Thailand’s Political Turmoil : The ‘Expected’ & The ‘Unexpected’
Written By - Thai Business Box Team. 20-11-2020.
The current political turmoil has brought about many ‘firsts’ in Thai history and it may be worth it to take a look at what has changed and what hasn’t, to get a bigger picture of where we are.
The 3 main parties involved are the protestors, the military/military backed government and the monarchy institution.
In the history of political protests, each protest evolution can be roughly categorised into 3 phases:
Phase I: Emergence of anti-government protesters, which starts of with a soft launch, promises of non violence and peaceful demonstrations.
Phase II: Emergence of counter anti-government protesters, who obviously have the backing of the incumbent government under siege. The plot thickens and the atmosphere becomes tense, as skirmishes become unavoidable.
Phase III: The quick descent into an all out chaotic and violent situation where protesters break rank and mayhem rules.
Tuesday the 17th of November was one such night when it looked like the protest movement was entering Phase III.
Protesters marched to Parliament to submit the controversial charter amendment bill put forth by civil group Internet Law Reform Dialoque (iLaw).
Lawmakers were in parliament to discuss several proposals for constitutional changes, most of which exclude amendment to clauses pertaining to the monarchy’s role, when protestors marched to parliament to call for MPs and senators to vote for a draft bill submitted by iLaw, a non-profit organization with an aim to create social reform by increasing public participation and demand for legislative change.
Clashes between pro-monarchy supporters and anti-government protestors erupted, while police used water cannon to fire teargas solution to disperse anti-government demonstrators who broke police lines, barbed wires and barriers in an attempt to get to the gates of Parliament. 55 were injured, 6 from gun shots.
iLaw accepts it receives foreign funding and has led to conspiracy theories of “foreign hands” being behind the students movement, while the bill it proposes, touted as the people’s constitution amendment bill, with 100,000 verified signatories is controversial too as it places no restrictions on amendments of any section, unlike the other proposals being considered by government.
The MPs and Senators were to meet in Parliament, on the next day to vote on all versions. The protesters called a rally at Ratchaprasong intersection to await news on whether iLaw’s version would be voted in or not.
At this point, it was ‘expected’ that the iLaw version would be rejected and the protests would enter Phase III.
By Wednesday evening, as ‘expected’, iLaw’s version was rejected in Parliament and Thailand braced itself for violence and mayhem.
Protesters turned up with rubber ducks, water pistols and paint, did a symbolic protest for how their friends and fellow protesters were treated the previous day, in front of the Police HQ and then dispersed.
This fierce determination on the part of the student movement not to resort to violence is remarkable but the ability to see it through is astounding.
Older and more matured protesters in the past have failed where non-violence is easy as a concept but impossible to implement when crowds are in thousands and emotions run high. Protestors have managed to do the ‘unexpected’ and kept their ranks in check, in the face of extreme provocation.
The ability to avoid Phase III of violence up to now has given Thailand another ‘first’ and the ‘unexpected’ happened. The opening up of conversations and discussions on the monarchy, something unheard of even just a few months ago. Continue Reading Below...
Military/ Military Backed Government
It’s reassuring and disconcerting at the same time, depending on how you look at it, that the military/military-backed government has kept to form, with every move ‘expected’ right out of their age-old, tried-and- true playbook.
Make 100% right noises towards protesters with 0% intent of delivery.
PM Prayuth said earlier that all people’s voices would be heard, urging protesters to embrace the legal and parliamentary process.
There was even talk of a ‘reconciliation committee’ which the protesters refused to join, saying it was but a ploy to prolong PM Prayuth’s power.
It did seem churlish on the part of the protesters for a while there, giving the impression that they did not want to solve the problem through dialogue, the only way out, says academics and experts.
In a move that showed up the military-backed government for what their real intentions are, the protesters submitted their approved version proposed by iLaw to parliament .
The bill if accepted would have just been one of many to be considered and not as the main draft to executed, but PM Prayuth’s government could not bring themselves to accept the protester’s version to be considered.
In one move, the protesters proved beyond doubt that the intention to hear them out is non-existent and joining the legal and parliamentary process would prove to be futile, as the protesters would not be well represented or listened to with an open-mind.
In more ‘ expected’ moves, PM Prayuth has announced on Thursday that “all laws and all articles” will be used against protesters, basically, the book will be thrown at them.
Perhaps the most ‘unexpected’ occurrence in Thai history is the PR coup conducted by the palace.
It was ‘expected’ that on the King’s return we would also see the return of the the dreaded Lese Majeste law in full force and a stern-faced King.
What happened next took Thailand by surprise and it can be argued that the palace gave the protesters a run for their money.
A smiling King was seen everywhere, in the crowd with the people, touching and interacting, taking selfies and gone was the rigidity and stuffiness that was the usual norm of these occasions.
When asked about his feelings towards protesters, he said “We love them all the same” and at the same time dubbed Thailand as the land of compromise.
Monarchy supporters came out in droves emboldened with newfound faith which gave rise to a vast number of born-again monarchists.
For King Vajralongkorn has shown his willingness to be a King of Modern Thailand and has returned to reclaim his throne.
And the people embraced him back with open arms and joy.
Protesters reacted by saying ‘it’s an act’.
Royalists don’t care, they have their King back and he is here to stay in the heart and soul of many Thais.
Does it mean that Thais are a gullible lot as many monarchists have been portrayed as being?
Most non-Thais fail to understand why the monarchy has such a hold on Thais.
The answer is simple, the King is a part of the Thainess DNA.
The monarchy forms a large part of what makes Thais Thai. For royalists, to disown or turn their backs on the King is akin to turning away from themselves.
The system of democracy is an imported concept, many Thais concede to it as a way to move into the modern global world.
But the monarchy institution is Thailand’s very own, in it’s totality, the good and the misgivings.
If King Rama IX was considered the father of the nation, King Rama X is considered the son of the nation, inspiring an unshakeable bond with his people.
And it doesn’t matter an iota what the western media reports on or says, which all Thais are aware of and many choose to ignore.
Looking ahead, the protesters movement and the monarchy institution both have booked a place for themselves in the future of Modern Thailand because of their ability to adapt to a changing world and do the ‘unexpected’.
The jury is still out on the military and military-backed government on whether they can adapt and do the “unexpected” to stay relevant in a fast changing Thailand.