Protesters must show more maturity

Protesters must show more maturity

Student activist Parit Chiwarak, centre, speaks at a press conference ahead of next Saturday's rally planned for Thammasat University's Tha Prachan campus. Wichan Charoenkiatpakul
Student activist Parit Chiwarak, centre, speaks at a press conference ahead of next Saturday's rally planned for Thammasat University's Tha Prachan campus. Wichan Charoenkiatpakul

All eyes will focus on the protest this Saturday by anti-dictatorship students, albeit with a sense of uneasiness about whether the protest will be peaceful or whether it will lead to violence.

Those who will join the protest, I believe, are peace-loving although what they are demanding, such as the 10-point manifesto for the reform of the monarchy, is considered provocative by hard-core royalists.

At the time that this article was written, it was still in question whether the Thammasat University's Tha Prachan campus will be used as the venue of the protest after the university administrators forbade its use by the Thammasat Alliance Group as the latter is yet to agree to comply with the set of guidelines imposed by the university.

Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak, the outspoken student leader, has vowed to press ahead to use the campus ground for the protest. But what will he do if all the entrances to the university are shut and padlocked? Will he incite the crowd to break into the compound?

After the Aug 10 protest at the university's Rangsit campus, during which the 10-point manifesto was unveiled by a student leader, university administrators are reluctant to allow a repeat of such an incident, which has seen them fiercely criticised by royalists.

Thammasat University's Tha Prachan campus is symbolic as far as the struggle for democracy is concerned. It was the venue of two historic political events -- the Oct 14 student-led uprising in 1973 which led to the overthrow of the Thanom-Praphas-Narong dictatorship, and the Oct 6 massacre in 1976 which symbolises the brutal crackdown on the student movement.

And Sept 19 marks the 14th anniversary of the putsch that toppled the government of then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ending just over a decade of military-free politics.

Just as the three-finger salute is a symbol of rebellion, the timing and the site of the upcoming protest are of symbolic significance. Which explains why Mr Parit and his likes are so determined to use the campus for their "fight" in which he arrogantly promised his followers victory and that they will not return home empty-handed.

The monarchy reform issue will be raised during this Saturday's protest a defiant Mr Parit has declared.

For him and those like him, constitutional amendments and harassment of protest leaders are of secondary importance. But to what extent will that the sensitive issue be referred to during the protest?

This will depend on the protest leaders, Mr Parit in particular. Honestly, I don't mean the issue cannot be discussed, but it should be done with restraint, bearing in mind that playing with fire means fingers get burned.

Then there is the question about the motive of moving the protest to Government House the following day.

My guess is that, if the crowd is big enough, they may occupy the grounds in front of Government House to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha -- the same demand made by several opposition MPs during the censure debate in parliament last week.

But this strategy will not work with Prime Minister Prayut if he does not bow to the pressure as his predecessor, then prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, did about six years ago when the People's Democratic Reform Committee, led by Suthep Thaugsuban, staged its "Bangkok Shutdown" protest with more than one million protesters at its peak to force her resignation.

In order for the protest to be sustained, organisers will need logistic support which requires funding.

It is doubtful that Mr Parit and the other protest leaders have the necessary funding as their abundance of guts and hotheadedness seem to outweigh their wisdom and sound judgement. In other words, the protesters themselves don't have the means to sustain the protest.

I do not believe the students will resort to violence although they may appear to be aggressive. But they need to be patient, be more considerate and more receptive to opposing views if they want their goal to be achieved -- even partially.

Reforms are a long and time-consuming process, especially the reform that they dream of. And I don't think it can be achieved through street protests, angry mobs or violence, but through constructive and mature dialogue.

It will, indeed, be a pity if their dream and aspirations are crushed.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.


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