Pitak Siam: Rally, Fascism and Thailand

Pitak Siam, an ultra right wing group, is led by a retired general Boonlert Kaewprasit. On 24 November, they protested at Bangkok's Royal Plaza which is a spacious public space near the Thai Parliament and the King's Palace. 

The government, fearing civil unrest, laid down its Internal Security Act; had allowed the freedom of assembly although tied with strict checks on all bags and belongings for weapons. My bag was quickly searched by the police as I walked closer to the Royal Plaza. 

At this stage, I remember listening to my friends before the rally, them telling me about moods was at a disorientated spiral of heightened anxiety and apprehension, particularly among the political parties and the urban population. In the northern provinces, I was told that the Red Shirt movement was edgy at Pitak Siam's planned rally. 

I also remember that on 23 November afternoon, a pro-democracy movement called the Green Light (consisting of a group of students from a local university) went to the Royal Turf Club and was barred entry by Pitak Siam's youth wing. This ended badly, as the students were physically harassed. Some of my friends mentioned their concerns that this was an indicator that Pitak Siam would be violent on the rally date. 

During morning of the rally, both policemen and demonstrators were injured at the initial clash as a small part of the rally was heading into what police had declared as "prohibited" area. By the end of the day 42 people were wounded, included 7 policemen, and 132 protesters had been arrested. A six-wheel truck had rammed into concrete barricades and police. To the dismay of Pitak Siam's allies, Boonlert stepped down the stage in the evening, instructing his followers to disburse.

I was there before Boonlert left, and seeing the demonstrators taunting, commanding the others into confrontation with the riot police. Gone were Pitak Siam's guarantees of a peaceful assembly, though in all my discussions with people, not one felt that Pitak Siam was capable of managing the crowd and keeping the peace. At the last moment when the speakers gave the instruction, and their vans moved closer to the tight formation of policemen, I knew this would end it all. Canisters flew in the air, 5 explosions, then followed by a wicked cloud of tear gas, swept into the crowd.

I believe in the right of people to peaceful assembly and association, yet a small group of people don't on Twitter - despite professing to human rights, based on their own interpretation and wildly imaginative perception of how to control fascists. This was quite obvious in the rampaging tweets that took place a day before and during the rally, not to mention the mud slinging and name calling among 'dignified' members of society.

Pitak Siam was given the opportunity to demonstrate, yet became provocative at the sight of enforcers. In spite of knowing the outcome, these small groups tried their best, with punches, kicks, throwing of bottles and stones to the police. 

Beyond the locations of confrontation, I watched as Thais waved yellow flags, banners and cheered (and jeered at the names of Thaksin and Yingluck), moving to the rhythm of the many speakers on stage. Many who sat and listened were elders, while hurdled in one corner were "monks" of the Santi Asok, who showed their support for the removal of an elected government and in the words of Boonlert of sought to replace it with a junta similar to Burma. At the sight of Santi Asok members, I felt uneasy, perhaps thinking of how some so-called monks in Burma had supported the violence against Rohingya in the state of Rakhine. 

The blistering heat was bearable, yet I could not ignore the humidity and the approaching dark clouds. Thailand is coming of age. 


An update on Boonlert; him meeting the police:

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