BANGKOK — Sirawith Seritiwat, a prominent student activist and persistent junta critic, said it wasn’t long after the Oct. 13 death of His Majesty the Late King that soldiers rang him up to ask whether he would engage in any political activities and urge him not to make any moves during the mourning period.
Sirawith, like a number of politicians and political activists, said Monday they would abstain from politics while the nation mourns the late King but any expectation it continue for a year was neither practical nor fair.
“I am willing to stop for one month, but one year would be too lengthy for anyone to cite the King as an excuse,” said Sirawith, who is better known by his nickname Ja New.
Reactions by those from across the political divide came after junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said Friday he wants no politics during the mourning period. While not specifying a time frame, Prayuth earlier declared the state would mourn for one year while the general public was requested to do so for a month.
Former Democrat Party MP Kraisak Choonhavan said the parties would need to get to work before that.
“Elections may be postponed, but political parties should be allowed to meet to prepare for elections, so they can choose appropriate people to run and prepare their policies and see how they can survive,” said Kraisak, a senior member of his party. “The government got a constitution through a referendum that hugely benefited the army and junta, so it should only be fair to political parties as well… I hope they have adequate decency on the matter.”
Phongthep Thepkanjana, a former deputy prime minister from rival Pheu Thai Party said Prayuth should recognize that running any government is itself a political act.
“Thus, if this is what Prayuth desires, he should stop running the government. Perhaps what he understands [as politics] differs from what we understand?” Phongthep said.
He said any request beyond a short period of mourning would be impractical, adding that many politicians, including former premier Yingluck Shinawatra, are already limiting any political remarks during this mourning period.
Prayuth was speaking at a government conference Friday when he made his desire clear.
“The media should not write about politics these days, because we don’t have politics these days. Write only about what work the government is doing, as guided by the wisdom of his Majesty, to fit with the situation. Please, don’t start any fights. Give us some time. Give some time for peace,” Prayuth said at the Muang Thong Thani exhibition hall.
Kraisak said it wasn’t a clearly defined area.
“It’s very difficult, the matter is very difficult. What is politics to Prayuth?” asked the veteran politician. “Prayuth should not see these matters as politics.”
The president of the Thai Journalists Association, Wanchai Wongmeechai, said the request to not write about politics was understandable, given the circumstances. He noted it was not an order, and the Thai media were already complying.
“The press understands the situation and what is appropriate now. In fact, regarding political news, even sources may now not want to speak,” he said, without specifying how long the arrangement should last.
Kraisak the Democrat said there were active issues going on that were unlikely to go quiet for long.
He pointed to grassroots campaigns opposing mega-projects initiated by the regime that won’t be able to remain silent for a year.
A student political activist leader said they would refrain from public protests for a month to observe mourning.
“Our stance is that politics should not grind to a halt in order to observe mourning,” said Rangsiman Rome, a leader of the New Democracy Movement. “Politics goes on because people have to defend their interests.”
So how long should be adequate? Kraisak suggested somewhere between a month and a year.
“One year is too long. One month may be too long for the young [activists],” he said. “I think 100 days is appropriate.”
His party has not met to discuss the matter, Kraisak said, as such gatherings remain banned under the junta’s prohibition on political gatherings.
Rangsiman said he recognized the time was not now, saying that although his group had not met to discuss the matter, the consensus seemed to be that one month would be appropriate.
“We won’t fix an exact time, however,” he said. “But one month should suffice.”
Either way, some public activism is likely to resume in three-weeks time.
Chotisak Onsoong is one of the leaders of relatively new group of anti-junta activists called the People’s Party for Freedom. He said they would hold a discussion on the new constitution’s provisions for religion on Nov. 18.
Chotisak said some speakers may think that’s too early, but he was confident that there would be other takers.
“Why should we wait? I don’t see the benefits of pausing. Life goes on. It’s not like we’re organizing an event where people [are mourning]. Those who grieve can grieve, but life goes on,” Chotisak said.