Unscathed, for now…

From Manager September 24, 2020
PM Prayuth: The mob did not create any damage to me at all.

[The cartoonist notes that the government came out of the September 19 protests unscathed. However, the monarchy, personified as the sky, was relentlessly pilloried by protests both in Thailand and overseas. It suggests that the government is glad the monarchy issue seemed to almost entirely divert attention from their own shortcomings.

This round of protests was no doubt calculated to happen during the depths of economic despair and when public faith in the sincerity of the government in tackling corruption is at an all-time low.

Much to the PM Prayuth’s relief, the original three-point demands of the opposition were overtaken–perhaps hijacked–by student groups trying to focus on reform of the monarchy instead.

The protest turnout was estimated by the AP at 20,000 (which cleverly hedged this by adding “while people were still arriving”). Contrast this with the nonsensical reporting at other foreign media outlets such as Foreign Policy that informs international readers that “hundreds of thousands of protestors” have taken to the streets and that the protests are spreading. It is probably no wonder that conspiratorially minded Thais see subterfuge in the breathless and inaccurate reporting of these publications.

The protest ended up being well below any numbers that politicians would feel they would need to react to. The nature of the controversial frank talk on the monarchy also distracted from getting out any wider message of dictatorship and intimidation that would focus on the sitting government.

A week later, the promised move to amend the charter was delayed. While normally in the Thai world all such things are put down to procedural issues, officials spoke frankly that the protesters did not show enough firepower to really pressure the government–implying they did not have to accede to any pressure for reform.

While it continues to be argued that such a dismissive response could backfire and lead to larger demonstrations, the September 19 protests remain a missed opportunity for the opposition.

All of this is part of the recent implosion of the Pheu Thai Party leadership. The party shakeup is due to several factors, but there is little doubt that Thaksin, from afar, considers the opposition as his to manage. The September 19 protest was scheduled to commemorate the date of Thaksin’s ouster and was to focus on the injustice of the charter and the dictatorship of the military-dominated government.

The government initially acceded to the demands for charter change and set up a panel. Of course, they would have tried to stall it, but such a public acknowledgement that the charter should be changed demonstrated their weakness.

Thus, it must have been infuriating that the opposition’s initially perfect plan–their three-point demands focusing on charter change–could have been scuttled by an obscure student group with a focus on the monarchy. It is no wonder that a purge of the top brass of the Pheu Thai Party was in order to make sure its leadership will be able to direct protest “outrage” towards concrete political goals and ensure any new student movement directs its efforts towards supporting opposition efforts to gain control of government again.]

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