Dhaka, Bangladesh
'Critical' state of emergency not justifie Wasant Techawongtham

'Critical' state of emergency not justifie Wasant Techawongtham

Words can hardly express my sense of outrage and dismay at the use of overwhelming force to disperse peaceful protesters early on Thursday morning. The night before, protest leaders had already announced they were leaving the protest site near the Government House in the early morning. It was too late for them to disperse right away. There was no justification for the police to show up in large numbers with an intent to use force. Many protesters had already left earlier, but many who had come from afar were resting, waiting for the sun to come up and leave. But the police came storming in under the cover of darkness to drive them away and take some of them into custody. There was no reason not to wait until there was light and allow the remaining protesters to leave of their own accord. There's even less justification for declaring a "critical" state of emergency in Bangkok. There was no emergency, let alone a critical one. There were no riots, no places burning, nothing broken, no stores looted. There was only a large gathering of citizens who were there to show their discontent with a government that came to power more than six years ago through deceit and deception. With the state of emergency declaration, Thailand is essentially back to where it was when the military junta seized power and tore up the constitution. Dictatorship has again assumed absolute power. With emotions running high, this very act is indeed an incitement to riot. Earlier, the authorities and their supporters expressed fears that the demonstration attended by mostly young people could turn violent. The protesters have proved the fear unfounded. They have, in fact, gone out of their way to maintain peace. They decided to move their assembly from the Democracy Monument to Government House earlier than planned to ensure the motorcade of the royal family passes unimpeded. The protesters chose a route intended to avoid any confrontation with several groups of yellow-clad people who assembled at various locations in the area. At a few points along their way, they came upon lines of police blocking them. The protesters chose negotiation instead of aggressiveness to open the police blockade. Besides a couple of minor scuffles, everything went peacefully and orderly. But then an incident took place, which the government seized upon to justify its declaration of the "critical" state of emergency. Somehow, a motorcade carrying the Queen came on the road through the protest site, catching the protesters by surprise. There were apparently no announcements of the procession, and it appeared policemen keeping order there were also caught off- guard. Some protesters flashed the three-fingered salute as the motorcade slowly snaked through. But some profanities were also heard. The significance of this incident is manifold. Apart from being used as an excuse for the state of emergency, the expression shown by members of the public toward a high member of the royalty was unprecedented. The current series of protests have managed to break a number of taboos relating to the monarchy. But if the government expected the state of emergency declaration to scare away the protesters, events have now shown they were dead wrong. Initially, dissenters were unsure if anyone would show up at Ratchaprasong intersection for their follow-up demonstration as announced the night before. But even before the appointed time of 4pm, a large number of people were already thronging the area. Without obvious leaders present, they managed to chant anti-government slogans in unison. By 4pm Mike, or Panupong Jadnok, showed up. From then on, the demonstration quickly gathered strength, and soon, tens of thousands of noisy protesters occupied a large area of the intersection. Protesters and speakers on a make-shift stage focused their rage at Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and demanded the release of protesters and protest leaders arrested earlier. Even after their comrades were nabbed for making direct references to the monarchy, speakers at the intersection did not shy away from the subject. They demanded specifically that any future coups d'etat not be royally sanctioned. It appears certain that any attempt from now on to suppress public discussion of the monarchy is futile. Do the young protesters fear the might of the high institution and state authorities that could fall upon them? I'm certain that, like everybody else, they had fears whenever the subject was brought up critically. But now it is being normalised. Apparently, yearnings for a better future for themselves and the country have superseded the old fears. The tide has now turned, and there's no turning back. Undoubtedly, a lot of people still hold the monarchy in the highest regard and resent to a great degree any action considered a slight or disrespect. For them, any critique of the monarchy amounts to treason. Their extremist reverence for the monarchy is not shared by the rest of the world. However, it has caused many Thais to be thrown in jail and forced many others into exile with little hope of returning, creating a grievous chasm in the heart of the nation. Those in power should realise that forceful or violent suppression no longer works. Only civil discussions with open minds can heal the wounds. Bangkok Post. The writer is freelance reporter and Managing Editor of Milky Way Press.

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