PDRC jailings reveal Ratsadorn's fate

PDRC jailings reveal Ratsadorn's fate

Protesters display a banner outside the Criminal Court in Bangkok on Wednesday, during a demonstration calling for the release of pro-democracy activists held under lese majeste royal defamation laws. (Photo: AFP)
Protesters display a banner outside the Criminal Court in Bangkok on Wednesday, during a demonstration calling for the release of pro-democracy activists held under lese majeste royal defamation laws. (Photo: AFP)

On the one hand, the Criminal Court's verdict on Wednesday, which threw core figures of the now-defunct People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) in jail for their role in the 2013-2014 protests, means a cabinet reshuffle is on the way. Particularly for the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), the ruling is a political windfall for the faction led by Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon who can now tighten his grip on the ruling party.

On the other hand, the harsh verdict sent a strong message to the pro-democracy Ratsadorn group that their mission -- demanding reforms of the monarchy and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha -- might land them in similar trouble.

Although this court verdict can be appealed, it came as a shock given the strong connections between PDRC key figure Suthep Thaugsuban and Gen Prayut. It is an open secret that the group invited the military into politics.

The fate of the PDRC heavyweights, despite their political prowess, is a surprise even to their rivals, such as members of pro-Thaksin Shinawatra groups.

Even PDRC members must find it hard to believe that their role in overthrowing the Yingluck government over the shameful amnesty in 2013 would land them in prison. They were jailed on a range of charges, including insurrection, criminal association, illegal assembly and obstructing others from casting votes.

Of the 26 PDRC leaders and associates, three facing jail terms are Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta (seven years), Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan (seven years and four months), both from the ruling PPRP, and Deputy Transport Minister Thaworn Senneam, from the Democrat Party (five years).

The convictions have cost them their cabinet posts. Mr Nathapol, whose political rights were revoked automatically, lost his MP status, together with five other people, including his wife, Taya, who previously declared herself as a candidate for the upcoming Bangkok governor election.

Mr Suthep was sentenced to five years; Chumpol Julasai, a Democrat MP for Chumphon, 11 years; and Democrat list-MP Isara Somchai, eight years and four months.

The ruling proves that the relationship with the powers-that-be that they used to enjoy is no longer intact. After the verdict was issued, the phrase set na kaa ko thuek, set suek kaa khunpon, meaning once the job is done, those on duty become useless and can be got rid of, resonated on social media. Such a message also seems to apply to the Ratsadorn group -- and they should learn from the lesson given to the PDRC.

In fact, jail terms have been handed down to all those involved in street politics, no matter what colour they were associated with. Yellow-shirt leaders, once considered elite mobsters, who spearheaded the campaign against Thaksin in the early 2000s, also found themselves in jail over the seizure of Government House, NBT station and other state offices. The court ordered them to jointly pay 522 million baht in compensation for seizing and occupying Suvarnabhumi airport, while criminal charges are being considered.

The 12 red-shirt leaders who protested in 2010 against the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration were consigned to a similar fate. The Supreme Court handed down four-year jail terms to those involved in the Asean summit fiasco; two year and eight month terms for the chaos in front of the residence of Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, then president of the Privy Council, and two- to 33-year terms for the arson at Ubon Ratchathani provincial hall. The Criminal Court, however, acquitted the defendants of treason and terrorism charges for the attack at Kok Wua intersection that killed Gen Romklao Thuwatham, an officer who, with his unit, tried to retake the area from protesters.

Over the past decades, the country has been trapped in a cycle of political conflict, leading to many deaths and injuries, as polarisation has deepened. Some protest leaders have been jailed; others sought exile abroad. Quite a few repented for what they had done, which inadvertently paved the way for Ta Yoo, a fictitious figure who as an opportunist reaps ill-gotten benefits from disputes, to cling on to power unjustifiably.

And now there seems there will be no end to the political conflict now the Ratsadorn group has emerged with their ambitious goals.

However, the Ratsadorn group could face the same -- or an even more serious fate. Nearly 100 have been charged with Section 112 and Section 116 for sedition while some have been accused of aiming to hurt Her Majesty the Queen, a crime under Section 110. All of these charges carry heavy penalties.

The movement has experienced its own crisis. Four key leaders, including Parit Chiwarak and Arnon Nampa, have been detained after the court turned down their bail requests for the fourth time, citing concerns over repeat offences. More are to be charged.

There are also reports of an internal rift between its young leaders. Some have apparently resorted to mud-slinging tactics against each other. Even if they try to blame a third party, the debacle has weakened the movement and after a vigorous start with many thousand young people attending their rallies, the number of demonstrators declined precipitously following a series of violent episodes.

Not to mention the fact that they implemented the wrong strategy by solely targeting reforms of the high institution, instead of attacking Gen Prayut and his flaws in running the country.

With their power wilting, the movement has lost its bargaining strength. That's why the demand for bail for the four leaders has been denied, unlike previous times.

Whether or not the young people can once again gather in large numbers depends on whether the government makes a mistake. In short, this may happen only if the government shoots itself in the foot.

Will the pro-democracy movement come to an end? What will their fate be after this difficult time? They will likely have to undergo legal troubles just like the former PDRC members. The young fighters will eventually have to swallow the bitter pill that only charter amendment can be achieved.

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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