Opinion: Four steps the students should push for next instead of playing a zero-sum game

On Wednesday evening, two important things happened.

The prime minister made a national address and called for all sides to take a step back (even as pro-royalist government-affiliated hoodlums attacked school children in Ramkamhaeng and police arrested yet another protest leader).

The protesters submitted their three demands to fix the constitution, for the government to resign, and to reform the monarchy so that it comes under the constitution.

Both sides are rapidly moving towards a zero-sum game with negotiations between the two sides unlikely.

Prayut for all his rhetoric has shown that his words don’t match his actions. The students, meanwhile, believe that they have already sacrificed too much to step back and give in to government demands.

But a zero-sum game where one side wins and the other loses completely is not something that the country will want to see or desire. The last thing we need in Thailand is more blood on the street.

With that in mind, here are four negotiation points that should be pushed forward by the students to ensure that there doesn’t need to be further violence. If the government’s offer for negotiations is taken in good faith, here is what they should push for.

The release of all political prisoners and an end to further prosecution:

It is a demand that the students have called for many times as the protests began, built up, and reached new heights. The government has consistently used the legal and judicial system to intimidate and harass. Over the course of the past four months over 25 dissidents have been arrested, detained, and imprisoned. Some without any charges.

This must be the first and most important sticking point for the students. No negotiations will happen as long as protesters are in jail for merely expressing a political opinion or assembling.

The redrafting of the constitution must involve public participation:

The students have long pushed for redrafting the constitution and address the clauses which allow the military to appoint the upper house senate. They will also want to get rid of clauses that allow the Senate to vote for the prime minister and grants them special powers in the passing of laws.

But calling for the re-drafting of the constitution just pushes the onus onto the politicians, a class of people that care more about self-interest than remedying the ills of society. Any impetus will be lost and the process will be arduously slow. For the people to have a real say, call for a group like iLaw to take part in the drafting of the constitution. Otherwise, the senators and the administration will put people like Meechai Ruchupan into the drafting committee and nothing will be done.

Interim government while constitutional drafting takes place

There needs to be an interim government while the constitutional drafting process takes place. It is clear that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan have lost the confidence of the parliament. It is clear that they are not above abusing human rights and civil liberties to stay in power.

Their position is untenable. That being said, a large number of people did vote for the Palang Pracharath Party. Therefore an interim government, agreed upon by all sides, should govern while the constitutional drafting process takes place. Who and what shape this take will be up to all the political parties including the opposition. What is clear is that Prayut cannot be prime minister going forward.

Elections under a new constitution

Once the new constitution is drafted, passes a referendum, and is promulgated, elections must be called immediately. The results of the elections must also be respected no matter what the outcome is.

On the institution

One of the key demands of the students over the past three months has been a reform of the royal institution so that it is more in line with 21st-century thinking and under the constitution. It is also the most contentious point and the point that the current government has used as an excuse to arrest and undermine the protests.

While the students should not shy away from addressing the institution, they should follow with the above steps first. Once there is a new constitution, they should vote for the party that will address the reform of the institution that they have pressed for and any reform should happen democratically in parliament.

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