Thai Junta Hunts Pro-Election Activists Protest Backers

Gen Chalermchai: People want an election but understand why there are delays.- Photo Phuket News

BANGKOK – Thailand’s ruling Junta has pledged to go after those who are financially supporting pro-election activists, who are ramping up pressure on the regime to hold a poll to return the country to democracy this year.

“Security officers are keeping an eye on those who might be involved with the activities,” National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general Wallop Raksanoh said Monday, referring to efforts to hunt down those who are the backers of the group.

The activists’ would not pose such a major problem if people were not egging them on, he said.

In efforts to mobilise pro-election campaigns, activists said in a briefing on Saturday that big events are planned for March 10 and 14. In May, the group aims to gather every Saturday and will hold a non-stop rally from May 19-22.

Gen Wanlop Raksanoh as secretary-general of the National Security Council.

Civil rights activists under the name of the “People Go Network” also pledged to expand their civil rights campaign, including taking to the streets of Bangkok. The group said after completing a monthlong walk from Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus in Pathum Thani to Khon Kaen on Friday that they wanted the election to be held as quickly as possible.

Gen Wallop said that authorities are keeping an eye on the situation and no violence has taken place so far.

Asked whether the number of the demonstrators is increasing, Gen Wallop said people tend to pay little attention to the group. As long as authorities are vigilant in keeping an eye on the groups, little trouble was likely to erupt, he predicted.

Gen Wallop said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had emphasized that officials must ensure no third party would exploit the group’s activities by causing violence.

Army chief Gen Chalermchai Sitthisad also echoed Gen Wallop’s remarks, saying officials are searching for the people thought to be supporting the group.

He said leading figures of political parties have denied involvement with the group.

A Pro-democracy activist holds a fan during protest against junta near Democracy Monument in Bangkok. -Photo Soe Zeya Tun

The pro-democracy group on Saturday asked politicians to join the anti-government movement, but they declined, saying this might send the wrong message that they are political tools.

Gen Chalermchai insisted authorities will not employ hard-line measures against the campaigners and they will use only existing laws to deal with them.

“I am confident the situation will remain under control,” said Gen Chalermchai, adding the past political crisis should serve as a lesson to people and no one wants such a political quagmire to happen again.

Responding to the activists’ call for the military to stand by the people, the army chief asked: “Do you think the people think in the same way these groups do? I think most Thais want to see an election but they understand the reason and necessity of the required legal process.”

Gen Prayut had previously announced that an election would be scheduled tentatively for November, but the National Legislative Assembly voted last month to delay the enforcement of an organic law needed for the poll by 90 days, which effectively puts off the poll until February 2019 at the earliest.

Gen Chalermchai said most people understand the steps leading to the poll and they have agreed to allow some time for the process, which would be better than coming out for confrontations. “Most people want peace,” the army chief said.

“The government has never announced there will be no election. Everything is proceeding in line with legal steps. If people are mobilized to confront each other, this would complicate the problem. State authorities will enforce the laws in a proper way,” said Gen Chalermchai.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (R) and Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan before a weekly cabinet meeting at Government House in Bangkok- Photo Athit Perawongmetha

According to the army commander, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon has instructed officers to provide security for the activists and enforce laws in an appropriate way for those who breach them.

Reports have been swirling that politicians are travelling to meet former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra overseas. Thaksin and his sister Yingluck Shinawatra were seen in a photo online on Feb 10 amid suggestions they were in Beijing. The photo emerged the same day as an anti-coup protest was staged at the Democracy Monument.

After Beijing, there were reports saying that Thaksin and Yingluck had travelled to Japan and Hong Kong. They are now said to be staying in Singapore.

Responding to the news, Gen Chalermchai said appealed to the media not to draw links between the Shinawatras and everything else happening in politics. “We cannot send people to arrest them,” Gen Chalermchai said.” We have to depend on international cooperation in that matter.” Asked whether he would meet the two former premiers in Singapore, where he is scheduled to visit, the army commander stressed: “I go there for work. I do not establish links.”

Gen Chalermchai also denied reports that Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) officials were deployed to conduct opinion polls to find out whether people want the election to be held quickly. He said officials only heed people’s views.

He said it is common for people to feel weary of those in power for a long time. “They [the people] want something better, but do not know what it should be. Wanting change is normal,” said the army chief.

Also Monday, former Democrat MP Watchara Phetthong said he was confident that Suthep Thaugsuban, head of the defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), would set up a party to back Gen Prayut to serve as the prime minister after the poll. The PDRC protested against the Yingluck administration from November 2013 to May 2014.

Not many Democrat members were likely to leave the party for the one to be formed by Mr Suthep as they will not abandon the Democrat spirit and opt for a military-supporting party, Mr Watchara said.

By WassanaNanuam and Aekarach Sattaburuth
The Bangkok Post



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