Analysis: What are the next steps for the students and the government?

Following large anti-government demonstrations this past weekend, the student protesters have given the government an ultimatum. They say the Prayut Chan-ocha administration must dissolve parliament within the next two weeks or face even larger, prolonged protests.

The government for its part have not commented officially, resorting to small pot shots and criticisms through officials and allies.

But as Thailand looks set to embroil itself in yet another political emergency, many questions still remained unanswered.

The students

While Saturday’s protests were the largest student-led demonstrations since the coronavirus pandemic began, it is still short of the numbers that the students saw before in February.

Saturday’s organizers say about 3,000 people showed up to Saturday’s demonstration, a number that will not trouble this government to any large extent.

In fact, even the February student numbers (around 10,000 nationwide) were probably not enough to trouble a government that has consolidated its rule not only in the last few weeks with internal party shuffling but over the last six years with its undermining of democratic institutions.

“The students will need to draw in a wider range of Thai society to really put pressure on the government,” said Arun Saronchai, a Thai political commentator. “Unless they can join with unions, working groups or draw in professionals from across the country, the government can just out wait them.”

“They will also need help from the opposition political parties.”

So far, the opposition parties have only expressed latent support for the protesters but have not helped to organize or draw in more protesters unlike the political protests of 2014 and 2010.

And if the students cannot reach the massive scale of the demonstrations during the PDRC and Red Shirt crisis, then it is unlikely this government will be shifted.

The Government

While the government has so far not responded to the student protests, sources inside the cabinet tell Thai Enquirer that they are keeping a weary eye on the scale of the demonstrations.

“They’re ready to take steps and make sure that the protests do not reach a critical mass,” a government source said.

Analysts agree with the government, saying they have the political capital to ensure that protests never become too big and out of control.

“I’m afraid that the government will see this as an opportunity to call for a snap election. And if I were Prayuth, I would dissolve the parliament tomorrow because I would get the benefit of saying that I gave in to one of their demands and will still win anyway since I have 250 senators that would vote for me,” said Fuadi Pitsuwan, a visiting lecturer at Chiang Mai University.

“What the students would need to do is to call for a constitutional amendment or a rewriting of the constitution first and foremost in order to level the playing field before a new election,” he told Thai Enquirer.

According to analysts, like Fuadi, it is unlikely that any opposition party would challenge the ruling Palang Pracharath party in a electoral contest because of the way the constitution is set up. Snap elections would also catch the opposition off guard with Pheu Thai going through an internal power struggle and Move Forward not having any momentum since its predecessor Future Forward was dissolved.

If the government does call an election now, it is likely that they would win again.

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