Protest is a citizen's right
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Protest is a citizen's right

The political parties have done the right thing to turn down an invitation to directly join activists who are currently calling for an election by November. To use a sport metaphor, the groups do not play in the same division. It may be true that politicians and demonstrators share one narrow goal. But both the protest groups and the political parties have many other aims and policies, most of which do not align.

Political party members should work to support the civil rights of all groups to express their opinions peacefully. The government, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and the police should be guaranteeing those rights, rather than harassing and arresting demonstrators. The constitution states that emphatically.

At the same time, one cannot deny that the major points made by the activists, on and off the street, can fairly be described as "anti-government". The demonstrators call unfailingly for the coup regime to resign and for the military to return to the barracks. They also challenge politicians to "choose between the people and the military".

The activists' frustration stemmed fundamentally from ongoing delay to the election and some unhealthy signs that the military will stay longer in politics, including the installation of appointed senators, with representatives from the top brass, and the chance of a non-elected prime minister.

The activist groups meeting and demonstrating these past few weeks in Bangkok and their alliance in the Northeast in the "People Go Network" campaign have narrowed their campaigns into a simple call for an election by the end of November, as previously promised by the regime. Worth mentioning is the attempts of those on the Bangkok-Khon Kaen march who incorporated key policy issues including universal health care, rights to natural resources, and food safety that the regime has yet to deliver into their movement which has gathered steam.

The regime's position, specifically outlined two weeks ago by the NCPO chief, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, is that the country is not ready for an election, that it remains divided and only the ban on political activities is keeping factions from each other's throats. The premier denied that his military regime is trying to extend its time in power. That is, however, what election delays achieve.

The activists and political parties, at best, share this current common goal, but not a common cause. As former Pheu Thai Party MP Somkid Chueakhong put it, politicians openly aligning with demonstrators risk being labelled as sponsors. This is bad for the politicians, but would end up as a tragedy for activists. Civil society at every level must work to stay independent from governments and from professional politicians -- even when their aims occasionally coincide. But it has to make sure that, on a long-term basis, political parties will accept its policy issues.

So far as political parties, Gen Prayut knows well that they have followed the instructions of the regime to the letter for almost four years. But they, too, have called on the government to press the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to take responsibility and prepare the needed laws for an election. Thus far, Gen Prayut has refused to use his formidable powers of the bully pulpit towards this goal.

This is a major challenge for the regime. While threatening to use the power to suppress the civic movement which it said "breaks the law", the regime finds itself in difficult situation and it should not underestimate the people's power. Harsh measures will make things worse.

The self-styled, 10-member New Democracy Group of activists led by Sirawith "Ja New" Seritiwat is to hold another protest on Saturday afternoon at the Tha Phra Chan campus of Thammasat University. Political parties will not be present. Government and police, however, should assure the safety of all such peaceful demonstrations.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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