Five held after calling for Prayut to quit

Five held after calling for Prayut to quit

Tanawat Wongchai (front row, left) and Parit Chiwarak (front row, second left) read an open letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at a Government House gate on Saturday before they were taken to a police station. (Photo from Facebook@ballbanofficial)
Tanawat Wongchai (front row, left) and Parit Chiwarak (front row, second left) read an open letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at a Government House gate on Saturday before they were taken to a police station. (Photo from Facebook@ballbanofficial)

Police have arrested five people who showed up at Government House to call for the prime minister to resign.

Thanawat Wongchai, a former president of the Chulalongkorn University Student Council, Parit Chiwarak, a political science student at Thammasat University, and three other pro-democracy activists tried to submit an open letter to Gen Prayut on Saturday.

The letter urged him to resign as prime minister and chief of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) now that the pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) has formally asked him to be its prime ministerial candidate in the March 24 general election.

The activists were responding to Gen Prayut’s challenge for anyone to dare oust him in an emotional briefing on Friday in which he defended his decision to hold on to both positions. He later apologised for his outburst.

The activists were greeted at Gate 4 by Pol Col Somyot Udomraksasap, superintendent of the Dusit police station, who explained to them that a radius of 50 metres around Government House was off-limits to demonstrators under the public assembly law.

Since Mr Parit posted a message online asking people to join him and did not inform police of the activity 24 hours in advance, he might be breaking the law, Pol Col Somyot told the group.

Mr Tanawat insisted on the right to read the open letter and moved to Gate 3. Police followed them.

There, Mr Tanawat and Mr Parit read the letter, which called Gen Prayut’s behaviour a risk to a free and fair election to the point it may no longer reflect the people’s will.

It urged him to resign as prime minister and NCPO chief as soon as he agrees to become the Palang Pracharath PM candidate.

Each party can name up to three prime ministerial candidates and all names must be submitted by Feb 8. Palang Pracharath has already named two other contenders: Deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak and Uttama Savanayana, the party leader and former industry minister. 

Mr Parit then hung dried chilies, salt and garlic on the fence of Government House, saying they were gifts to remind Gen Prayut that he should quit. Historically, the three ingredients were burned during a ritual to curse someone. 

Police then took the five to the Dusit station, where they were charged with violating Section 10 of the 2015 Public Assembly Act, punishable by a fine up to 10,000 baht.

Pressure has mounted for the premier to resign after it became clear he would consider PPRP’s offer.

On Friday, Gen Prayut gave five reasons why he did not have to quit even if he agreed to stand as a PM candidate.

He claimed that ever since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, there has been no law requiring a PM to resign ahead of an election and none has ever done so. He noted as well that leaders such as Xi Jinping and Barack Obama did not have to step aside when they were seeking another term. 

He also maintains that history also shown that whether a prime minister resigns or not has no bearing on the votes his party receives in an election.

He also expressed concern about who would be in charge of the preparations for the coronation of His Majesty the King in early May.

Critics say Gen Prayut should resign because he retains absolute power under Section 44 of the interim constitution over everyone, including the Election Commission.

More importantly, as the NCPO chief, he will have a major say in the appointment of all 250 senators after the election takes place. The senators in turn will vote to choose the PM along with the 500 MPs, which is seen as a blatant conflict of interest. 


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