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How can the Thai government resolve the current protest crisis?



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The Thai Government has no easy way out of the current protest situation.

Over the past months an organic, mostly young Thais, political movement has been building. It’s different from every protest movement in the past. The people attending the rallies don’t really align themselves or identify with the past political factions. They’re not red shirts or yellow shirts. They are new and say they’re seeking key changes to Thailand’s political system, and the role and powers of the Head of State.

Their demands – the standing down of the Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, the dissolution of the Thai parliament, a new constitution to replace the 2017 Thai Charter and curbs on the powers of the Thai monarch – are unlikely to be met by the current government.

The protester’s 10-point manifesto, outlining their demands, pits them against a quasi-democratic government that includes many of the faces from its predecessor, the National Council  for Peace and Order that removed the elected Shinawatra government in 2014 in a military coup. The leader of the coup, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, is now the prime minister, elected by a parliamentary majority. The entire upper house of the Thai parliament were hand-picked by the PM and NCPO, so a parliamentary majority is merely a formality.

There is little possibility the ruling government will concede to any of the demands of the protesters. They’re not going to simply step aside and hand over the levers of power to opposition parties. Whilst promising to convene an enquiry into constitutional reform last month, the parliament was unable to get the votes necessary and recommended a postponement. A postponement to an enquiry… blah, blah.

Thai politics has proved to be brutal over the past five decades with countless coups, periods of political instability, violent crackdowns on dissent and a 2017 constitution that guarantees that the status quo can continue, without the usual checks and balances in a modern parliamentary system.

But something else has changed this time.

The protesters are young and proving resilient and clever. There’s also lots of them.

Their defiance to the status quo has shocked the elite establishment. Everything is now being questioned, including the previously revered position of the Thai monarchy.

Just recall scenes over the past week…

• A royal motorcade driving right through the middle of a protest with protesters standing defiantly, metres away from the occupants of the yellow Rolls Royce, displaying the 3 finger symbol and shouting “our taxes”.

• People deciding to remain seated during the playing of the Royal Anthem which precedes all movies in Thailand.

• Usually compliant young Thai secondary school children displaying the 3 finger salute during the compulsory 8am school assembly and flag raising. 

Even the public uttering of demands to change the role of the Head of State in Thailand were unheard of before this August.

Now, the genie is out of the bottle. What has been said cannot be unsaid and the young are now speaking about the issues openly. They’ve been emboldened by a government completely blindsided by the development and not knowing how to react to this new student-based voice. The only reaction has been the usual brute force.

Speaking to a young policeman, off the record, this morning. I asked how the younger members of the Thai police force felt when commanded to crackdown on their fellow young Thais. He said that there was a growing level of “unease” in the police and that it was getting more difficult to put their personal feelings to the side and act on the orders of their superiors.

The key problem now is that the young protesters face the Thai government and Army who are not adept at the skills of politics or negotiation. Chalk and cheese. Their upbringings are different, their experiences are different. The young say their seeking democratic reform. The establishment are trying to protest the status quo and the privileges they enjoy.

There is little room for negotiation.

The only way forward for the government will be crackdowns, curfews and brute force, most of which will attract almost universal condemnation from other governments and onlookers.

Simply, and starkly, the government are in a lose/lose situation. There are few ways they can extract a ‘win’ out this situation. To force a brutal crackdown on young, unarmed protesters will make them pariahs in a world of modern civilised governments. To do nothing, and allow the protest movement to fester and grow, will simply push their final demise a bit further down the road.

The only way out, to save face and diffuse the situation, would be to call an election. But with the current parliamentary set-up, the odds are stacked in favour of the current rulers to seize back power, again. Do you really think the Senators will step in to force a new election? Sack the PM? By precipitating the writing of a new constitution they would be effectively doing themselves out of a cushy, paid job. It won’t happen.

Everyone wants a peaceful resolution to this current situation but the stakes are high, and sustainable, realistic solutions are thin on the ground.

The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect the staff and management of The Thaiger.


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  1. RR

    Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 10:44 am

    One word: resigning.

  2. Graham White

    Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 11:46 am

    Don’t forget that the government did not win the last election. One of the opposition parties was banned before the election; that party would have won at least 10 seats. Even then, after the EC twisted the rules and pinched another 6 seats for the Junta they only had a wafer thin majority. Then, of course, they banned a second opposition party and pinched another 10. If the Democrats would withdraw support they would be out.
    So, I think another election would go wrong for Prayut.

  3. Glenn

    Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    Being an expat guest I might have an opinion but it’s worth nothing. that’s ok with me because it’s not my country. However I sure would like to know what those protesting actually WANT.

    Yes I know they want the military junta gone and are not fond of the royals, but what do they want to replace them with?
    Rewrite the constitution to say what?

    • Idea helper

      Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 12:23 pm

      To remove the 33% of parliamentary members who are appointed not elected, and who are largely either active or retired military officials.

      What happens with the party list stuff is negotiable but the thing all protestors agree on is the enormous unelected senate must go.

    • MasterOfDisaster

      Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 12:38 pm

      You are right, your opinion is worth nothing.

    • Issan John

      Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 1:36 pm

      Their ten “demands” are actually quite clear, but unfortunately for them they’ve been blurred by a considerable number of “hangers-on” with their own varying agendas.

      Thai politics are never as clear as they appear to Westerners, so whether these are simply opportunists or they are agents-provacateurs deliberately muddying the waters is questionable.

      The catalyst for the last, Prayut-led, coup in 2014 for example was the ultra-right, pro-monarchist PDRC led by Suthep Thaugsaban, not the Shinawatra government. Rightly or wrongly, many Thais believe this was deliberately engineered to give the coup legitimacy both at home and abroad.

      The “demands” and changes at the ‘core’ of the demonstrations are clear, although they may well want to go further in a certain area as many Thais are probably aware, but they’re being muddied; whether that’s deliberate or not, who knows?

    • Gosport

      Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 2:24 pm

      Yes, you are right, as an expat, just seems amazing pointing finger at foreign countries politics. From experiences of generations, there is nothing new under the sun. All benefits in the end go to the manipulators and the established, sufferings fall on young students who just want pictures thumbs up on their Facebook or Instagram or Tiktok. For nearly all young students, in future society, for a good life with good family, all depend on knowledge you have grasped during students years, not the show off of your participation in this riot. You can not change the culture, adapt to it. This is what Darwin called evolution.

  4. Toby Andrews

    Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 12:14 pm

    Yes, have a government election.
    That will resolve the crisis.

  5. Fabian

    Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 12:29 pm

    “The Thai Government has no easy way out of the current protest situation.”

    They do have a very easy way out of this crisis: set up FAIR elections to establish a decent democracy. They don’t want that of course, but that’s a whole different thing.

    Maybe it’s next week or maybe in 5 years, this government will lose. There will be less older brainwashed people and more young open minded people. It’s unstoppable, to not see that is ignorant.

  6. Issan John

    Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 2:03 pm

    There appears to be some confusion, which is almost certainly intentional on the part of those behind it, since the “ten demands” by the original core of demonstrators (the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration) made on 11 August are very clear and very direct (and have also been widely published):

    “United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration

    Declaration No. 1

    To the people:

    Since the People’s Party fomented a revolutionary transformation, the people have hoped that our country would be a democracy with the king as head of state who is truly above politics. But it has not been as such as the king has exercised power to intervene in politics from above. For example, whenever a coup topples a government that has arisen from a real democratic process, the king has signed to appoint the head of the junta. This constitutes the endorsement of each and every coup as legal.

    Moreover, the king has moved troops and also transferred a significant amount of the national budget to belong to the himself personally. He has exercised extralegal royal authority to amend the constitution, which had already passed a referendum, to allow him to reside outside the kingdom without having to appoint a regent.

    This could be done because the dictatorship government bowed down under the shadow of the king and continues to claim the monarchy for its own benefit. It can be seen that they mutually benefit. Such a situation constitutes an enemy to the principles of a democracy with the king as head of state. There is no democratic country in which such actions take place.

    The people ought to know that the king of our country is not above politics. This has consistently been the root of political problems. He has neglected his duties of being the head of state that binds him to the hearts of the people and uses the people’s taxes to seek pleasure and reside outside the country. This takes place while the people are experiencing hardship from economic downturn. He also has close relationships with the rebels who foment coups to topple democratic rule.

    It is therefore evident that if there are no adjustments made for the monarchy to co-exist with the institutions of the people, the people will necessarily lose faith in the monarchy.

    The United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration therefore makes the following demands in order to resolve the problems with the monarchy:

    1. Revoke Article 6 of the 2017 Constitution that does not allow anyone to make any accusation against the king. And add an article to allow parliament to examine the wrongdoing of the king, as had been stipulated in the constitution promulgated by the People’s Party.

    2. Revoke Article 112 of the Criminal Code, as well as allowing the people to exercise freedom of expression about the monarchy and giving an amnesty to all those prosecuted for criticizing the monarchy.

    3. Revoke the Crown Property Act of 2018 and make a clear division between the assets of the king under the control of the Ministry of Finance and his personal assets.

    4. Reduce the amount of the national budget allocated to the king to be in line with the economic conditions of the country.

    5. Abolish the Royal Offices. Units with a clear duty, for example, the Royal Security Command, should be transferred and placed under other agencies. Unnecessary units, such as the Privy Council, should be disbanded.

    6. Cease all giving and receiving of donations by royal charity funds in order for the all of the assets of the monarchy to be auditable.

    7. Cease the exercise of royal prerogative over expression of political opinions in public.

    8. Cease all public relations and education that excessively and one-sidedly glorify the monarchy.

    9. Search for the facts about the murder of those who criticized or had some kind of relation with the monarchy.

    10. The king must not endorse any further coups.

    These demands are not a proposal to topple the monarchy. They are a good-faith proposal made for the monarchy to be able to continue to be esteemed by the people within a democracy.

    Therefore, for the monarchy to be secure in the present-day world, it must not hold power related to politics. It should be able to be controlled, audited, and criticized and it should not be a burden on the people. Then it will be able to be held as the monarchy that is dignified in line with a universal meaning of democracy.”

    • issan med

      Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 4:35 pm

      those dreams need revolution in Thailand

  7. Issan John

    Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 2:32 pm

    With the exception of “By precipitating the writing of a new constitution they would be effectively doing themselves out of a cushy, paid job. It won’t happen.”, which I think is naive beyond belief and doesn’t do the rest of the article justice, I have to say that I think this is an excellent, well researched and very well written article.

    Where I would disagree, though, is with the idea that “It’s different from every protest movement in the past. The people attending the rallies don’t really align themselves or identify with the past political factions. They’re not red shirts or yellow shirts. They are new and say they’re seeking key changes to Thailand’s political system and the role of the Head of State.”

    They very much DO align themselves and identify with past political factions, and what’s more they say so, and their actions and politics are a direct and deliberate reflection of the 1932 coup and the then People’s Party, and their “Declaration” deliberately and pointedly echoes it: “Let all people know that our country belongs to the people – not to the king, as has been deceitfully claimed.”

    That wasn’t new, as the author of the article and many others appear to think – that was lifted directly from the People’s party declaration in 1932:

  8. Maag

    Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 2:37 pm

    With flowers and love !

  9. Issan John

    Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 3:40 pm

    “The key problem now is that the young protesters face the Thai government and Army who are not adept at the skills of politics or negotiation. Chalk and cheese. Their upbringings are different, their experiences are different.”

    I think it goes even further than that.

    Senior officers in the military (any military, not just Thailand’s) are always going to be far more divorced from the younger generation than their opposite numbers in the general population.

    They were selected, some thirty years before getting to the top, in the image of those already there – just as those already there had been. With no lateral entry or external competition, they’re selected at every stage from a limited field in the image of those doing the selection ….. and all the while they’re “cocooned” by the military in the military’s world.

    That can make for good Armies and good officers and soldiers as well as bad ones, but what it can’t and doesn’t do is make those at the top good leaders in a civilian or political world. While some in the military may well have the experience and training required, getting that experience would mean that they weren’t getting the tick in the right box required by the military for promotion at the same time – it’s one or the other.

  10. Grim Thinker

    Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    Democracy and human rights – that old chestnut.

    “In Germany the police shutdown and broke up an anti-lockdown protest in Berlin before it even got started, they did not want to give the crowd time to make their way onto the main boulevard.

    They arrested 150 people, strategically targeted organizers and perceived leaders. Then they smeared them as evil rascists. Thats how you do ‘freedom and democracy’ in the EU.”

    95% of protesters couldnt articulate a list of demands. They are just young people who have a naive view of the outside world gleaned from other young naive foreigners and endless American films, TV shows and news programs talking about “freedom, democracy, and human rights”. Alot of people out west arent really buying that anymore.

    There is never any debate or analysis of what ‘democracy’ supposedly means in this current time. If the royal family relinquish any power or wealth it will just get vacuumed up by some other cronies.

  11. Eva Brooks

    Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 7:39 pm

    South-East Asia oligarchies are emboldened by their neighbours. Look around and see the abundance of military-led governments in this area – which suggests they are supporting each other.

    This is an excellent piece of journalism; I am praying for a peaceful and just solution but worried that soldiers will follow their training to crush enemies. Like they did to the Future Forward Party.

    As George Orwell wrote:
    “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.”

    PS typo here
    The establishment are trying to protest (protect) the status quo and the privileges they enjoy.

  12. Dad

    Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 7:53 pm

    The current government is not a quasi democratic government as you state. The act ofbanning a political party holding a third of the votes. After this banning this is clearly a dictatorship. The Thais seem to be pretty knowledgeable what the college students are fighting for Is that they are trying to stay out of the ricefields working for 200 baht an day. The rice computers are actually the wealthier communities

  13. jasmoran66

    Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 10:34 pm

    “Over the past months an organic, mostly young Thais, political movement has been building.”

    Oh,please. This is all being orchestrated from abroad, per usual. These students couldn’t organize a fish fry, let alone pay for it. Wake up.

  14. West Tiger

    Monday, October 19, 2020 at 1:29 am

    The Thai government is openly racist against farangs and the banning of Farang tourists along with a overvalued Baht has destroyed the Thai economy for many years to come.
    Look at the amount of jobs that have been lost in the Thai tourist industry due to the governments clear racism policy and the knock on effects it has had on other sectors in Thai industry with huge job losses.
    Thailand is heading into the abyss and the blame lays firmly at the door of the government.

    • Issan John

      Monday, October 19, 2020 at 11:52 am

      “… the banning of Farang tourists …”

      Really? Do tell …

      I thought the ban was on ALL tourists.

      • Temus

        Monday, October 26, 2020 at 5:07 pm

        Yes we think so. Beaned all
        Economic cooperation and tourist to pressure him.
        He was Election fraud and revolution from Yinglux PM.

  15. patty

    Monday, October 19, 2020 at 10:21 am

    Theres only one way to resolve this. Prayut must step down. Others have now suggested that Prayut should resign. The ground is shrinking for the dictator. The end is near.

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