The rising stars of Thai politics
An amateur astrologer reckons the PM needs only endure a turbulent few weeks before his fortunes rise - As the political crisis sinks ever deeper, one MP has managed the near-impossible, delivering a speech that impressed both sides
published : 31 Oct 2020 at 04:00
newspaper section: News
The rising star of Thai politics?
Renowned astrologers have been tied up chalking their cosmic charts to calculate the angle at which the country's stars are revolving, all in the name of figuring out when the current political tension will blow over.
The prediction by Fongsanan Chamornjan, a self-professed amateur astrologer, paints a grim picture for the country as two opposing stars, one representing the country and the other a devious force, have been on a warring path and are now pitted squarely against each other.
As a former reporter, Fongsanan sees tension on the political front possibly escalating to a near-crisis point in the lead-up to the first or second week of next month before the adversity faced by the country begins to fade away. At which point, the two rival stars will part ways as they assume different courses of astrological alignments and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's star will regain strength, according to the astrologer.
The predictions, however, might not be prophetic or tell the whole story, said political observers.
This week, the focal point of public interest has gone back and forth between parliament and protest venues on the streets.
Thousands of anti-government protesters have answered calls by their core leaders to join mass rallies at various spots across Bangkok. The highlights came on Monday when the protesters converged outside the German embassy in Bangkok in a bid to turn even more political heat on the government. That came a day after they descended on the commercial and shopping heart at the Ratchaprasong intersection, which they occupied for several hours before dispersing.
Their movement was countered by the yellow-shirt, royalist demonstrators who gathered en masse at Lumpini Park. They have been most vocal in their demand for the monarchy to be left alone, as opposed to the protesters' insistence on reforms of the highest institution.
Although there have been no clashes between the two groups, the question is how long that can remain the case, according to the observers.
They said many roadblocks stand in the way of resolving the current political woes, with any conceivable attempt to tailor a peaceful solution likely to be impeded by legal and political limitations as well as the growing fragility of the evolving situation.
After Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha vowed he would not yield to the protesters by stepping down as prime minister, the protest organisers announced they would intensify their rallies.
The observers said that even if Gen Prayut relinquished his premiership, they doubt calm would be restored to the country. Members of pro-monarchy movements, which also have thrown their staunch support behind the government, are not likely take the anti-government rallies lying down. They have banded together at various locations in the capital in large groups and staged counter-protests.
The anti-government protesters, meanwhile, feel galvanised by Gen Prayut's refusal to throw in the towel. His resignation forms only one of their three demands; the others are a constitution rewrite and monarchy reform.
The protesters reportedly said that what goes on inside parliament stays in parliament. The two-day debate, which proceeded during the special House meeting convened specifically to find a solution to resolve what threatens to degenerate into a political crisis, ended on Tuesday with no solution in sight.
No agreement was struck on what parliament could do to defuse the protest-induced tensions on the streets. Parliament president Chuan Leekpai suggested an independent reconciliation committee be established to inject harmony into the discord.
Observers said the size of the anti-government protests may have expanded since the first day they were launched. So have the protesters' expectations, just as their patience may be running thinner by the day.
A source who has studied mass gatherings said generally protesters are roused by their leaders who keep their hopes and motivation alive by telling them they are an inch closer to winning their cause. However, if the protests do not produce concrete results fast enough, the protesters would either feel less enthused by the rallies or could become agitated to the point where they are susceptible to being confrontational.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam warned this week that Gen Prayut quitting before the constitution is changed could have dire consequences.
The legal expert explained that if Gen Prayut called it a day immediately, the Senate would need to participate in choosing a new premier. Such an intervention is dreaded by the protesters.
But if the Senate stays out of the selection of a new prime minister, the quorum would fall short. At least 366 members from both Houses are required to vote for Gen Prayut's replacement. That is unthinkable without the Senate and without the charter being first amended to relieve the Senate of their duty to choose a new prime minister.
Sathit: Calls for social reforms
Democrat earns plaudits
The two-day parliament debate on the current political conflict might have ended without a breakthrough but Democrat Party MP for Trang Sathit Wongnongtoey's speech was said to have stuck a chord with anti-government protesters and their media allies.
The veteran MP -- who was a key figure in the now-defunct People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), whose months-long street protests against the Pheu Thai Party-led administration culminated in the May 2014 coup -- urged the government to implement social reforms as he took the floor during the extraordinary parliamentary session.
The session was held amid escalating street protests in which the youth-led demonstrators called for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a new or rewritten constitution and reforms of the monarchy.
Their demands involving the royal institution has been highly divisive and prompted pro-establishment groups to rally in solidarity and support for the monarchy.
Critics viewed the government's move to have the protesters' demands discussed in parliament as an effort to buy time and pass on the burden to parliament.
Addressing the protesters' calls for reform of the monarchy, Mr Sathit told the joint sitting that while the issue could be discussed in a constructive and mature dialogue, the timing was not right given the current political atmosphere.
Mr Sathit said there were "sets of ideas" that were completely hostile to the highest institution. The mixing of facts and fiction in sophisticated campaigns to spread disinformation was also used to implant certain beliefs and this problem should also be taken into consideration and addressed, he added.
The Democrat MP also called on the government to speed up social reforms, saying the street protests, which had sometimes bordered on the aggressive, could be the tip of an upcoming iceberg.
According to Mr Sathit, the protests by the youngsters mostly stemmed from their disappointment with the economy and feelings of insecurity under the status quo.
While the charter amendments and the proposed reconciliation committee could de-escalate political tensions, the government and the protesters remain far apart on many issues.
The Democrat MP suggested that the government should think seriously about the future of the young, many of whom have joined the anti-government protests and taken to the streets.
He said that current political and social structures might not be able to keep up with the needed changes.
In his opinion, the government would have to change its way of thinking if it wanted to straighten out issues such as education, the bureaucracy, the political system, decentralisation of power, the role of the military, authoritarianism, economic problems and inequality.
Mr Sathit's discussion in the two-day debate was reportedly picked up by Voice TV, which is known to have connections with politicians from the anti-coup camp and to be critical of the government and the Democrat Party, which is a key coalition partner.
It was reported that the media outlet was impressed by Mr Sathit, who also pointed out during the two-day parliamentary debate that street protests generally do not end well as, more often than not, they lead to military intervention which "no one wishes to see".
His sympathy towards the street protesters was said to have made him the only government MP to earn praise from the opposition camp during the debate.