The start of a new round of political protests in Thailand?
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The start of a new round of political protests in Thailand?

There were a few articles prior to the protest. The Bangkok Post on October 24:

Gen Boonlert, 69, has been approached to lead the rally by activists opposing ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Among those who have sought out his support are multi-coloured group leader Tul Sitthisomwong, scholar Pramote Nakhonthap, Senator Somjet Boonthanom and activist Adm Chai Suwannaphap.

“I have accepted the invitation because the government has allowed red-shirt associated media to offend the institution of the monarchy,” he said.

Gen Boonlert said corruption in the Yingluck Shinawatra administration is another reason he has decided to act as flag-bearer for the rally.

Gen Boonlert said too much corruption has taken place under the current government, with projects ranging from flood prevention projects to the rice pledging scheme being tainted by graft.

The government has also interfered in the work of civil servants by transferring several high ranking officers without good reason, he said.

Gen Boonlert said he is not being paid to organise the event.

Gen Boonlert says he and his friends have chipped in to cover the estimated 500,000 baht to stage the rally.

About Politics in the Bangkok Post on October 27:

Despite his lack of an active political role, Gen Boonlert counts a lot of prominent military top brass among his close friends.

He is president of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School Alumni Foundation, president of Class 1 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School (AFAPS) and the classmate of former prime minister and privy councillor Gen Surayud Chulanont at the AFAPS.

A military source said Gen Boonlert is widely respected by many top-ranking military officers, past and present.

One of them is Chartthaipattana Party chief adviser Maj Gen Sanan Kachornprasart. Gen Boonlert was a close aide who had worked with Maj Gen Sanan in running the Royal Turf Club.

Gen Boonlert is also trusted by Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda and by Gen Prem’s inner circle.

The Bangkok Post on October 27:

Gen Boonlert said the Pitak Siam rally has not received backing from any political groups. He said the gathering will simply be a stage where participants will be able to listen to facts.

He also said the second phase of the movement would be to oust the government, saying it would be completed within a day if it went ahead.

He said the rally is aimed at stopping the government’s three main failings – allowing the monarchy to be insulted; being a puppet of ousted prime minister Thaksin; and corruption.

Then on the day of the rally, the Bangkok Post on October 28:

Pol Maj Gen Wicharnwat has estimated about 2,000 people will join the rally, while the organisers, led by retired Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit, expect a crowd of more than 10,000.

Then the Bangkok Post with an article, after the rally, entitled “Big rally turn-out surprises govt”:

The rally organiser, based on the registration book, claimed the crowd swelled to 20,000 while the city police gave an estimate of 6,000.

The event drew various anti-government groups including the multi-coloured-shirts led by Tul Sitthisomwong, former members of the Communist Party of Thailand, and supporters of the opposition Democrat Party.

Despite the absence of yellow shirt leaders, the Dhamma Army which is closely linked with yellow shirt leader Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang, turned up in force.

Keynote speakers were also largely those who joined the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) movement such as Sqn Ldr Prasong Soonsiri, former secretary-general of the National Security Council, Surapong Chainam, a former Thai ambassador, Gen Pathompong Kesornsuk, former chief adviser to the Supreme Command, and Seri Wongmontha, a prominent political critic

Avudh in the The Nation:

Pitak Siam, an offshoot of the yellow and multi-coloured shirts, organised an anti-government rally at the Royal Turf Club. The crowd surged to fill the 20,000-seat racetrack.

The lead organiser was Boonlert Kaewprasit. He is no stranger to politics but lacks experience in mobilising the masses.

The majority of the crowd were supporters of Santi Asoke, a religious group seen as the core ally of the yellow shirts.

Veera in the Bangkok Post:

The club’s stadium was filled to capacity with the crowd estimated at 20,000, many of them members of the Santi Asoke movement led by Phra Bhodhirak and the multi-coloured group. It was the biggest gathering of anti-Thaksin people in recent years.

Gen Boonlert had earlier said that he would stop his anti-government campaign if Sunday’s crowd was fewer than 1,000. Bouyed by the unexpected high turnout, he and the other organisers are now thinking about a second rally in a month or so.

Reuters puts it “up to 10,000 people”.

This is in sharp contrast to the number of people who attended the PAD mid-year rallies as blogged about in June:

The Nation estimates there were ”3,000 yellow-shirt supporters” on Wednesday together with about 500 people from the like-minded multi-colored group. The Bangkok Post stated ”police estimated about 5,000 people joined the rallies, which ended about 10pm and will resume Thursday”. For the protest numbers on Thursday, The Nation stated there were “some 1,000 supporters”. The limited number of protesters means that the PAD’s impact has been severely weakened.

The relevance of numbers as blogged about in May:

How many people will turn up today?  Remembering  around 45,000 reds turned up to the 2 year anniversary of the crackdown on May 19. In addition, PAD got around 100,000 at its peak in 2006 which dropped down to around 50,000 at its absolute peak in 2008.  An absolute minimum of 10,000 will be needed today to have any kind of impact, but this may be difficult given the bills are only proposals for now, and deliberation won’t be until tomorrow.

Although, Atiya in the Bangkok Post had some interesting comments about numbers:

While supporters and opponents of the Pitak Siam group are still debating the exact number of people who attended the rally on Sunday at the turf club _ whether there were 8,000 or 20,000 and whether they were real supporters or bused-in protesters-for-hire, one indisputable fact is the anti-government event did draw more people and was more popular than earlier predicted.

The question for its organisers and detractors now is whether those who attended the rally on Sunday were there because of curiosity and nostalgia or because they were really ready to do the heavy work of toppling a popularly elected government.

BP: There were few expectations that they would turn up such numbers which they did regardless of the exact number who turned up. Well, in US political terminology, you can say that Pitak Siam won the expectations game. No doubt the nice venue, a throwback to UDD rally in 2008 at Rajamangala National Stadium, which is relevant given how street protests have resulted in violence. A stadium is a much more comfortable venue, but is it as threatening as a street protest? Veera in the Bangkok Post doesn’t think it will mean much:

Despite all the challenges and minus a coup, the government will be able to muddle through and complete its four-term term because of its overwhelming majority in the parliament. Only a self implosion as a result of its own self-destructive policies, such as the rotten rice pledging scheme and massive corruption, could bring this government to its knees.

What next?

The Bangkok Post:

The next anti-government rally will be called off if the number of people it draws is likely to be fewer than the target of one million, Pitak Siam Group leader Boonlert Kaewprasit said on Sunday.

Gen Boonlert had earlier planned to hold another rally late this month, aiming to attract up to one million protesters to oust the government he says is “plagued with corruption”. The first rally on Oct 28 drew about 20,000 participants.

Before the rally is held, he said, the number of people taking part will be closely watched. If it was likely to be fewer than the target of one million, the rally would be called off.

However, the Pitak Siam group is firm in its stand to seek the government’s ouster, Gen Boonlert said.

BP: So late November is the next rally which to  take place. According to the Bangkok Post, it is scheduled to be held this time at the “Royal Plaza on Nov 24, ahead of the no-confidence debate in the House of Representatives set for Nov 25-26”. Will they be able to continue their momentum?