Empty talk stokes unrest
The ongoing anti-government street protests which have, at times, turned violent are a testament to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's ultimate failure in fostering national reconciliation, a promise he made when overthrowing a democratically elected government back in 2014.
The protesters, obviously choosing to resume their protests this month to mark the first anniversary of the pro-democracy movement, have stepped up calls for Gen Prayut's resignation after a number of Covid-19 debacles that saw the pandemic worsen from April onward, with vaccine shortages hindering the goal of herd immunity that would ensure the country's recovery and resilience. Besides, these protesters simply loathe the way the prime minister and his coalition government have turned the charter rewrite process into a political charade with no sincere intention to resolve the contentious issue of the 250 junta-appointed senators.
More importantly, the show of supposed openness by the premier for dialogue with the pro-democracy movement and a solution through parliamentary means, with the formation of a reconciliation panel, cannot be deemed as anything but a farce. Gen Prayut did not have any serious intent to pursue reconciliation or make use of parliamentary means that could have averted violence and prevented political deadlock -- lessons those who take the reins of power in this country should have learnt long before the 2014 coup.
The confrontation between the protesters, who sought to march from the Victory Monument to the prime minister's residence at the First Infantry Regiment, and the riot control officers led to more than a few clashes that caused injuries on both sides. Worse, there are signs of more violence as the authorities have increasingly applied an iron-fist approach, with unreserved use of rubber bullets and tear gas. Most protesters were empty handed despite a small number letting off firecrackers and homemade bombs which the authorities cited as grounds for using excessive force to disperse the whole group.
All the protest core leaders, including Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul and Parit Chiwarak, who were granted bail a few months ago on condition that they would not hold any rallies and refrain from insulting the monarchy, have been thrown back into jail.
As both protesters and police officers continue to argue over where the blame lies for these shows of excessive force by riot control officers in the past few weeks, one such former trainer of riot police spoke out to criticise the current crowd control strategy.
Pol Lt Col Songsak Thititarnwat, a retired deputy superintendent of Phayao Provincial Police, released his own video clip urging the riot control officers to show more restraint and refrain from returning fire with rubber bullets that can cause serious injury, and instead look to reach a compromise where possible.
While the ex-trainer's logic may have been sound, it remains doubtful whether a government prone to giving police a free hand will pay heed.
Will such violent suppression help to rebuild peace? Absolutely not. The use of excessive force will only fuel anger and frustration and make lessen the likelihood of a solution through peaceful means.
Gen Prayut may argue he needs to focus on the pandemic but he cannot ignore the political problems as he is one of the main reasons they have come about in the first place.
The PM cannot solve the unrest unilaterally. But could make a start to solving them by keeping his promise to nurture reconciliation by ushering in a more inclusive format to the current charter change process.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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