building while blocking access to it and threatening to use rubber bullets.
Protest leader Anon Nampa on Tuesday night accused the police of firing rubber bullets during the violent chaos that enveloped the area when counter-protesters wearing yellow shirts attacked the mob.
Protest violence has drawn criticism
The night’s violence has led to government and official media outlets making claims that the protesters on Tuesday did not adhere to the non-violent ethos urged by Mr Anon recently and appears to be more akin to extreme Black Lives Matter or BLM protests in the United States or Antifa violence seen in America or Europe.
Monarchist supporter apprehended by soldiers as he retrieved a buried firearm near the disturbances
Amid last night’s violence, soldiers with the 2nd Cavalry Division detained a 35-year-old supporter of the monarchy after they found him retrieving a hidden pistol at the scene and ten rounds of ammunition.
Kasidit Leelamuktanan was reported to Tao Place at 8.30 pm after the discovery was made on the Thahar Road in the vicinity of the protest disturbances.
Government vehicles included water cannon units badly damaged by the protesters who broke through
During Tuesday night’s running battle between police and pro-democracy protesters, a range of official vehicles, including some of the water cannon trucks, were damaged by helmet-clad protesters who led the charge on police positions.
Some had been damaged with sand and discarded food poured into their workings while expensive gear and operational parts were torn off the top of the water cannon trucks.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the police, Bangkok Deputy Chief Major General Piya Tawichai, confirmed extensive damage to four water trucks, several prison vehicles, six buses and multi-purpose vehicles, as well as 13 vans in the evening’s explosion of violence that erupted between the sides.
Police spokesmen have pointed out that the destruction is detrimental to the interests of peace and order and has to, ultimately, be paid for by taxes from the public.