With the decision to round up the leaders of anti-dictatorship activists who occupied areas surrounding the Democracy Monument ahead of today's planned rally, the police may have hoped to prevent a face-off between the protesters and right-wing extremists.
Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, aka Pai Daodin, was among those arrested after a brief fracas yesterday. Local media reported they were detained at the Border Patrol Police Office Region One in Pathum Thani, not the nearby Samran Rat police station. Understandably, police intended to keep the activists who are pressing for monarchy reforms away from the rally site located along part of today's royal motorcade route.
Leaders of right-wing groups who pledged to turn up today to show their loyalty to the monarchy are Warong Dechgitvigrom, Suwit Thongprasert and Suthep Thaugsuban, former People's Democratic Reform Committee leaders, and Dr Rienthong Naenna. A look at their planned venues gives the impression that they were planning a confrontation with the anti-dictatorship group, a provocation that risked violence. At press time, the remaining activists were rallying at the Royal Thai Police headquarters near Ratchaprasong intersection, demanding the release of Jatupat et al. There are worries the situation will spiral out of control as some hardcore activists may challenge the authorities.
Obviously, the situation left police with little choice. But they may not get the outcome they wish for, given the resulting rise in tensions.
What the country is facing today tells us how much of a sham the six years of peace and order under the military regime was. Reconciliation and unity, as touted by Prayut Chan-o-cha when he seized power in 2014, are nowhere to be seen. A longer stay in power, a reversal of promises made by of Gen Prayut and his brothers in arms, achieved through the contentious 2017 constitution that was drafted by a military-appointed panel, has only intensified conflicts, particularly when independent agencies have practised double standards against any parties deemed to be Gen Prayut's political enemies.
At the same time, it's evident he can do little about the glaring corruption under his nose, while nepotism has become the name of the game.
Worse, inequality has deepened under his bureaucratic rule.
It's unfortunate that Prime Minister Prayut has no sincerity in fixing the problem that he is very much a part of.
The charter amendment delaying tactic during a House motion late last month by forming a panel to study charter drafts, led to a political dead-end and prompted student activists to take politics to the streets. As Covid-19 wreaks havoc on the country's economy, what the government needs now is stability and confidence. Yet mounting political tension will now certainly plunge the country into instability as public confidence wanes.
If violence erupts, Gen Prayut and his government cannot escape responsibility.
As tensions escalate, attempts by any party to draw the monarchy into politics for whatever reason should be condemned. Those parties should know that what they are doing will do more harm that good to the high institution.
In principle, an open and healthy discussion about the monarchy, and some oppressive laws like the lese majeste law should be acceptable. Such discussions would benefit the institution. But, there is no room for vulgarity.