11 July 2024

Both anti-government protesters and the authorities may need to reassess their strategies of using force, as the political tension is expected to drag on for quite some tine, a political science professor said, amid daily gatherings that resulted in violent clashes between hardcore protesters and police leading to some injuries in the past few weeks.

While the gatherings of mainstream protest groups have been largely peaceful since early last year, their protests became increasingly aggressive, with attempts to remove barbed wires and other barriers and push pass through the police to enter certain areas.

It has however become another story altogether when hardcore elements, many of whom vocational students and alumni, began joining the gatherings and used explosives and slingshots, and throwing hard objects like bricks at the police.

In a video interview with Thai PBS World, Dr. Titipol Phakdeewanich, a political scientist at Ubon Ratchathani University in Thailand’s northeast, shared his view on the situation, saying the protests are not so different from last year and earlier this year, except for more violent actions, as their demands remain roughly the same, which are to seek the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, and the reform Thai political institutions including the monarchy.

But the protesters may need to rethink the strategy in terms of allowing the hardcore groups to join, to be able to convince the conservatives and others to join their movement in the long run, the academic said.

“At this stage, they should also reassess their strategy and see this as kind of a long-term movement. So, you can’t just only use aggressive strategies to end it, because I don’t think we can just end the protest or get the demands of the protesters (answered) so soon from the government,” said Dr. Titipol.

Saying the protesters have already shed light on the problems with the government and systematic and structural problems in the society, the protesters can still make their desire happen with a less violent approach. “I think this would significantly contribute to a future reform of the Thai political power structure,” he said.

“To a certain extent, it (violence) would also undermine the credibility of the movement. But I think it wouldn’t have a big impact on the perception of the pro-democratic movement because they actually don’t see this as a problem.”

Asked whether police response, with the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, and batons, and sometimes even with physical force, has been proportionate, the analyst said “most of the time, it is too much.”

“In Thailand, the concept of human rights is not actually acknowledged by Thai government officials, not just the police. So that’s why the way they see the movement is just a group that is opposing the government, but they don’t see the protesters as a group that is actually exercising their freedom of expression and calling for more democracy for the country,” said Dr. Titipol.

“And this is one of the main problems why they are overreacting, because they see the protesters as a threat to the state which is not always the case,” he added.

With many of the core leaders of the mainstream groups being charged and detained by police, the protests have become increasingly leaderless, with new groups emerging, such as the “Talufah” which was formed earlier this year, led by Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa, who is currently detained, and the “Talugas”, the hardcore vocational student group.