Opinion: Diminishing Trust and Increasing Political Violence

Protesters clash with riot police on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road on Feb. 28, 2021.

When the parliament-appointed National Reconciliation Committee on Monday invited me to offer my views about the political protests, I highlighted the need for trust and non-violence.

Trust is diminishing while violence increasing, I told the committee. This week’s panel on the lese majeste law at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand showed how little or no “good faith” remains between supporters and opponents of the controversial law. There was no dialogue, just a monologue.

After the Wednesday’s event, lese majeste supporter and panelist Warong Dechgitvigrom, leader of Thai Phakdee Party and ultra-royalist group of the same name wrote on his Facebook account: “What I got from the debate on the lese majeste law at the FCCT was distortion of truth and academic principles”.

On the other side of the ring, panelist and opponent of the lese majeste law Yaowalak Anuphan, head of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, also reacted on her Facebook page.

She wrote on the following day: “I think the panel last night was useless. It wasn’t a venue to deliberate a common solution. I won’t be joining such a panel again. It’s a big waste of time. They didn’t talk with reasons but with emotions. How can we move forward?”

In case you weren’t convinced by the two panelists from opposing political pole, Bangkok-based French Yan Marchal expat was also there and summarized it as follows.

“This panel on lese majeste lasted 3 hours and hardly qualified as a debate. The positions of both sides were so far from each other – and their dislike for each other so palpable – that no interactive discussion would have made sense.

The highlight of the show was probably lese majeste supporter Arnond Sakworawich angrily shaking his head each time it was the other side’s turn to speak, as if it was physically painful for him to bear with their speech while waiting for his turn,” Yan perceptively wrote on his Facebook page.

To be fair, this has become a common state of political affairs in Thailand.

In tandem with the breaking down of any possible dialogue and deliberation is the growing political violence.

At the monarchy-reform cum anti-government protest last Saturday, police claimed 90 officers were injured. One riot police officer died of stroke. On the protesters’ side, scores were beaten with batons and over twenty arrested.

A riot police fires rubber bullet at anti-government demonstrators in front of the 1st Infantry Regiment army base on Feb. 28, 2021.

Police used rubber bullets for the first time last Saturday. A reporter from Prachatai online news said he overheard one police officer say the rules of engagement are anything goes now.

On the demonstrators’ side, rocks and bricks were thrown at police, along with plastic as well as glass bottles and home-made explosives.

As the REDEM, or Restart Democracy Group which is the reincarnation of Free Youth Group, plans to protest again this Saturday, some have already exchanged Molotov Cocktail recipe in anticipation of growing police violence.

Some young protesters have lost hope that any dialogue or parliamentary process could bring about monarchy reform and political change. That’s why some are turning to violence as a means to raise awareness.

One must not forget that there also exists a deeper level of structural violence which goes deeper and more profound than the police’s use of rubber bullets.

Laws such as lese majeste and sedition are currently being used to incarcerate a number of mostly-young protest leaders. They see the laws as unjust, and to detain someone under pre-trial detention is not just a denial of justice but a form of structural violence.