Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit

This year the spotlight on the anti-government movement shifted from the languishing People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) to one man.

Pitak Siam group founder Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit emerged as the new leader of an anti-government movement, although his latest rally on Nov 24 failed to make an impact.

As the yellow-shirt PAD weakened, Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit emerged onto the scene and rapidly gained prominence as the new, anti-government front man of the Pitak Siam group.

Despite initial disparagement from many quarters, Pitak Siam (Protect Siam) managed to attract 20,000 people to its inaugural gathering at the Royal Turf Club on Oct 28.

The group succeeded in mustering a visible force against the government, which really took notice when Pitak Siam announced its second rally on Nov 24 at the Royal Plaza.

The government subsequently invoked the Internal Security Act to enforce tight security around the rally site. The demonstration ended after only eight hours, much sooner than anticipated, after some of the protesters were tear-gassed and Gen Boonlert, better known as Seh Ai, called off the rally.

''If the rally continues, there is a risk that demonstrators will lose their lives,'' he said. ''I don't wish to have power over the blood and corpses.''

The general admitted he was disappointed the army did not leave their barracks and help protect the protesters.

While Gen Boonlert has insisted that Pitak Siam is not an offshoot of the PAD, many of the numerous Pitak Siam-affiliated organisations have connections to the PAD network.

The retired general burst onto the stage as the new movement leader, standing against ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra amid a perceived decline of amataya (conservative establishment) influence, which he wanted to prevent. Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda, viewed by some as the amataya patriarch, had been mingling with government people at functions.

The time ripened for the anti-government movement to secure vigorous leadership, and Gen Boonlert took the opportunity.

Despite the failure of the second rally on Nov 24, Gen Boonlert is the right fit for the role of movement leader. He served as president of the Class 1 alumni of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School; the alumni count many anti-Thaksin top brass among its ranks.

Gen Boonlert is also secretary-general of the Royal Turf Club, the venue of Pitak Siam's first gathering, and he has the might and the means to drive the movement.

''I'm neither part of the PAD nor a yellow shirt,'' he said. ''You could say I'm green because I'm an old soldier and will be till the day I die.''

He said he is a royal guard who has vowed to protect the monarchy with his life.

Seh Ai remains poised to resume anti-government activities, although these may not necessarily take the form of rallies.

''Rallies won't topple the government,'' he said. ''Only a coup can.''

''I have hope in army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha,'' Gen Boonlert added.

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About the author

Writer: Wassana Nanuam
Position: Reporter