Maybe pause for reflection is needed?

Maybe pause for reflection is needed?

In this file photo, human rights lawyer Arnon Nampha addresses anti-government protesters during a rally at Lat Phrao. (Bangkok Post photo)
In this file photo, human rights lawyer Arnon Nampha addresses anti-government protesters during a rally at Lat Phrao. (Bangkok Post photo)

The temporary break in the political rallies announced by firebrand protest leader Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak may give the impression that the pro-reform Khana Ratsadon movement is waning.

Mr Parit said there will be no further rallies between now and next year to give protesters a chance to regroup and prepare.

The announcement comes following a decline in attendances at events held over the past two months, in stark contrast to their peak in September and October, which saw thousands enthusiastically flocking to each venue.

Some people may jump to the conclusion that the protesters have thrown in the towel and the Prayut Chan-o-cha government can start clinking their champagne glasses. I wouldn't bet on things wrapping up quite so tidily, however.

Although the movement has become inactive physically, the young demonstrators are still sticking to their three-point manifesto of demands -- Gen Prayut's resignation, charter amendment and monarchy reform. Of the three, only early steps towards rewriting the constitution have been made, while the other two remain parked with the nation's current leaders very much a part of the status quo they have been told to dismantle.

Most of those joining the rallies loathe the military regime and Gen Prayut who has stayed in power for almost seven years. But after a series of events without major progress, some may have been disheartened.

It's generally understood that a civic movement alone cannot topple a sitting government. Just look at the previous colour-coded rallies that lasted for months without a change in national politics. It needs either the helping hand of the military or an incident in which government action, such as a violent crackdown, sparks chaos and the loss of its legitimacy.

The Prayut government was made well aware of this after police sprayed high-pressure water tainted with chemicals over peaceful protesters at Pathumwan intersection and public support immediately veered in the direction of the young victims. Restraint has been the order of the day ever since.

It must be admitted that demands for the reform of the monarchy are perhaps too ambitious at this stage and a hard sell to the wider population. Even in parliament, only the Move Forward Party has endorsed this demand while Pheu Thai gave a firm "no'' from the beginning. Without political support, there is no way for the process to take shape. And an aggressive tone and insult-ridden invectives against the institution have not succeeded in changing the minds of enough of the those who inhabit "middle Thailand", the demographic whose support they need most.

The consequences of focusing on the royal family were forewarned when the rally at Sanam Luang on Sept 19, just after the pro-democracy movement had gained steam, drew a smaller crowd than expected. It was this event that prominent protest figures began focusing particularly strongly on the monarchy at the expense of gaining further popular currency by sticking to criticism of Gen Prayut.

The movement is also presently experiencing a headache brought on by bickering between its security guards, volunteers from different vocational colleges, that resulted in a shooting at the end of the Nov 25 rally in front of Siam Commercial Bank's headquarters. Mr Parit has had to dissolve the security unit entirely and bring in professional help.

The present flat structure has led to a lack of clarity as protest leaders from the various factions that make up the group as a whole are left to disseminate contradictory information unchecked.

The latest development was the "Republic of Thailand'' proposal by the Free Youth group which displayed a hammer and a sickle on its website and presented communism as a viable option for Thailand. The proposal drew criticism and turned some supporters against the movement as communism is perceived by many to be little different in practice to the dictatorship they hope to overthrow.

While some core leaders denied the republic idea was the work of the Khana Ratsadon, the question remains as to what their real goal is -- a new political system or the total overhaul of the monarchy. The RT logo coincided with the hashtag #RepublicofThailand which trended top on Thai Twitter at the end of September.

Even though the movement may appear to be waning, it's indisputable that it has gained ground since its campaign started, especially given that it forced the government, despite its supportive Senate, to at least begin the process of rewriting a charter that it once dubbed "unamendable".

More importantly, the movement has made some taboo issues like reform of the monarchy acceptable subjects to discuss in public forums and even in TV debate programmes. This would have been thinkable before.

Lest we forget, next year will see a swath of political challenges that will pave the way back for the movement. Not to mention that the use of contentious Section 112 against almost 30 activists, many of whom are young students, in a bid to silence them, could backfire. Legal measures may not always squash the need for reform.

Let's just say the movement is taking a tactically expedient break until there are justifiable grounds to ramp up activities once more when the charter change process kicks off.

And there's always that old adage about giving someone enough rope to hang themselves. With its gaffe-prone tendencies, the students may be wise to leave the Prayut administration to its own devices for a couple of months.

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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