Dialogue vital to find peace
With the declaration of the state of emergency, the confrontation between Prayut Chan-o-cha and the anti-dictatorship activists has overwhelmingly intensified, and once again the country has plunged into division.
The Prayut government needs to handle the situation carefully, or the confrontation may well turn violent.
Several thousand protesters on Thursday defied the emergency decree, and gathered in force at Ratchaprasong intersection -- the battlefield between the red-shirt demonstrators and Abhisit Vejjajiva 10 years ago.
Flashing the three-finger salute against dictatorship, protesters demanded the release of key activist leaders who were arrested during a pre-dawn crackdown at Government House and thereafter. Rounded up are human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa, Parit Chiwarak, and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul. The wanted list is expanding. The crackdown on peaceful demonstrators and the hunting down and arrest of activist leaders prompted condemnation from local and international rights advocacy groups.
With the escalating conflict, the way out is unforeseeable. Except for the charter amendment, the government cannot respond to the protesters' demands for the PM to resign and reform the monarchy.
In fact, it's up to the Prayut government whether to contain, and not extend, the confrontation, otherwise the country will go deeper into crisis like in the past.
Under such circumstances, it's better for the government and authorities to proceed with flexibility, not rigidly and excessively enforcing the oppressive laws, only to expand arrests. After all, they must bear in mind that the Oct 14 rally was peaceful and the protest leaders were unarmed.
On the contrary, it's the state authorities that acted in a suspicious way when many people, wearing yellow shirts branding themselves as royalists, infiltrated the crowds. They were led by Suthep Thaugsuban, Warong Dechgitvigrom, and Suwit Thongprasert -- all of them key leaders of the now-defunct People's Democratic Reform Committee. This raises a question about neutrality, and the presence of those officials was interpreted as provocative to the activists. There were attempts to twist the activists' demands regarding the high institution.
Even more worrisome, Rienthong Naenna, leader of another extreme royalist group, declared he is mobilising people from the provinces to Bangkok.
The declaration of the state of emergency, which is to be approved by the cabinet today, in effect enables the state to ban gatherings of five or more people and allows for the arrest of anyone violating the rules. It also bans reporting and publication of news that could "harm national security" and "cause panic" and other restrictions. The use of this special law is tantamount to another "silent coup" in the capital city. This decree, which stipulates the special powers of state authorities, ie five-day detention, infringes upon people's rights and freedoms, a condition that will fuel anger -- and contention will surge.
There are concerns the Progressive Movement Group may join hands with the activists, leading the street protest. With its vast political base, the altercation will become complicated and keep going.
The government, particularly Gen Prayut, should learn from past lessons. He should seriously consider a petition by leading academics from various institutes that the government set up a dialogue with those activists and discuss the matter, with the hope that differences can be settled in a constructive way.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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