By splash Tanakasmippet, Chyut Setbonsarang and Matthew Tostwin
BANGKOK (Reuters) – As they paraded through the Bangkok shopping mall at Crop Top to make fun of the King of Thailand, protesters created a terrifying scene amid the festive decorations.
They brought stars, smiles and some silent cheers, but there were less than a few dozen activists who joined the earlier anti-government protests that put a stop to criticism of King Maha Wazirlongkorn.
After months of street demonstrations that have shaken the founding of Thailand, one of the movement’s best-known figures, who strategized and was inspired by protests in Hong Kong, told Reuters they were at a turning point.
There is disagreement over a strategy brought to a Royalist backlash, fatigue, scores of accusations and now a coronovirus outbreak that can make mass celebrations difficult.
“I think most people are exhausted,” said 22-year-old Parit ‘Penguin’ Chivarak, who helped lead the crop’s top opposition, seeing students take that exam at the end of their university tenure. Made it harder to be.
“We’ll try again next year,” he told Reuters. “We will not stop there.”
Government spokesperson Racada Dhanadirek said that the authorities were not expressing their views against the protesters, but the increase in coronovirus cases meant that there should be no major gathering for any reason.
However, the Crop Top protest showed how much it has been discussed in Thailand so far, openly teasing a king with defiance of the imperial insult law, who is depicted wearing a crop top in European tabloids.
But the divide between the protesters becomes more apparent as they discuss how to unite their former leader and Prime Minister Prathuth Chan-Osha next year, to rewrite the constitution and curb the king’s powers. Keep pushing.
The main factions are student protesters associated with Thammasat University, including Parit and Pansuya ‘Rung’ Sithigrivattanakul and Free Youth Groups, which started protests in July. The two are aligned, calling themselves the “people” movement.
But Parit and Panusaya, 22, have distanced themselves from the launch of the Rest Thailand movement of Free Youth, a logo whose RT letters resemble a hammer and sickle.
Critics of Ristart Thailand say there is a risk of keeping some people away from explicit communist symbolism in the South-East Asian country, where the two-decade-long communist insurgency ended in the 1980s.
“A lot of people are confused,” said defender Kent Ruksapram, who brought up a sign for an incident that said “we fight for democracy, not communism” to speak out.
Meanwhile, 22-year-old Jattip Sirikhan of Free Youth said the group would focus on its campaign next year despite earlier alliances with student leaders.
“We want to create greater participation from all groups, whether without the use of workers, farmers or social welfare,” he told Reuters.
This is not the first time that divisions have surfaced and both groups say they have the same goal of breaking the decades-old grip on military and palace power.
“, Both still go in the same direction, just using different means,” said Arnam Nampa, 36, a rights lawyer who said he aimed to step up to reform the monarchy next year because the changes The campaign for
“Now it’s going on, and more people will understand the problems and the side with us – like water erosion rocks,” he told Reuters.
There is not much show yet on core demands.
Prathuth has rejected calls to stand down, discussing the constitution will only proceed on the terms of the government and the Royal Palace is speeding up a PR campaign rather than entertaining any possibility of change.
“The protest is weakening,” said Warong Dechitzvigrom, 59, of the Royalist group Thai Pakki. “The government can only let the movement die on its own.”
Politicians are behind the rise in false fun charges against protest leaders – with a coordinated effort by Varong to bring complaints to the police over allegations that could lead to up to 15 years in prison.
Anyone can bring such a complaint of royal insult. Grounds encompass everything from using the king’s own words to wearing clothes in an inhospitable manner.
According to Thai lawyers’ human rights figures, at least 35 activists now face Lay Mezstay charges – many of them allegations: Parit alone faces eight. Total charges against all activists now number hundreds, including treason, computer crime, illegal assembly and floating coronavirus restrictions.
“It can drain a lot of time, resources, and energy,” said 23-year-old Free Youth Tatap ‘Ford’ Ruangprapitisere, who faces six charges, including Les Majest and Treason. “It would be a lie if I said that I never lost heart.”
Like other prominent protesters, he is not currently detained, but police investigations are underway to see if there is enough evidence for trial.
There is currently a new outbreak of coronovirus in Thailand, with hundreds of cases reported among migrant seafood workers – large-scale gatherings would be discouraged if full lockout in the country did not occur by 2020.
“We battled during the epidemic and did it without spreading the virus,” Parit said. “We can do more online.”
Like Hong Kong, online mobilization is a hallmark of demonstrations run by Thailand’s youth.
Demonstrating sufficient support for real-world change, however, is a major challenge. Provincial elections on 20 December largely returned politicians of the establishment, despite being contested for the first time by a movement with youth support.
And the battle of the Royal Palace continues to grow.
68-year-old King Wazirlongkorn has started intense public relations with 42-year-old Queen Suthida, a driving force in the expedition to Thailand.
Also among the grand public events to attend are Raja’s daughters and his 35-year-old royal wife, Senet Wongwajirapakadi.
Sometimes spoken to the crowd, sometimes signed to royal portraits, the mantra is one of national unity under the monarchy – whose power and prestige was during the seven-decade reign of King Bhumibul Fuldev, the emperor’s late father Was strengthened.
“The monarchy and the people are inseparable,” the king told the crowd at a recent halt.
And while the numbers have rarely been so large that tens of thousands of people have joined the protests, appearances are played every night on royal television news that is popular with the old Theses.
“It has won them over many hearts and minds,” said Mitrasek Chalamplanup, a fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishaq Institute in Singapore.
With the majority absent in Europe until 2020, the return of the king to Thailand in October marked the beginning of an intense phase of appearances. One Reuters showed over 40 incidents, including more than a dozen, at which the king had personally spoken to members of the public – previously unheard of.
For protesters, which is also a sign that they are being impacted and may take years.
“You think the government hasn’t responded, but it is,” said Aron, the rights advocate. “A king making unusual trips is a reaction. A government using the law to suppress expression or keep silent is a response.”
“There is a fire. It will keep burning,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Paratha Thampampannut; Writing by Matthew Toostwin; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.