The pro-election anti-junta protest marking the fourth anniversary of the coup appears doomed from the beginning.
Despite repeated call for citizens to come out in force to denounce 4 years under military rule and call for quick elections, the “People Who Want an Elections” group manage to mustered no more than 300 people at Thammasat University on their D Day.
On Tuesday, the anniversary day, protesters were outnumbered by police who put up layers of blockades to prevent them from marching to the Government House to call for quick elections in November instead of next February, if not later.
Famed student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, who joined the protest, readily admitted to me on Tuesday morning at the demonstration that there were too few protesters and he was disappointed.
By the end of the day, nine protest leaders and six ordinary protesters ended up either being arrested or turning themselves in, depending on how you look at things. They are now facing six charges including sedition, which carries a maximum imprisonment term of seven years and violation of the junta’s ban on political gathering of more than four people which carries a maximum imprisonment term of six months.
The junta, which formally calls itself the National Council for Peace and Order, seems to have succeeded in instilling fear in the hearts of pro-democracy citizens. The charges lodge against the six ordinary protesters goes a long way to remind people of the prize they may have to pay if they chose to join such future protest.
While appearing to be a failure, not all was lost on the anti-junta camp.
Protest leaders have demonstrated valor and fortitude.
Protest leaders and some demonstrators chose not to run away but either turn themselves in or just squat and let police come and remove them. The latter took place at Ratchadamnoen Avenue just five minute walk from their destination, the Government House.
Their goal given the situation, may have actually been to provoke the junta to behave excessively and arrest them.
By doing so, protest voices became louder through the media and social media. This, after all, is a battle for the hearts and minds of the public.
Protest leader Nutta Mahattana, aka Bow, left a note which was shared on Facebook a day after.
“The body may be detained anywhere but the heart must be placed in a proper location,” scribbled Nutta. “Today I can face my conscience…”
Another protest leader, Piyarat Chongthep has his own message from police station too: “What happened today is not the path of the defeat but the path of victor. No matter how bad and difficult the condition, we are still laughing at what they are doing to us. We shall carry on the fight and won’t abandon one another.”
In the battle to winning hearts and minds, the protest leaders are already succeeding to some extent.
Less than 24 hours after the protest ended, former police chief police Gen. Seripisut Taemiyavej arrived at Chanasongkram Police station to offer 1.5 million baht as bail surety for the 15 arrested.
Meanwhile, former Yellowshirt firebrand Veera Somkwamkid on Wednesday publicly mull the option of becoming a leader of the group to carry on the torch on the struggle.
The protests and arrests have highlighted the hypocrisy of the junta’s claims that the support democracy.
The arrest can thus also be seen as not a defeat but a temporary defeat and a victory in a continued long-term struggle for democracy as protest leaders struggle to define what is right and legitimate, made visible the difference between the rule of law and the rule by law in Juntaland Thailand.
After all, on the fourth anniversary of the coup, the military regime has displayed their commitment to democracy and human rights by arresting and charging people who peacefully call for quick elections.
That’s how committed the junta are in revealing their true self to the world.