Calls For Prayut to Resign and Catch-22

The government of Gen Prayut Chan-ocha has failed its people with its incompetent handling of COVID-19 pandemic and it’s clear for all to see. Death rate kept soaring to a new high this week only to be broken anew repeatedly with 91 deaths reported on Saturday, highest since the outbreak began early last year, and 9,326 new daily infections reported on the same day. The government’s COVID-19 Centre admits the number of newly infected could rise to 10,000 per day by next week. Only 12 per cent of the population has received its first vaccine jab and less than 5 per cent got two. 

To add insult to injury, as hospital beds, particularly in Metropolitan Bangkok reached its capacities, news and images of coronavirus patients waiting to be cared for or put at ad hoc semi-al fresco ward is heart wrenching. Some, particularly the poor with no connections, died at home waiting. A few committed suicides due to economic crisis-induced despair.

Many more working-class people, some elderly, queue up and camp out like beggars amidst rain overnight this week to simply get tested as they become anxious or in need of COVID-19 test certificate in order to apply for a job. With tens of thousands more to become unemployed in the weeks and months ahead due to the new semi-lockdown in Metropolitan Bangkok starting Monday, Thailand would be lucky if its economy doesn’t contract this year.   

The inoculation process, originally targeted at 500,000 jabs per day has fallen far short of that for weeks with 300,000 jabs on most weekdays and much lower during weekends. The government has also failed to secure mRNA vaccines in time with October being the earliest possible arrival  month and many have to do with less-effective make from Sinovac that will hardly ensure herd immunity and little protectionagainstDelta variant. Many of the daily deaths and infections are thus unnecessarily high due to the government’s incompetence, lack of Plan B,  Plan C, and its failure to explain why they placed so much bet and reliance on just Sinovac and Oxford-AstraZeneca – the latter failed to deliver 10 million doses per month as originally expected.

The call for Prayut to resign is getting louder by day but Thailand is in a Catch 22 situation. In a clear signal that he will not resign, Prayut said Friday that he will forgo three months of his salaries, worth a combined 370,000+ baht, to help fund the government’s battles against coronavirus, an attic that elicited more anger than sympathy.  The gesture will not bring back the dead because they were not vaccinated in time or help those who lost their jobs in any significant manner. It’s just a theatrical act prolonging Prayut’s stay in power for at least three months.  

 Even if Prayut resigns, and not many are betting on that, there seems no visible competent alternative and the ruling parties combined with the junta-appointed senate and the current constitution means they will continue to be in control. No general elections can take place without a major risk of significantly exacerbating the pandemic.

A major anti-government protest is called for next Sunday, Jul 18 by co-leader Arnon Nampa. That’s also a risky business and could lead to more infections. If the protest becomes a new cluster of infections, the movement would be discredited and branded as reckless and irresponsible. But even if they could muster tens of thousands onto  the streets of Bangkok next Sunday, there’s no guarantee that Prayut will resign.

Anti-government groups will need to convince others who were previously indifferent to Prayut to send a clear message that Prayut must go. That goal is harder to achieve, easier said than done partly as the core of the anti-government movement has become very virulent verbally. The use of expletives, hate speech and even dehumanizing speech against Prayut and supporters of the regime has become fair game for many anti-government protest leaders. This is not winning more converts and in fact eliciting some strong counter-reactions from the pro-Prayut camp and conservatives while some of those who remain undecided are put off by the toxic political environment.

This means Thailand will likely have to suffer more infections, loss of lives and face absolute economic ruin before any significant political change will likely occur. I hope we do not need to become utterly destitute and the country in ruin before positive change can be achieved, for that would be a total tragedy for Thailand.