Clashes averted at opposing election rallies

Clashes averted at opposing election rallies

A group calling itself Unity Before Election (left) gathers at Democracy Monument, where pro-election activists had originally intended to meet on Saturday. Instead they gathered at Thammasat University (right). (Photos from Facebook@Thapanee Ietsrichai and Facebook@ประชาธิปไตยศึกษา V2)
A group calling itself Unity Before Election (left) gathers at Democracy Monument, where pro-election activists had originally intended to meet on Saturday. Instead they gathered at Thammasat University (right). (Photos from Facebook@Thapanee Ietsrichai and Facebook@ประชาธิปไตยศึกษา V2)

Pro-election activists hastily rescheduled a planned rally on Saturday and moved to another venue after a group that disagrees with their tactics descended on the original site. Both events ended up taking place without incident.

The pro-election group, which wants all election-related procedures to be completed by May 9, earlier announced plans to gather in front of the McDonald’s restaurant near Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue at 3pm on Saturday.

But on Friday, the student council of Ramkhamhaeng University issued a statement urging the group to stop its activities. It said no one should be trying to stir unrest as the country was about to witness a very important royal ceremony — the coronation of His Majesty the King — from May 4-6.

Besides, it said, the royal decree was the prerogative of His Majesty the King and it was highly inappropriate for anyone to demand to know when the decree would be issued.

The royal decree calling the election must be published before the Election Commission can set the date for the poll.

It was earlier expected that voters would go to the polls on Feb 24 but that is no longer possible. The EC has been considering other dates in March, while Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has said he believes March 24 would be a good choice. 

“We urge all people who disagree with the pro-election group to make their voices heard through any channel so peace and order prevail in this very important year,” the Ramkhamhaeng student council statement said. 

A Facebook page called “Unity Before Election”, with the motto “No peace, no election. Join us to show your force and stop unrest” was also created on Wednesday by an unknown person. It urged people to show their power to stop “unrest” by assembling in front of Sorn Daeng restaurant, a few metres away from Democracy Monument. 

That prompted the pro-election group to move their planned rally to Thammarat University and delay it until 5pm Saturday.

Nuttaa Mahuttana, a leader of the pro-election group, had written on Facebook earlier that she would not go to Democracy Monument because she feared clashes and lacked “the potential to guarantee safety for the demonstrators”.

Sirawith Seritiwat, another leader of the same group, also stressed the need to avoid possible violence. “It’s pretty clear this is a ploy to create a condition for a delay to the election,” he said.

He said he did not mind another group having a different view so long as the protests were held in separate places, and he questioned whether some security units were behind it.

At the rally at Thammasat, Mr Sirawith said his group would meet again next Saturday if the royal decree did not come out by Thursday.

Mr Wissanu has said he expects the decree to be published in the Royal Gazette next week.

The Unity before Election group, meanwhile, drew 50 people to Democracy Monument. Pansuwan Na Kaew, its leader, said his group also wanted the election to take place and did not want a confrontation. It issued a statement urging patience and an end to all activities that could disrupt both the election and the coronation.

Mr Pansuwan is a former leader of a faction supporting the People's Democratic Reform Committee, which led street protests that culminated in the military coup and ouster of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014.

The Unity before Election group gathers at Democracy Monument on Saturday.

The pro-election group moves to Thammasat University.

Video clips from Facebook@Thapanee Ietsrichai


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