Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha Wednesday night offered to revoke his emergency decree for Bangkok provided protestors resist violence in their ongoing march on government house.
The speech came an hour before two groups of protestors who marched from Victory Monument broke through a police barricade at the Uruphong intersection and engaged in scattered skirmishes with crowd-control officers.
“Violence” obviously will have to be better defined before it’s known if the decree will get lifted.
“I am currently preparing to lift the state of severe emergency in Bangkok and will do so promptly if there are no violent incidents,” Prayut said in a pre-recorded message at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
“I ask the protesters to reciprocate with sincerity, to turn down the volume on hateful and divisive talk, and to let us, together, disperse this terrible dark cloud before it moves over our country.”
Prayut tried to position himself as the reasonable one, saying he “will make the first move to de-escalate this situation”. Of course, it was he escalated the crisis in the first place.
The student-backed pro-democracy protests that have gained in frequency and intensity over the past three months shifted into a more-dangerous phase Oct. 16 when Prayut directed police to disperse protestors at the Pathumwan intersection with chemical-laced water cannons.
The former general falsely accused some of the Pathumwan protestors of commiting “terrible crimes against the police using metal rods and huge cutting implements in brutal attacks, with the aim of severely wounding” officers.
In fact, only four officers were injured as they fought to push through metal barriers the young protestors on the front line clung to. The only “terrible crimes” apparent to scores of independent media there were demonstrators pelting officers with plastic water bottles.
But Prayut also acknowledged that most of the massive crowd assembled Friday were “peaceful, well-meaning people” desiring a “better society and a better nation”.
“We will not get to such a society by wielding metal bars,” Prayut said, making a remarkable concession to his own fault. “In the same way, we will also not get to a better society through the use of water cannons.”
Just as was the case Monday, when the protest ball landed squarely in the government’s court, the ball is now on the pro-democracy camp’s side. Prayut said he was willing to de-escalate if the protest can “respect the due process of law and then let the will of the people be resolved in parliament”.
He called for discussion, accommodation, compromise and willingness to listen to all sides.
“The only way to a lasting solution … is to discuss and resolve these differences through the parliamentary process. It is a slow process, but it is one that best avoids injury to our nation. We must show the maturity and patience to take the middle path,” the premier said.
“Let us respect the law and parliamentary democracy, and let our views be presented through our representatives in parliament.”
The problem with that, Prayut’s critics say, is that their views are not represented in parliament. The constitution crafted by the junta that Prayut led to overthrow the Yingluck Shinawatra government stacked parliament with unelected military officers, hardcore royalists and elites while also rigging the 2019 election with crippling limits on how much representation rival political parties could have in the lower house.
Asking protestors to try their case in the parliament is asking them to play on an unlevel field.
The prime minister’s speech appeared to have no effect on protestors, who by 7 p.m. had already made their way from Victory Monument, where they assembled during rush hour, and began marching to government house.
Security forces quickly mobilized, erecting barbed wire-topped barricades at Rama VI and Petchaburi roads with riot police behind.
The wall held until just before 8 p.m. when a second group of protestors flanked the police, coming at them from the rear. Surrounded, officers pulled away the barricades, allowing the mass to swarm through.
Other police established a fallback position, using a bus to block the road at the Nang Lerng intersection which protestors rached by 8:30 p.m. Twenty minutes later demonstrators – some as young as 12 – occupied Phitsanulok Road, blocked by riot police, plainclothes police in yellow shirts, barricades and water cannons.
“Goggles and helmets!” protestors shouted, expecting to be hit with eye-burning water again. But security officials said the cannons would not be used and the vehicles simply served to create a “buffer zone” for everyone’s safety.
Finally reaching Government House before 9:30 p.m., this protest’s goal became clear: Organizers presented to Bangkok Metropolitan Police a pre-written letter to give to Prayut to sign. The letter announces his resignation.
Prayut has made clear he has no plans to resign and, in his televised addressed, reaffirmed he would not be dictated to by the “mob”.
“While I can listen to and acknowledge the demands of protestors, I cannot run the country based on protestor or mob demands,” he said. “Mob” carries a more-negative connotation in English than Thai, where it is used to described large-scale anti-establishment assemblies.