The monarchy-reform and anti-government protests have come to a point over the past weeks where groups diverged and took a different path in an attempt to achieve their goals.
Here are the strengths and weaknesses of various opposition protest groups descending onto the streets of Bangkok and advice if you fancy joining or merely observing them in action.
The Sombat and Nattawut Anti-Government Motorcade Protest:
After failing to hold a daily mass protest at Asoke Intersection after the number of protesters were not massive enough, the duo of veteran pro-democracy activist Sombat Boonngam-anong and former redshirt co-leader Nattawut Saigua decided to stick to the occasional tried and tested motorcade protest originally introduced by Sombat a few months back in order to avoid potential COVID-19 infections.
Their goal is strictly see Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha ousted ASAP so the issue of monarchy-reform is not present on the stage or elsewhere in hope of attracting as many supporters as possible, including those who are unhappy about Prayut’s COVID-19 management meltdown although it looks as if it will take longer that the two originally planned despite big words like “the last battle” being used.
In case you want to join or observe in person: Ideally you should own a car, if not be prepared to hire a taxi, a motorcycle taxi or hitchhike with some car-owning protesters. Be prepared to bear the occasional honking noise. It’s a plus if you are enamored with the two charismatic leaders and expect things to be peaceful and orderly. Warning: It’s bad for global warming but okay if you miss Bangkok’s traffic jams.
The Thammasat Student Group:
Thammasat university students played an instrumental role in launching the monarchy-reform movement last year. One year on, many of its leaders are among the over one hundred charged with lese majeste, and some, like Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, are currently back in prison. None of the 10 demands for the reform of the monarchy have been met but they persist and continue to call for change as more end up being charged under the lese majeste law which stipulates 15 years maximum imprisonment term for those defaming the monarchy. The group also adheres to the notion of non-violent struggle. They also want Prayut out but sometimes can’t decide where to put the focus on.
In case you want to join or observe in person: You can expect lots of fiery speeches against not just Prayut but the monarchy. Some speak English so communication is not a problem for foreigners. Many of the charismatic leaders are either in prison or facing charges so do not expect them to be very visible at protest sites. Expect a carnival-like atmosphere but don’t ask them when it will be over. It’s been over a year and now and they probably have no clue.
Taluh Fah (Shattering the Sky):
A group of strictly non-violent protesters and activists wanting both monarchy reform and Prayut resignation. Best known for their creative protests such as wrapping Democracy Monument with LGBTQ canvas etc. Not many people join their protests unlike the previous two groups but there’s something hip about these people who lean towards hippy vibe and grassroot rights.
In case you want to join or observe in person. It’s fun but after a few visits you might wonder – what’s next?
REDEM (Restart Democracy):
More militant group of student protesters with some expressing a republican sentiment. They want Prayut out, monarchy reform or better still, the Republic of Thailand.
In case you want to join or observe in person: Do not expect any leader on-site but follow the group’s order on Facebook and Telegram instead. Be prepared for a possible violent clash with police so bring a safety helmet, goggles, teargas mask, a bottle of water and running shoes with you in case things turn ugly. It’s carefree and you will have to look after yourself as one of its key leaders is supposedly in exile in Canada. (Maybe the next protest should be staged in Ottawa. No?) Watch out for early declaration or “victory” for you might get sucked into temporary jubilation and withdrawn when it’s repeated often enough without result. Warning: Shout “Vive la Republique!” at your own risk because probably your act might be accidentally captured on a Facebook Live report by some unwitting reporter.
Taluh Gas (Shattering Teargas):
What’s it about? Disgruntled young working-class teenagers clash with police on a near nightly showdown around Din Daeng Intersection in Bangkok in hope that Prayut will resign. These youths, many riding small motorcycles to the protest site in the evening and armed with home-made fire crackers, slingshots with glass marble and metal bolts, Molotov cocktails and even fireworks do not talk much if at all. Most that you will hear from them are expletives against Prayut, police and sometimes graffiti the king.
They feel that other groups mentioned before have failed to dislodge Prayut whom they blame for the lack of hope for the future given the current economic situation. So they are doing it their own way, night after night for over a month now in an attempt to achieve the goal.
In case you want to join or observe in person. Be fully protected and prepared for possible stray rubber bullets from riot police or glass marble from protesters. At least two persons have lost their eyesight as a result. Don’t forget lots of testosterone for you will likely need to run a lot.
Vandalizing and burning traffic police booths are now trendy in the vicinity so don’t be caught accused of being a party to the crime.
Advice: Don’t tell the protesters that they are violent when with them, no matter what your eyes see. Violence? What violence? It’s all peaceful, baby. Call it self-defense and staying safe. Don’t bother asking them when it will all be over for they probably do not know as well. Be prepared to be arrested if you stayed after the 9pm COVID-19 curfew time. Over 500 protesters, mostly teenagers, have been arrested so far. And when you strayed into the crowd of riot police who use rubber bullets liberally, teargas, water cannon, and voice emitting machines, don’t scream “police brutality” no matter what your eyes see or how hurt your ears feel.