Opinion: Is it time for the students to be more politically savvy?

Several high profile protest-leaders will not be allowed to speak on Tuesday at Thammasat University’s commemoration of the October 6 student massacre due to a ban.

According to the student-leaders, “Penguin,” “Anon,” and “Roong” will not be allowed to speak by administration officials because of the topics that they have brought up in the past three months during student-led protests.

The topics have apparently caused the officials “unease.”

It is obvious that the university feels a certain unease if the speeches touch upon the role of the monarchy in the events of October 6 and one can understand their apprehensions. For many Thais, the monarchy is still an object too taboo to discuss or even an object of reverence among certain groups.

While the students and the activists have undoubtedly shattered the glass ceiling by bringing the institution into their speeches and calls for reform, perhaps Tuesday’s ban is a timely reminder that now is the time to start consolidating support and becoming more politically savvy.

Wake up call

While many Thais say that pushing for reform of the royal institution and all its vestiges including the top-heavy bureaucracy has long been overdue, for many others it is an off-putting subject.

The students are also beginning to suffer from mission-creep, defined as “a gradual shift in objectives during the course of a military campaign, often resulting in an unplanned long-term commitment.”

For the students, the mission-creep has been their continued fascination with the royal institution. Now make no mistake, the reason we can even talk about the institution in this very article is because of the student’s bravery. But in recent weeks, it seems the students have begun to lose their way.

They have become involved in matters that do not relate to the current situation and are not about the reform of the institution. The students have begun speculating and making speeches about the mysterious death of King Rama VIII, the role of the monarchy in the dictatorships of the 1950s, and other unrelated topics – things that do not matter in the current fight.

Consolidation and making new allies

I have heard many Thai conservatives say that they would wholeheartedly support the students in their fight against the Prayut Chan-ocha government if not for their rhetoric about the institution.

This may seem anecdotal but the students underestimate how widespread the resentment is when it comes to the current government.

For the past two years, even the most ardent conservative have questioned themselves over the missteps by the government, from the antics of the electoral commission during last year’s election, to the watch scandal, the pushing out of conservative favorite Predee Daochai, the mismanagement of the economy, everything Thammanat Prompao does and much much more.

So perhaps the ban by Thammasat can serve as a wake-up call. When even the most progressive university, with its own tortured history with military dictatorships, refuses to endorse you, maybe it is time to try a more encompassing approach.

Maybe now is the time for the students to consolidate their support, be proud of their accomplishments so far and push towards tangible goals that will not take years to achieve.

The government of Prayut is vulnerable, the appointed senate is vulnerable, the cabinet is vulnerable. Battered by the economic maelstrom following the coronavirus pandemic, the infighting in the ruling party, the corruption of certain ministers, the time is ripe to take down the current government.

There is support out there if only the students would dial back on the radical, if they manage to they will succeed in evolving from loud, angry voices, into a political force to be reckoned with.

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