PATHUM THANI – Thousands of followers at Dhammakaya Temple defied DSI Police as they tried to enforce an order issued by Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha under section 44 of the draft charter to effectively prohibited lay followers from entering the compound of the temple in Pathum Thani.
Thailand’s Department of Special Investigations (DSI) ordered worshipers to leave Dhammakaya temple by 3 p.m. (3.00 a.m. ET) so that they could intensify the search for former abbot Phra Dhammachayo.
But followers, who want the authorities to suspend their siege, flocked into the 1,000 acre compound. Many held rudimentary placards in English and Thai calling for police to stand down and appealing for international attention and help.
Dhammakaya Temple spokesman Phra Sanitwong Wutthiwangso Sunday called on Gen Prayut to abolish the article 44 order that seals off the temple from worshipers.
The Department of Special Investigations is hunting for Phra Dhammachayo who faces charges of conspiracy to launder money and receive stolen goods, as well as taking over land unlawfully to build meditation centers.
Temple spokesman and senior monk Phra Pasura Dantamano, his aides and thousands of followers dismiss the accusations as politically motivated and say Gen. Prayut’s Article 44 order is an abuse of power.
Phra Pasura Dantamano told Reuters “We have always been willing to negotiate and accommodate the authorities but this is too much.”
Around 13,000 people were inside the temple as of Sunday morning, according to Dantamano, who said that the temple would have to comply with the request to evacuate.
Although the temple has no overt political affiliation, Thailand’s Junta leaders believe Phra Dhammachayo had links with populist former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who’s democratically elected government was overthrown in 2006.
In 2014 Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra’s democratically elected government was toppled by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, seeing Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha appointed as prime minister and chief of the National Council for Peace and Order, his hand picked parliament of generals and supporters.
In January of this year Gen Prayut finally acted on a promise he made upon seizing power nearly three years ago, that his ruling military junta – the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) – proposed a pact on national reconciliation that he wishes to be binding on the signatories from both sides of the political divide.
The junta plans to host a meeting of the political parties and other relevant groups to discuss what’s needed for peaceful coexistence. Deputy Prime Minister-Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan has established a committee to formulate an “agreement of truth” that would hopefully bridge the socio-political gulf that has split Thailand since the advent of the Shinawatra era.
If Prawit’s initiative is to have any merit at all, the military will have to welcome criticism, however deeply cutting, so that opponents of that status quo will feel secure enough to voice their opinions, feel they are being heard, and perhaps feel that reconciliation is a possibility after all.
Sources: The Nation, Bangkok Post, Reuters