Anti-government protesters return to the streets of Bangkok
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Anti-government protesters return to the streets of Bangkok

AP on the protests on Sunday:

 Thailand’s capital braced Sunday for possible unrest in the week ahead, with street protests expected over moves in parliament that could eventually lead to a pardon for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

As many as 2,000 protesters calling themselves the People’s Army Against the Thaksin Regime turned up Sunday for a peaceful rally in a Bangkok park. But bigger and more militant protests are expected when parliament on Wednesday begins debating an amnesty bill that would cover people arrested for political activities since the 2006 military coup that ousted Thaksin for alleged corruption and disrespect to the monarchy.

Thaksin was later sentenced to two years in jail on a conflict of interest charge, but escaped punishment by living abroad in self-imposed exile. The amnesty bill would not cover Thaksin, but his opponents fear that if it passes, it would set a precedent and pave the way for another measure pardoning him. The bill was proposed by a lawmaker from the ruling Pheu Thai Party, which is headed by Thaksin’s sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

BP: The Bangkok Post – quoting police – put it at 4,000 although regardless of whether 2,000 or 4,000 that is relatively small crowd….

The Bangkok Post reports on more protests planned for today ahead of the planned parliamentary debate for the first reading of one amnesty bill:

The Democrat Party fielded 50 MPs, including its leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, to speak at its “Stage of Truth” rally at Uruphong intersection in Bangkok last night. Around 2,500 supporters turned up…

The Democrats were holding their rally overnight and they planned to march to parliament at 9am today.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva told the demonstrators last night his party plans an all-out effort to oppose the amnesty bill proposed by Pheu Thai MP Worachai Hema….

“Since this government took power two years ago, it has never made serious efforts to achieve reconciliation. Why should it use the reconciliation effort as an excuse to push the amnesty,” he said.

Mr Abhisit called on his supporters to protest the bill lawfully.

The Nation:

The People’s Army, which has the tag “To Overthrow the Thaksin Regime”, said yesterday that it would heighten the scale of its rally by 9am today. The rally leader, retired Admiral Chai Suwannapharb, said all tactics and moves of organisers needed to remain secret, but people keen to know what the protest plans would be were welcome to join the rally.

Speaking onstage at the anti-Thaksin People’s Army rally on Monday night,  [Democrat MP] Niphit [Intharasombat]  announced: “I now call on brothers and sisters of the Democrat Party to gather here.

“I also call on the brave to test the ISA, by converging outside Parliament House to give me support,” the MP said. “If you cannot enter the [ISA-imposed] zone, give me a call. Parliament debates [scrutinising the bill] are open to the public, and the ISA does not prohibit a peaceful gathering in the [ISA-imposed] zone,” he said.

BP: So both the Democrats and the new anti-Thaksin group began their protest at 9am.

On the new anti-Thaksin group, Pefot.* Basically, it is just a new name for some members of the anti-Thaksin coalition which started with the PAD morphed into the multi-colours, Pitak Siam etc who are protesting corruption and the “Thaksin system”. One of the differences compared with the PAD is that the anti-Thaksin coalition has fractured with the Democrats having their own protest group  (see background to that decision here and below for details of the Democrats own protest for the Amnesty Bill) and the PAD not joining the Pefot protests.

The Bangkok Post on the Pefot protests:

The People’s Force for Democracy to Overthrow Thaksinism (Pefot) will not move from Lumpini today, but wait for more supporters from the provinces, core member Taikorn Polsuwan announced on Wednesday.

Mr Taikorn said Pefot had only 300 people gathered at Lumpini Park about lunchtime, not enough to put any pressure on the government.

“We will not move our people anywhere today, but wait for more to come from the provinces. They are now on the way, but have not yet arrived.

BP: They will need significantly more people in order to make an impact. The Nation has some of the reasons why they are failing to attract the numbers:

However, the atmosphere at this “People’s Army to Overthrow the Thaksin Regime” rally is different, less exciting so far than the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD)’s protest.

Both Bangkokians and people from other provinces said the rally would be livelier and more powerful if the PAD’s leaders joined in.

Rally crowds are always more enthusiastic when their stomachs are full.

At this one, there’s a tent called the “centre kitchen” that welcomes everyone with free meals. It has a volunteer kitchen too.

A woman who identified herself as Jit said her kitchen provided meals for supporters all day. The most popular dish among rally-goers seems to be omelette with rice.

One difficulty with this rally is that there are no shower rooms or toilets. Protesters use Lumpini Park’s toilets and facilities provided by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA).

BP: Simply put, it is not an organized rally with enough financial support to provide facilities for the protesters. As BP blogged in November after the Pitak Siam rally fizzled out:

You travel a few hours to get there and well, it fizzles out. How motivated will you be to attend the next time? From all reports and from listening to some of the speeches, the rally was poorly organized with few charismatic speeches. Say what you will about Jatuporn or Sondhi L, but they can rally the crowd. Seh Ai/Boonlert has no charisma. Many of the speakers had no charisma. This was not a group of ASTV presenters.

BP: So will they suddenly be able to increase their numbers now? It will be interesting to see for this evening – when people get off work (their protest location is adjacent to the central business district which makes it easy for people to come along and listen) – by how much their numbers increase.

On the Democrats, Thai Rath also has this extra detail from Democrat MP Niphit stating that Democrat MPs would be at the front of the protest:

“I want to warn the police that tomorrow [today by now] there will be many people who will express themselves/protest under Section 63 of the Constitution…. but tomorrow we will test whether the Constitution is bigger than the Internal Security Act by using our rights peacefully as people without arms and to listen to consideration of this disgraceful law. When we enter the secure area, we will say that we are the people who have come to listen to the duty of MPs and if they don’t allow then you should remember their names and take their photos and we will meet in court….I promise that if Democrats MPs lead the protest our eyes will not see the people hurt or to die because we will be hurt or dead before the people. 

So this morning – after smaller forums/events like the one last night held by the Democrats across the country in recent weeks, the Democrats led their supporters towards parliament, the Bangkok Post earlier this morning:

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva on Wednesday morning led around 2,000 people in a peaceful march to parliament in protest against the amnesty bill.

Democrat MPs insisted before the walk began that if they come to a point where barriers are set up, they would negotiate to try to get through, but would tell their supporters to accept it and disperse if their requests were rejected. 

Mr Abhisit said before the march that his party and its supporters oppose the parliamentary deliberation of the amnesty bill, because it is a law that would destroy the country’s legal system.

The amnesty bill, to be introduced in its first reading to the House of Representatives at 1pm Wednesday

The Nation then later reports:

The Democrat-led protest heading to the Parliament on Wednesday ended after police enforced Internal Security Act, prohibiting protesters from accompanying Democrat MPs to the Parliament.

They were blocked near Rajvithi Intersection and informed that the anti-government protesters were not allowed to go to the Parliament with Democrat MPs

City police commander Pol Col Wisarn Panmanee told the Democrat leaders that the order was issued City Police Commissioner Pol Lt Gen Kamronwit Thoopkrajang and was in line with the enforcement of the ISA.

Suthep then announced to the protesters that they should go home as Kamronwit had forbidden them from going further.

He said the protesters would be back when the amnesty bill passes the third reading.

BP:  Wouldn’t waiting until the third reading be a little late? Will the Democrats actually join the Pefot protesters now or will they focus on opposing the bill inside the parliament?

The parliamentary debate on the Amnesty Bill has now started….

The Guardian:

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said the protests demonstrated a disenchantment” with the government but it was highly unlikely that they would overthrow it.

“The protest really is designed to unseat the government. But the anti-Thaksin coalition is not united, there is unlikely to be any intervention by the military or the judiciary, and there is not enough traction, not enough numbers [from the protesters], for them to really succeed,” he said.

BP: With PAD not joining and there being two separate rallies, Thitinan’s assessment they are unlikely to succeed seems correct. The relevance to this is that the Worachai version of the Amnesty Bill won’t absolve Thaksin of his corruption conviction.** If Thaksin doesn’t benefit, it will make more difficult to mobilize people to protest against it.

* Hope they don’t blow their budget on hiring someone to come up with the ‘pefot’ name…..

** There is somehow talk that it will help Thaksin. Perhaps, in relation to charges related to peripheral involvement in the reds protest – if there is evidence of him ordering illegal acts to be done, it won’t help – and the narrower wording of the Worachai Bill seems it is unlikely to help him in regards to the seizure of assets although we may see greater clarity on this issue as Bill is debated.