Protest Leaders Disagree on Prayut’s Offer to Meet

An anti-government protest at Kasetsart University on July 24, 2020.

BANGKOK — Two leaders of the anti-government protest movement on Thursday clashed on a government invitation to hold talks with PM Prayut Chan-o-cha. 

Prayut said earlier this week that he is willing to meet leaders of the student protests, which broke out three weeks ago, and hear their demands. One of the protest organizers welcomed the offer, but another rejected the move as a hollow attempt to buy time. 

“We are ready to meet Prayut as long as the meeting is open and can be followed on Facebook Live and not a closed door meeting,” Free Youth protest leader Tattep “Ford” Ruangprapakitseree said in an interview. “Our demands are non negotiable.”

Their three demands are the dissolution of the House of Representatives in order to pave way for a new general election, drafting of a new Constitution, and an end to political harassment against protesters. Protesters also call for the government to resign. 

“We are ready for a talk but there must be a time frame as to when the demands will be met. It’s impossible for us not to talk to him,” Tattep said.

But Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, who leads a group called Student Union of Thailand, said he would not participate in what he sees as a dishonest gesture by the government. 

“No student leaders should meet Prayut. He is not sincere in listening,” Parit said. “By claiming to be listening, he will seek to reduce the political pressure, buy time and we will end up becoming his rubber stamp.”

Parit also questioned why the government was suddenly open to talks after slapping him with at least 12 charges related to his political gatherings. 

“I believe that his overture in wanting to meet with student leaders is insincere,” the activist said. “We have been protesting for a long time and never had Prayut ever wanted to meet us. Instead, what we got is charges filed against us.”

Tattep said he understand Parit’s concerns, but his group will still go ahead with the meeting, if it ever happens. 

“We have the same goal. We simply differ in how to go about the goal,” said Tattep, whose group changed its name to “Free People” on Thursday. The group also posted two more demands: no military coup and no national government.

Neither Tattep nor Parit has been contacted by the Office of the Prime Minister as of press time.