Rally had little chance of success

PITAK SIAM WAS SIMPLY OUT-GUNNED BY CHALERM

Pitak Siam's much-publicised rally to oust the Yingluck administration was a battle of political wills that ended with the government's offensive coming out on top.

The principal characters in what looked to be a new round of politically charged street protests were Pitak Siam leader Boonlert Kaewprasit and Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung.

To try to gain the ascendancy in the build up to the rally, Gen Boonlert looked to other retired military officers, academics and business leaders for support.

Mr Chalerm, conversely, took a more practical path and brought in heavier firepower by naming national police chief Adul Saengsingkaew as director of the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order.

Yesterday's rally drew about 20,000 people, a far cry from the ambitious target of 1 million originally set by the Pitak Siam leader _ a target many considered a pipe-dream.

There was also a noticeable absence of high-profile speakers and strategists to respond to arising situations and direct the protesters.

More importantly, the government-controlled police force used checkpoints to prevent many demonstrators from across the city and the provinces from reaching the Royal Plaza.

With considerable precision, the police took complete control of the strategic Makkhawan Bridge, holding the demonstrators at bay and stifling any attempts to spread the rally to other areas.

On the propaganda front, key government figures and red shirt leaders worked in tandem, spreading word of a likely fear of violence and a military coup to justify the enforcement of the Internal Security Act.

Pitak Siam could be said to have scored an own goal as its leadership seemed to splinter and was unable to call upon those demonstrators who were blocked.

One faction wanted a head-on collision with police while more moderate heads like Gen Boonlert, who had pinned his hopes on a rally of significant proportions, backed away from confrontation.

Then what was intended to be a highlight of the rally _ video clips showing red shirts and government figures offending the monarchy _ failed to deliver the impact needed to maintain momentum.

"It was so unpredictable as to how the rally would proceed. And when demonstrators were blocked, it was impossible for it to move ahead," said one observer.

The rally petered out soon after Gen Boonlert addressed the crowd and asked them to go home for their own safety. But it was a lost cause already. Some observers do not regard Pitak Siam as being defeated. Phumrat Thaksadipong, former chief of the National Intelligence Agency, said the protest reflected the rise of another strong civic movement besides the red shirts.

"It is something of a success. A lot of people turned out even though the national reconciliation and constitution amendment bills have yet to be passed," he said.

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Writer: Nauvarat Suksamran & King-Oua Laohong