BANGKOK — A group of pro-democracy activists will camp out on a football field Monday night before marching on the Government House in the morning to mark the fourth anniversary of the 2014 coup.
Members of the Democracy Restoration Group pledged to lead a three-kilometer rally from Thammasat University to the military government’s seat of power Tuesday morning, four years after the May 22, 2014 coup d’etat.
The group’s leader, Rangsiman Rome, said the coup anniversary is more significant this year than those prior.
“Every four years is when we usually count on to new things,” Rangsiman said, referring to national elections in several countries including Thailand. “We’ve wanted to see the country move forward, but these four years are the times we get stuck … so this is the time we fight for new things.”
Admitting fear of violence during the rally, Rangsiman said this time the group has prepared a “buffer zone” of protesters trained in nonviolence to ensure it proceeds peacefully.
“The uncles and aunties will smile and give the officers roses, for example. Despite their rage, they will not verbally or physically fight back at the officers,” Rangsiman said in a Thursday interview.
The protests which resumed this year have all taken place without incident except when small scuffles broke out in late March when police attempted to block a similar march from Thammasat to nearby army headquarters.
The group will camp out Monday starting at 5pm on the football field on Thammasat’s Tha Phra Chan campus. From there, they will depart at 7am to march to the Government House.
Rangsiman said their worst case scenario is people getting hurt; the best one is successfully reaching the Government House.
Police chief Pol. Gen. Chakthip Chaijinda last week warned that the protesters risked prosecution for joining the pro-democracy rally to demand elections be held this year. A ban on political gatherings of more than four people has remained in effect since the junta seized power four years ago.
The question for the rally will be whether it can draw a larger turnout then recent rallies have.
Rangsiman said he could not estimate how many people will show and played down expectations, saying it would take place on a work morning.
He said the largest rally was one held Feb. 10 at the Democracy Monument. He said police told him nearly 2,000 people showed up, though other observers put the crowd in the hundreds.
“The amount of participants indicates the rally’s success too, since it shows the power of those who want to change the country,” Rangsiman said.
Unlikely to show up are those hoping to lead the government once elections are held.
Varawut Silpa-archa, de-facto leader of the Chart Thai Pattana Party, said that although his party shares the same goal of restoring liberal democracy, he won’t join the rally due to the laws set by the military regime.
“Everyone has the right to demand an election, but as a political party, we must respect the regulations,” Varawut said. “This the democracy by the streets. I cannot join.”
The son of the late former prime minister Banharn Silpa-archa added that he recognizes the protest as expressing desire for an election, but, to him, what’s more important is people showing up to vote on Election Day.
Asked if he thinks the government will deliver promised elections in February, Varawut said he has not seen reason to believe otherwise.
“Let’s say this is a football game, and the referees say the match starts at 6pm,” Varawut said. “I prepare for 6pm.”
On May 22, 2014, the army, led by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, seized the power by launching a coup against the caretaker government of former premiere Yingluck Shinawatra.