All legal provisions will be used against the protesters calling on the Thai prime minister to step down, said the head of the government, General Prayuth Chan-ocha. This week saw the most brutal clashes since the start of mass anti-government demonstrations in mid-July.
The head of the Thai government, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, said in a statement that the authorities tried to find a peaceful way out of the growing conflict, but the situation did not improve despite the government’s readiness to “solve the problems”. – It is imperative that the government and uniformed services strengthen their actions by enforcing all laws and regulations, holding accountable demonstrators who break the law and do not respect the rights of others – he wrote. General Prayuth stressed that all activities will be conducted in accordance with the Thai legal system and international standards.
It remains unclear whether participants in anti-government rallies will be punished for insulting majesty, for which they can face up to 15 years in prison. While any criticism of the ruling family is illegal, King Rama X is under attack for the first time in public and openly during the months of speeches. The prime minister previously stated that the law of the image of majesty is not applied at the request of the king himself. Bangkok’s police chief, General Piya Tawichai, declared on Thursday that his subordinate officers were willing to apply the law if instructed to do so.
Student protests in Thailand
The two largest opposition parties have criticized plans to treat protesters more harshly, stressing that this will not solve the problems. Meanwhile, the demonstrators are announcing that the list of their demands will be expanded. In response to the Prime Minister’s statement, one of the demonstration leaders, Arnon Nampa, wrote on Facebook that the movement he leads is prepared to intensify its struggle using “peaceful methods”.
Mass protests initiated by student organizations have continued in Thailand since mid-July, but escalated in mid-October. Their participants demand the resignation of the government closely connected with the army, holding new elections and political reforms, including limiting the role of the monarchy. They also emphasize the need for changes to the constitution, including the procedure for selecting the prime minister who is currently nominated by the Thailand’s de facto ruling junta.
“Thailand is not a lonely island”
A government faced with the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and committed to a good image among potential foreign investors is facing a dilemma on how to deal with mass-expressed public discontent.
According to Dr. Pavin Chachavalpongpun from the University of Kyoto, political scientist and critic of the Thai government, the use of brutal force against protesting citizens is unlikely today. – Thailand is not a lonely island, it depends on foreign investment and tourism, so it has to take care of its reputation in the world to some extent. This is not to say that this is a decisive factor, but one of many that the government has to take into account, said Pavin.
Nevertheless, some observers still fear a repeat of events, such as the 1979 massacre at Thammasat University, which killed dozens of students.
Inflatable ducks and paint on the police building
The most brutal clashes this year between the police and the demonstrators took place on Tuesday. According to medical services, more than 50 people were injured in them, six of whom were allegedly shot wounded. It is unclear whether the shots were fired by the policemen or by any of the participants in the counter-demonstration organized by the supporters of the monarchy.
The clashes took place after policemen blocked the march of thousands of people to the parliament building, where the debate on constitutional changes was ongoing. The uniforms set up concrete barbed-wire barriers under the parliamentary complex, used tear gas and water cannons, against which the participants of the march defended themselves with inflatable rubber ducks.
Dozens of inflatable ducks also appeared as symbols of peaceful resistance at Wednesday’s rally at the Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok’s commercial district. On the evening of the same day, demonstrators threw paint at the Thai police headquarters, writing slogans against the monarchy on the building.
Main photo source: PAP / EPA / RUNGROJ YONGRIT