Impatience costs protest leaders dear

Impatience costs protest leaders dear

A Nov 14 picture shows young protesters holding up a banner during a demonstration in Bangkok after a court ruling saw their leaders jailed. AFP
A Nov 14 picture shows young protesters holding up a banner during a demonstration in Bangkok after a court ruling saw their leaders jailed. AFP

Two remanded anti-establishment Ratsadon protest leaders, Panusaya "Rung" Sitthijirawattanakul and Benja Apan, wrote a letter on Friday pleading with the court to grant them bail.

They said they have never thought of escaping, interfering with evidence or causing trouble. They asked the court why many people, including artists, MPs and human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have demanded their release while the court considers them as a threat to national security.

The young students appear to have missed the point about why the court has rejected their bail requests. It is not because they have interfered with evidence or because they may escape. It is because they broke the conditions of their release by repeating the same offences in defiance of the law and the court's order.

Their claim that many people are demanding their release is not a reason to justify the court granting them bail.

Besides Ms Panusaya and Ms Benja, other key protest leaders such as Anon Nampa, Parit "Penguin" Chivarak, Panupong "Mike" Jadnok and Chatupat Boonpatthararaksa, alias Pai Daodin, are also in prison with a slim chance of being granted bail as all have several more lese majeste cases pending with police or public prosecutors. Mr Parit, for instance, has more than 20 cases.

Without these crowd-pulling leaders, the anti-establishment movement is weakening, and its recent leaderless protests have drawn fewer participants.

Even the protest at Ratchaprasong intersection in the aftermath of the Constitutional Court's ruling on Nov 10, which called for reform of the monarchy, just a few thousand participants.

Internal conflict over public donations among key members of the movement adds salt to the wounds. Last week's drama on social media between movie director Yuthlert "Tom" Sippapark and Ratchanok "Ice" Srinapa, both followers of the anti-establishment movement, has cast the movement in a negative light.

Ratchanok claimed she was slapped on the face and kicked by Yuthlert after she queried him about public donations to shoot a film about democracy. The director denied assaulting her but admitted to a quarrel.

The incident drew several other movement followers to add to the criticism of Yuthlert and question his lack of transparency about donations.

Among them was Pakorn "Bung" Pornchivangkoon, a key supporter of the movement who arranged logistic support for protesters.

But Mr Pakorn and his co-partner, former movie star Sai Charoenpura, reputed as the "godmother" of the protesters, have reportedly been alienated by other protest leaders over their handling of donations.

Mr Pakorn has consistently refused to divulge any details about the incomings and outgoings of the accounts dealing with the donation money, or even say how much is left.

Another protest leader of the Free Youth group, Tatthep "Ford" Ruangprapaikitseri, was implicated in a similar donation scandal after he quit the movement and has not been seen in public since April.

He was charged with lese majeste, and the court issued an arrest warrant for him after he failed to show up to report to prosecutors.

Money talks. And money corrupts too. The scent of money is sweet, powerful and irresistible to most people.

Who would have imagined that some individuals who appear so idealistic, and so committed to the democratic cause and reform of the monarchy, would find themselves accused of having fallen prey to the scent of money?

In hindsight, the movement has never had mass public support simply because it has never reached out to the masses, to connect with them or address their problems or grievances, even at a time when many were hit hard by the pandemic and economic difficulties.

That explains why their calls for reform of the monarchy lack broader support than just several university professors, foreign NGOs, foreign diplomats, some parties and some media who prefer to stay in the shadows.

When many people are without jobs, regular income to feed their families and feel bereft of hope, why would they care about the movement's demand?

At least, Sombat Boon-ngarm-anong, leader of the "car mob" protesters, and former red-shirt leader Natthawut Saikua are smart and realistic.

Mr Sombat reportedly said that both Mr Natthawut and he concurred that, under the present circumstances, it is difficult for them to carry on with their protests.

"To lose patience is to lose battle", so said Mahatma Gandhi. Unfortunately, most young protest leaders do not have the patience.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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