Loss of protest leaders 'critical'

Loss of protest leaders 'critical'

Analysis: Scholars argue emergency decree stokes tensions, writes Aekarach Sattaburuth

Demonstrators near Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok on Thursday evening. (Photo by Arnun Chonmahatrakool)
Demonstrators near Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok on Thursday evening. (Photo by Arnun Chonmahatrakool)

The anti-government rally on Wednesday reflects structural conflicts in society while the anti-government movement is expected to weaken now several protest leaders have been arrested, an academic said.

Yutthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, told the Bangkok Post the rally was a sign of ideological conflicts as seen in the gatherings of two opposing groups.

He referred to the protest group which trumpets demands including reform of the monarchy, and several yellow-clad pro-monarchy groups which were also out in force on Tuesday in remembrance of the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great and again on Wednesday when they lined up on Ratchadamnoen Avenue to greet His Majesty the King's motorcade. "This shows that Thai society remains bogged down in structural conflicts which are not easy to solve. We will have to continue living with it as long as the constitution is not recognised by all stakeholders," Mr Yutthaporn said.

He predicted the anti-government movement will weaken now police have arrested several protest leaders after the government declared a state of emergency in Bangkok earlier on Thursday to disperse the protest outside Government House. Under the emergency decree, gatherings of five or more people are prohibited.

Without the protest leaders, the movement will become increasingly emasculated, Mr Yutthaporn said. It was a critical step in which any uncontrolled demonstrations will also run the risk of getting out of hand. "The Oct 14 rally may have drawn a large crowd, but without their leaders, it is impossible for the group to make any further strategically important moves," Mr Yutthaporn said.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha remains in control of the situation with the emergency decree at his disposal to disperse the protest and retake Government House from demonstrators. However, in the long term, the legitimacy of the state of emergency may also be questioned, which may also motivate more people to join mass rallies, Mr Yutthaporn said.

A military coup would deal a heavy blow to foreign confidence in the country. He said relations among current leaders of the armed forces could lead to another putsch.

A source from the main opposition Pheu Thai Party told the Bangkok Post that the declaration of the state of emergency to disperse the protest shows that the post-election Thailand is not different from when it was under the rule of the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order. "This shows the world that there is still no democracy in Thailand. The imposition of the emergency decree was not a wise decision. The government could have used other measures to deal with the protesters," the source said. However, the source admitted the current anti-government movement cannot compare with the single unified force of demonstrators who took part in the Oct 14, 1973 popular uprising.

He dismissed the likelihood of another military takeover, saying the government has already consolidated its power. The chances of a House dissolution or the resignation of the prime minister are also zero, he said. The government, he said, is expected to prolong the constitutional amendment process by another two years. By then, its term in office would have ended but with state power at its disposal, the government could be returned to power after an election.

Commenting on the fate of the rudderless anti-government movement, the source said its supporters would come under heavy pressure and possibly be forced to go "underground" and wage a war with the government via online platforms. The best solution will be for the government to take up on the protesters' call for constitutional amendments to ease growing tensions.

Phichai Ratnatilaka Na Bhuket, a political scientist at the National Institute of Development Administration, said the declaration of the state of emergency is a signal the government may be ready to use force. He warned such a step could fuel protesters' anger and exacerbate the situation.

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