The vast majority on both sides of the political divide bore witness to the same footage of the violent crackdown at Pathumwan intersection earlier in October; the photos of a five-year-old injured by the chemical-infused water sprayed at the demonstrators, the videos of police fully kitted in riot gear advancing at a flimsy line of umbrellas.
Even in the face of the outrageous measures by the authorities, the fact that further demonstrations were almost entirely non-violent and orderly bears testament to the extraordinary amount of restraint and discipline shown by the protesters.
However, the contrast between the developments at Pathumwan and the more recent flash mobs also points to a second point: that the peaceful nature of the protests are not in spite of, but because of the lack of intervention by the authorities.
Much has been said on the effectiveness of these fluid tactics and the humiliation they have caused for a government outwitted at every turn. But a group seems even more humiliated and agitated than the government by these tactics, the government’s own supporters.
These are people who have voiced support for the worst of the police actions, decried peaceful gatherings as ‘mob rule’, compared the photos of demonstrators making way for an ambulance in Thailand and Hong Kong as evidence of ‘ANTIFA TRAINED INSTIGATORS AND SABOTEURS’ [A quote literally taken off Facebook].
For them, the government’s inability to crack down and take harsh measures is an indication of its failing. Rather than praise the government for being restrained, more and more they cry for blood.
Rather than focus on the government’s incompetence (the bloated coalition unable to even finalize the simplest of COVID-19 policies, the stagnation of its flagship economic projects, and the simple lack of decency to explain themselves, be it while making another policy U-turn or while conjuring up funds to spend on military equipment) this group of royalists and conservative voices decry the lack of bloodshed on the street.
To the outside observer, it seems like there is little reason as to why any sane individual, conservative or liberal, would or should put up with Prayuth’s determination to cling to power and his ability to provoke divisions throughout society. And this was before the protests started.
Why have Prayut’s supporters ignored the plight of the 1.8 million-plus citizens who have joined the ranks of Thailand’s poor between 2015 & 2018 and sweep under the rug how over half the country’s wealth lies in the hands of the top 1%. Do they not care? Does the system benefit them?
That such concerning levels of interdependence between Prayuth and his supporters have largely stemmed from the genuine belief that Thailand might still be able to progress under this administration is heartbreaking.
It exposes how this government has exploited the well-wishes of many tired of the political violence of the not too distant past and still under the (evidently mistaken) belief that “Uncle Tuu” with his military-style brusqueness and his grandfatherly air, still conveys a somewhat benevolent figure.
Those who have suffered the worries of an uncertain economic future, seen the government’s willingness to trial measures of disproportionate violence, and heard the cries to free their contemporaries locked up in the notoriously inhumane prisons have already written off this government.
Now, as the kingdom hurtles towards more unrest, exacerbated by Prayuth’s failure to convincingly address the students’ demands and with his incessant politicking doing little to abate the further economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, those who have stuck by his government will be in for the nastiest shock of all.
By Cod Satrusayang and P.S.