Overestimating Pitak Siam's power

Overestimating Pitak Siam's power

I couldn't agree more with Korkaew Pikulthong's objection to the proposed use of the Internal Security Act (ISA)in parts of Bangkok to deal with the Pitak Siam-initiated anti-government rally scheduled to take place this Saturday at the Royal Plaza.

Sqn Ldr Prasong Soonsiri, former secretary-general of the National Security Council, and Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit, core organiser of the anti-government Pitak Siam rally. Red shirts are mobilising supporters to hold opposing rallies to coincide with Pitak Siam's next protest on Nov 24 at the Royal Plaza. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

The Pheu Thai list MP said the special law would paint the government in a negative light in the same way it did with the previous Democrat-led government's decision to invoke the law to deal with the red-shirt protest at Ratchaprasong shopping centre two years ago.

He suggested the government should wait and only invoke the special law when the situation warrants it.

Mr Korkaew said he felt the government had overestimated the clout of Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit, head of the Pitak Siam group.

If the government is so scared of the retired general, he suggested that it should file treason charges against him and hold him in custody.

The national police chief, Pol Gen Adul Saengsingkaew, who is in charge of crowd control, will ask the cabinet on Tuesday to invoke the ISA, reportedly to pre-empt violence allegedly being planned by "third-hand" elements.

But military chiefs have reservations about invoking the special law ahead of the rally.

Gen Boonlert was literally unknown among people outside the Royal Turf Club circle until he staged his first anti-government rally at the Royal Turf Club on Oct 28 which was attended by about 20,000 people, mostly members of the Santi Asoke sect, followers of the People's Alliance for Democracy and the multi-coloured group led by Dr Tul Sitthisomwong.

Even the government was caught off-guard by the unexpectedly high turnout.

The same groups of people and several other anti-Thaksin groups are expected to join the forthcoming rally at the Royal Plaza.

But there is no way that Gen Boonlert, also known as Seh Ai, will be able to mobilise the on million participants that he has targetted. If he can muster just one-tenth of that figure, it will indeed be a great achievement.

The only real threat from the retired general seems to be his words rather than his actions.

He said that the Nov 24 rally would be a "do or die" one-shot showdown, which means he will pack up and disappear if the protest fails to force the government to resign or collapse.

But the most nonsensical thing about his political utterances is his call for democratic rule to be put in the deep-freeze for five years during which Thailand will be governed by an appointed government comprising people well known for their honesty and integrity.

The remark itself is self-defeating and self-destructive as it goes against the very basis of democracy.

It sounds like a message from someone completely lost in a fantasy world, not someone who is leading tens of thousands people in a political struggle.

Whether Gen Boonlert is deadly serious about his hardline talk of overthrowing the government while insisting that the protest will be peaceful and about his dream of "freezing" democratic rule for five years or whether he is just bluffing remains to be seen.

But my guess is that he is just bluffing and this has been the weak point of Pitak Siam, which the government is making capital out of. A smear campaign has been launched by the government camp against the retired general as well as the Pitak Siam group.

Allegations of a six-billion-baht fund being pooled by an unidentified business group to finance Pitak Siam's alleged attempt to overthrow the government is part of the smear campaign.

The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship has also joined in the smear campaign by putting their followers on alert just in case the protest descends into chaos and is followed by a coup as earlier called for by Gen Boonlert. Red-shirt followers will gather in Bangkok's neighbouring provinces on the same day Pitak Siam stages its rally at the Royal Plaza.

The rhetoric from the two opposing sides - not the rally itself - seems to have unnerved the business community. They have called for restraint which, unfortunately, will likely fall on deaf ears as both sides are gearing up for a confrontation which, I believe, will be short-lived and will be over in one or two days once the protest leaders have taken to the stage to verbally vent their frustrations against the government.

Veera Prateepchaikul is a 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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