BANGKOK — Pro-election activists gave an ultimatum to the military government to set an election date within seven days or face a mass demonstration at the government’s seat of power.
In a rally organized at Thammasat University, the Democracy Restoration Group went ahead with their sixth demonstration demanding an election be held by this November and that the military government step down.
“The government has only one job, and that is to hold an election. The NCPO is no longer necessary to the country,” said Rangsiman Rome, one of the activist leaders, referring to ruling junta. “It’s so easy. You just have to quit, and all of this will end. The country will move forward.”
Speaking at the start of the event, the group’s leaders gave a deadline to Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the junta head, to set an election date before the fourth anniversary of the coup on May 22. They vowed to stage a mass march on the Government House otherwise.
Whether they can deliver the numbers will be a test for the movement’s appeal outside of the usual supporters. Their rallies have attracted steadily larger crowds, but they still number in the several hundred versus the popular public uprisings that brought down previous military regimes.
Sirawith Seritiwat, aka Ja New, insisted the country has been ready for long but has been held back by the dictatorship of the junta.
“They use their power to destroy the system of political parties and slow everything down,” he said. “Although we’re ready but the NCPO is still in place, there’s no way that we will get a free and fair election.”
After taking power four years ago, Gen. Prayuth vowed to return power to the people once security conditions were right and various reforms had been carried out. He has made a series of promises over the years to hold elections, only to put them off again.
Last year he told US President Donald Trump that a poll would be held in November, but parliamentary maneuvers in his appointed assembly have likely delayed them again to February, at the earliest.
The protest group last month marched on the army headquarters to deliver a letter demanding the military drop its support for the junta. Police attempted to block their way, resulting in scuffles as protesters pushed through. This time they said they would try to avoid confrontation with authorities.
The deputy national police commander yesterday said the group could go ahead with their rally without breaking the law, giving the reason that it would be contained on the university campus.
One of Saturday’s highlights was a mock censure debate against the government. Speakers took turns blasting dictatorship, inequality, economic fail and inaction to injustice throughout four years of the junta ruling.
“I came here today with a hope that we will have a democracy one day,” said Yingcheep Atchanon, director of iLaw which monitor legal actions under the junta, while asking for 10,000 name for the organization’s petition to cancel the NCPO’s 35 orders which work against the democracy.
One speaker went beyond protesting against just the government and called for the monarchy to stand beside the people. She refused to give her name on the stage.
At one point, Nuttaa Mahattana, one of the organizers, insisted that her movement is willing to work with every color including the Redshirts, and asked the audience who were members of the Redshirt movement, the powerful political block that has elected two governments aligned with Thaksin Shinawatra, both of which were overthrown by the military.
Nearly everyone in front of the stage raised their hands.
Although most of the protesters joining today event seemed to be veterans, there were some new faces joining for the first time.
Ekkasak Insook, 22, said he came because he has lost faith of the “old faces” of the administration.
“Actually I’m still a bit scared. My family is also worried, saying it would be too risky. They’re scared that it will be like October 6,” he said, referring to the 1976 massacre of students that occurred on the same campus. “I’ve never participated in an election in my lifetime. I want someone who’s brand new, a fresh face.”
The latest round of demonstrations resumed in February, demanding the junta to keep its word on standing down and restoring democracy. Street protests have been outlawed in the country since the military seized power, and movement leaders are routinely charged with criminal offenses.
Additional reporting Teeranai Charuvastra