Some time after the 2010 Red Shirt protests, a commentator wrote that there was no security force more demoralized than the Thai police.
The Royal Thai Police, known to be sympathetic to deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra but having to take orders from the conservative establishment, were caught out and unable to act. Red shirt protesters were able to bypass them or negotiate their way out with the police completely.
A crackdown by the military on red-shirt protesters ignored the police force entirely and showed how little faith the military-backed government of Abhisit Vejjajiva trusted the police commanders at the time.
Fast forward a decade later and the shape of the Thai police have changed considerably.
Over half a decade of military rule has seen the force evolve into a ready pawn of the establishment, willing to carry out whatever actions deemed necessary by the state to preserve the status quo.
It started with the appointment of the previous police chief Chakthip Chaijinda, who was hand-selected by coup-leader and junta mastermind General Prawit Wongsuwan.
Under Chakthip, officers thought loyal to the previous government or aligned with Thaksin were reshuffled – replaced by candidates more willing to carry out the will of the new regime.
Chakthip used the police to arrest anti-coup protesters and demonstrators but never really resorting to police brutality or widespread violence. For Chakthip, his image was as important as police action because of a long-planned political career after retirement. He is currently in the running for Bangkok governor.
His successor and the current Police Chief Suwat Jangyodsuk has the same desire to please the conservative establishment that Chakthip did but not the same self-promoting tendencies.
Over the course of the last year, Suwat has been willing to escalate the use of force to worrying levels.
In fact, the level of police violence against demonstrators is something the country has not seen since the 1960s and 1970s under successive military regimes, according to commentators.
Even though he was handpicked by General Prawit as well, Suwat was seen by many as a more moderate figure than Chakthip.
Foreign educated and well-spoken, many saw Suwat as tempering the police force and returning them to a pre-junta normalcy.
They were wrong.
To their credit, Suwat and the police were incredibly restrained prior during the student demonstrations up until October of last year.
But as the demonstrations dragged on and conservative elements of Thai society were drawn into the rhetoric by the student protesters more and more pressure began to mount on the Thai police to take action.
This culminated in October of last year when police used water cannons laced with irritants on unarmed demonstrators and high school students.
Do not forget these images. The Thai government cracked down on unarmed student-led protesters last night.— Thai Enquirer (@ThaiEnquirer) October 17, 2020
Watch police armed with batons, riot shields and water cannons advance on student positions.
By @vaitor for Thai Enquirer. #ม็อบ17ตุลา #whatishappeninginthailand pic.twitter.com/7iYs6VzbU2
Since then, the police have not been afraid to use violence at the slightest provocation. Water cannons and riot shields have been replaced by batons and rubber bullets.
Police and protesters have engaged in running battles across Bangkok several times to the amusement of no one and to the consternation of Thai netizens across the world.
It seems Suwat has been more than eager to please his paymasters and it is only a matter of time before serious injury or death occurs.
Unless the police temper their aggression, there will be a point or a clash where things escalate beyond the control of both leaders and the country will suffer.
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