BANGKOK — A fresh hint to re-enter politics by the leader of a protest movement that helped brought down Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government drew a rebuff from pro-government politicos and netizens on Tuesday.
Justice minister and Phalang Pracharath leader Somsak Thepsuthin said Suthep Thaugsuban, who organized street protests in 2013 that paved the way for a military coup a year later, should be careful with his words, lest political conflicts and mass protests make a comeback.
“What’s the purpose of doing this?” Somsak said. “People are facing a lot of problems already. I would like everyone to express their opinions in an academic manner, rather than stirring people to take the streets.”
He continued, “We already had the experience, and many people were jailed. Let me ask what good it would do? Please, whatever that can cause conflicts, don’t do it.”
Suthep, who serves as “an advisor” for the pro-junta party Action Coalition of Thailand, appeared to break his vow to never re-enter politics again on Sunday. Speaking at a party assembly, he said he couldn’t let go of politics, which he said is necessary to protect the country from anti-monarchist movements.
“After all our efforts, the situation still can’t be trusted. We eliminated the old villain, but the new villain emerged,” Suthep said. “I can’t tell who he is, but this one is horrifying, daring, and he has made himself clear that he’s all against the traditions. That’s the reason, because I don’t know who else to rely on.”
He went on to stress that he does not wish for a seat in the Cabinet, but rather want to serve the people and uphold the monarchy. However, Suthep did not elaborate on how he would pursue his activism.
“I don’t want to say this, but many parties are egocentric. They only care about which seats they will get,” Suthep said. “I don’t want to take any positions, but I can’t be stopped from re-entering into politics because I have a vision to create a party that really represents people’s voice.”
“We want the monarchy to remain at the center of people’s hearts,” he continued. “The institution is vital to our national security.”
At the height of his protest from 2013 to 2014, he led thousands of protesters to occupy key intersections and government institutions across Bangkok to pressure then-PM Yingluck to resign and install a new regime to “reform the country.”
After months of escalating violence, which saw at least 20 people dead, the military seized power in May 2014.
Suthep became a monk after the coup and pledged not to take up politics again, only to cast off his robe to join the Action Coalition of Thailand in 2018. But his popularity seems to have dried up; the party could only secure five seats in the latest election.
Suthep’s critics on Facebook expressed their ire at what they perceive to be an overture to Suthep’s return to politics.
“It’s you who’s the villain,” user Adirek Phannawong wrote. “The monkhood doesn’t help you to become a better person.”