Protests follow a predictable path
Din Daeng intersection has been transformed into a small battleground between crowd control police and hardcore protesters of the Talugas group for about a month.
Ever since the police on Aug 21 removed the shipping containers, which were used to block the outbound traffic lane of Vibhavadi Rangsit highway to prevent protesters from moving to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's residence in the compound of the First Infantry Regiment of the Royal Guards, the daily skirmishes have followed the same script.
The young protesters, many of them active or former vocational students, arrive at Din Daeng junction under the expressway on motorcycles between 5-6pm. Then an advance team heads for the Royal Thai Army Band Department and hurls projectiles, including firecrackers, ping pong bombs and flares across the wall. This provocative act will go on for a while until police respond with tear gas, forcing the protesters to retreat to Din Daeng junction.
An uneasy standoff follows, occasionally punctuated with more skirmishes until 9pm when the police begin to enforce the curfew at that hour while repeatedly warning the protesters to disperse. In most cases, their warnings are ignored and police move in, with force, to disperse the protesters, resulting in more clashes.
This pattern of violent protests by the hardcore Talugas protesters and the way the police have been handling the situation does not make any sense at all.
For the protesters, it is a hopeless and meaningless exercise that will earn the protesters more foes, particularly among the residents of Din Daeng apartments who have had many sleepless nights from the thuds of bombs and firecrackers. No wonder about 100 of them lodged a complaint to seek redress from police.
Some protesters went to Din Daeng junction just for the thrill of fighting with the police while still others said they wanted to get rid of the prime minister, but since they are not good speakers, their only way they could express themselves was to fight with the police and resort to violence.
Hence, used tires were burned on the road. CCTV cameras and traffic lights at the Din Daeng junction were smashed, police kiosks and an electrical panel of a water pump were torched.
Spikes were scattered on the underpass to deflate the tires of all passing cars. All in the name of a protest against Prime Minister Prayut, without a second thought about what any of those things have to do with him.
Boonlert Viksetpreecha of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Humanities at Thammasat University said during an online panel discussion on Saturday that the protests and the damage inflicted on public property at the protest site do not constitute a riot because the protesters have not destroyed private property.
The protesters merely vandalised property that symbolises state authority.
What a ridiculous comment from a professor! Does it mean that it is okay to destroy public property because it symbolises state authority?
Since when is violence legitimate when it is committed by protesters? Violence is violence whether it is committed by the police or the protesters.
Political polarisation in Thailand has divided Thais so much so that they may never see eye to eye on any political issue.
But hopefully the mutual distrust or hatred should not make them blind as to what is right or wrong.
The professor also said that if police do not stop their use of violence, the protests by the Talugas group will not end.
My question is will the Talugas protesters stop throwing bombs and vandalising public property if the police stop using teargas and rubber bullets?
For peace and order to be restored at Din Daeng junction or anywhere in Bangkok, both sides have to show restraint. Such gestures must be reciprocal.
The best way out is for the hardcore protests to toe the line of the anti-establishment Ratsadon group or the "car mob" protest groups whose protests have been peaceful and orderly although causing inconvenience to motorists.
Violent protests are a defeatist approach and will turn away potential supporters. Protest leaders should take a pause and brainstorm how to win the hearts of working class people in Bangkok, without whom they stand little chance of success.
Last but not least, they must be realistic and flexible in their demand for reforms, bearing in mind that there is no winner takes all in this political game.
Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.