Bangkok Post

Anti-govt protests set to es­ca­late

- POST RE­PORTERS Politics · Elections · Protests · Social Issues · Society · Bangkok · United Front · South Korea · Indonesia · Thammasat University · The Open University · Free People · Rangsit University · Pheu Thai Party · Jatuporn Prompan · Thanom Kittikachorn · Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University

>>Aca­demics, politi­cians from op­po­si­tion par­ties and stu­dent lead­ers be­lieve anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions, par­tic­u­larly next month, will es­ca­late with more sup­port­ers ex­pected to take part in the wake of the de­lay in the char­ter re­write vote.

How­ever, some aca­demics said the pro­test­ers have com­mit­ted a mis­step by call­ing for re­forms of the monar­chy, which has turned neu­tral peo­ple away from them, so weak­en­ing their cam­paign for char­ter amend­ments.

On Thurs­day, MPs and sen­a­tors ap­proved a pro­posal to set up a com­mit­tee to study six char­ter amend­ment bills by a vote of 432 to 255, with 28 ab­sten­tions.

Ef­fec­tively, the vote on whether to ac­cept the six bills in the first read­ing will be post­poned by one month.

Orig­i­nally, the joint sit­ting of MPs and sen­a­tors was due to vote on whether to ac­cept the bills on Thurs­day.

The 31-mem­ber com­mit­tee will com­prise MPs from the coali­tion par­ties and sen­a­tors, while op­po­si­tion politi­cians re­fused to join.

Stu­dent ac­tivists and demon­stra­tors who gath­ered out­side par­lia­ment to mon­i­tor the vote ex­pressed dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the res­o­lu­tion, pledg­ing to step up their protests.

The pro­posal to set up the com­mit­tee was put for­ward by Pai­boon Ni­titawan, a Palang Pracharath Party MP.

It called for coali­tion and op­po­si­tion MPs and sen­a­tors to study all six bills for one month be­fore re­con­ven­ing on Nov 1 to vote again on whether the bills are to be ac­cepted at their first read­ing.

Stithorn Thananithi­chot, di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of In­no­va­tion for Democ­racy at King Pra­jad­hipok’s In­sti­tute, told the Bangkok Post that the de­lay in the vote is ex­pected to trig­ger a larger turnout than the anti-gov­ern­ment rally on Sept 19-20.

In that case, the gov­ern­ment will find it harder to con­trol the demon­stra­tors and there is no guar­an­tee au­thor­i­ties will be able to deal with them if they gain more sup­port from the pub­lic by us­ing the char­ter vote de­lay to at­tack the gov­ern­ment, Mr Stithorn said.

“Ini­tially, the gov­ern­ment might have es­ti­mated they could deal with the pro­test­ers so they de­cided to post­pone the char­ter amend­ment process,” Mr Stithorn said.

“If the pro­test­ers still show they are not pow­er­ful enough to chal­lenge the gov­ern­ment, the gov­ern­ment is likely to find ways to de­rail the char­ter re­write process and vote down all the six bills,” he added.

He also pointed out the pro­tester group which calls it­self the United Front of Tham­masat and Demon­stra­tion (UFTD), with stu­dent ac­tivist Parit “Pen­guin” Chi­warak as co-leader, has a small fol­low­ing. The group’s de­mands in­clude calls for the monar­chy to be re­formed. Mr Stithorn said that even though the group saw a large turnout dur­ing the rally on Sept 19-20, the pro­test­ers were mostly sup­port­ers of the red-shirt United Front for Democ­racy against Dic­ta­tor­ship (UDD).

It re­mains to be seen whether an­other anti-gov­ern­ment rally sched­uled for Oct 14 will have enough fire­power, Mr Stithorn said.

LOS­ING STRENGTH

Wan­wi­chit Boon­prong, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Rangsit Univer­sity, said that char­ter amend­ments are linked with anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tors cam­paign­ing out­side par­lia­ment.

But the sig­nif­i­cance of the char­ter re­write bid has been over­shad­owed by the stu­dent ac­tivists tak­ing aim at the monar­chy, prompt­ing the gov­ern­ment to use a po­lit­i­cal tac­tic to de­lay the char­ter re­write process, Mr Wan­wi­chit said, adding the gov­ern­ment ex­pects other groups to mar­shal their forces to counter the anti-gov­ern­ment ac­tivists.

“I think the pro­test­ers have gone too far,” Mr Wan­wi­chit said. “If they

had stuck to their orig­i­nal de­mands — con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments, the dis­so­lu­tion of the House and an end to ha­rass­ment of gov­ern­ment crit­ics — they would have won the sup­port of a wider pub­lic.

“But they have taken a step too far and pub­lic sup­port is now wan­ing. There are still large num­bers of con­ser­va­tive groups and peo­ple who want peace.”

He went on to say that stu­dent move­ments around the world take a long time to gather strength and grow such as in South Korea and In­done­sia.

But de­vel­op­ment of Thai stu­dent move­ments lack con­ti­nu­ity, and in the case of the cur­rent stu­dent protests, they lack ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple who act as chap­er­ones to en­cour­age proper con­tent dur­ing their ral­lies, he said.

Jade Don­a­vanik, a le­gal ex­pert and for­mer ad­viser to the Con­sti­tu­tion Draft­ing Com­mit­tee, said rules gov­ern­ing par­lia­men­tary meet­ings al­low for a char­ter amend­ment study com­mit­tee to be set up so the gov­ern­ment can buy some more time.

How­ever, any ef­forts to ex­ploit le­gal tech­ni­cal­i­ties to shoot down the bills will snow­ball into a se­ri­ous prob­lem for the gov­ern­ment, Mr Jade warned.

He also echoed the opin­ion that the stu­dent-led protests seem to lose strength af­ter fo­cus­ing mainly on calls for re­form of the monar­chy rather than char­ter amend­ments.

MAS­SIVE TURNOUT PRE­DICTED

Chief op­po­si­tion whip and Pheu Thai Party mem­ber of par­lia­ment Sutin Klungsang said the demon­stra­tions are ex­pected to es­ca­late as the pro­test­ers have felt they were given shoddy treat­ment af­ter the vote in the first read­ing of the bills was de­layed.

It re­mains to be seen how many peo­ple will take part in the next rally, but the char­ter re­write vote de­lay has al­ready pro­vided pro­test­ers with fresh ma­te­rial for fur­ther at­tacks on the gov­ern­ment, Mr Sutin said.

The pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment may have eased if the bills had been ac­cepted in the first read­ing, he said.

UDD chair­man Jatu­porn Prompan said the vote de­lay would only add in­sult to in­jury as those who are in de­spair would have no choice but to fight back.

To pre­vent the sit­u­a­tion from es­ca­lat­ing, he sug­gested that a spe­cial par­lia­men­tary ses­sion be opened as soon as pos­si­ble to vote on whether to ac­cept the bills in the first read­ing.

‘‘A spe­cial ses­sion should be opened to solve the prob­lem. Don’t for­get that the month of Oc­to­ber pro­duces strong po­lit­i­cal feel­ings,’’ Mr Jatu­porn said.

He was re­fer­ring to two ma­jor po­lit­i­cal in­ci­dents — the Oct 14, 1973, pop­u­lar upris­ing launched by univer­sity stu­dents which cul­mi­nated in the down­fall of the junta gov­ern­ment of Field Mar­shal Thanom Kit­tika­chorn, and the Oct 6, 1976 mas­sacre at Tham­masat Univer­sity.

“I be­lieve the de­lay in the char­ter re­write vote has left peo­ple feel­ing hor­ri­bly cheated, and as a re­sult this is ex­pected to trig­ger a mas­sive turnout of pro­test­ers,” the red-shirt leader said.

Yut­tha­porn Is­sarachai, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Sukhothai Tham­mathi­rat Open Univer­sity, agreed, say­ing that other groups of peo­ple may now feel that the prob­lems aris­ing from the con­sti­tu­tion would also have an im­pact on the econ­omy and their liveli­hoods, and they may also de­cide to take part in the rally planned for Oct 14.

He added that par­lia­ment is now in re­cess and will re­turn to work on Nov 1, which means there is no fo­rum for all stake­hold­ers to air the griev­ances, which in turn could lead to pro­test­ers tak­ing to the streets.

PROTEST CON­TIN­UES

Tat­tep Ruang­pra­paik­it­seree, a leader of the Free Peo­ple Group (FPG), said the group will carry on and step up their protest fol­low­ing the char­ter vote de­lay.

He slammed the de­lay, say­ing this shows gov­ern­ment MPs and sen­a­tors lacked sin­cer­ity and turned a blind eye to de­mands from the peo­ple.

“The pro­cras­ti­na­tion is de­plorable,” Mr Tat­tep said. “We have been fight­ing for two months be­cause we want a new con­sti­tu­tion.”

“We did not ex­pect it to turn out this way,” he added. “We hoped the meet­ing voted to ac­cept [the bills] so it would be a first step to­ward a new con­sti­tu­tion.”

He went on to say that the cur­rent con­flict could be solved in a peace­ful man­ner through par­lia­men­tary mech­a­nisms.

But now, the group has been left with no op­tions, but to take their fight to the streets, Mr Tat­tep said.

“We will carry on with the rally in Oc­to­ber. Protest lead­ers will dis­cuss prepa­ra­tions soon. We want to ratchet up as much pres­sure as pos­si­ble, and we be­lieve the protests will also ex­pand to other prov­inces,” he said.

“The Oct 14 rally is ex­pected to draw many more peo­ple than the Sept 19 rally,” Mr Tat­tep said.

How­ever, Mr Tat­tep said that the group will stick to the three orig­i­nal de­mands, as well as their stance against the for­ma­tion of a na­tional unity gov­ern­ment and against any coup.

Mr Parit, co-leader of the UFTD, also said his group will step up their protest on Oct 14 and will con­tinue to push for their de­mands, in­clud­ing calls for the monar­chy to be re­formed.

 ??  ?? DIS­CUSSING POL­I­TICS: FPG leader Tat­tep Ruang­pra­paik­it­seree, sec­ond from right, speaks to at­ten­dees at a fo­rum ti­tled ‘Youths and Pol­i­tics’ at the Oc­to­ber 14 Mon­u­ment at the Khok Wua in­ter­sec­tion on Ratchadam­noen Klang Av­enue yes­ter­day.
DIS­CUSSING POL­I­TICS: FPG leader Tat­tep Ruang­pra­paik­it­seree, sec­ond from right, speaks to at­ten­dees at a fo­rum ti­tled ‘Youths and Pol­i­tics’ at the Oc­to­ber 14 Mon­u­ment at the Khok Wua in­ter­sec­tion on Ratchadam­noen Klang Av­enue yes­ter­day.

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