By KAS CHANWANPEN,
PRO-ELECTION activists were arrested as their attempt yesterday to march to Government House to push for an early election was blocked by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who insisted that the poll would be no sooner than early 2019.
The protest leaders arrested after more than five hours of confrontation with police were Anon Nampa, Chonthicha Jangrew, Nuttha Mahattana, Ekachai Hongkangwan, and Chokchai Paiboonrachata. Three others – Rangsiman Rome, Siriwaith Seritiwat and Piyarat Chongthep – also turned themselves in soon after.
Their arrests came after the Administrative Court rejected their request for an injunction that would have allowed for the staging of a political rally under junta rule. The junta’s orders prohibit assemblies of five people or more for political purposes.
“They cannot march, whether they support or oppose us. It breaks the law. They will just cause conflict and upset the economy,” Prayut told reporters.
Enforcing the law and breaking up the protest did not violate their human rights, he said, claiming that other countries would do the same in this situation.
Prayut who staged a military coup to topple the elected civilian government four years ago, is facing growing calls for an election to bring democratic norms back to the country.
“They can demand all they want but the law is the law,” he said. “There will be an election early next year, no sooner than that. We will have to progress according to the readiness of related laws.”
The premier and junta chief referred to four organic laws related to the election. According to the 2017 Constitution, the election must be held within 150 days of all the four laws coming into effect.
The junta leader declared last year that the election would be held by this November but that date was changed again when junta-appointed legislators agreed to delay the enactment of the MP election law by 90 days.
That meant a further delay to the poll date of three months from this November, putting it at next February.
The move stirred dissatisfaction among pro-democracy activists, who are sceptical of reasons given for the delay and have been calling for an earlier election since January.
Hundreds of protesters had camped overnight at Thammasat University’s Tha Prachan campus. Their attempt to march to Government House was thwarted as several hundred police officers lined up and their path was blocked by barricades outside the university.
After a stand-off between the demonstrators and police lasting more than four hours, some of the protesters who had been outside the police circle and were led by protest leader Anon, managed to advance closer to Government House.
But they were faced by hundreds more police in front of the United Nations office on Rachadamnoen Avenue, less than two kilometres away from Government House, and were pressured to disperse.
The leaders then accepted that they would not reach their destination and decided to read aloud a statement, condemning four years of military rule and calling for an early election, before letting the police take them away.
Throughout four years of rule, the statement said, the ruling junta had destroyed the country’s rule of law, human rights, economy and its future.
Meanwhile, the other group in front of the university tried to push back against the police in order to break out and join with their fellow demonstrators. After a brief moment of intense confrontation, the leaders asked the protesters to withdraw, fearing that violence might break out. They later agreed to turn themselves in and asked other protesters to go home.
“Today is a step in the march of history, we will fight together until we overcome some day,” Siriwith said, before leaving the scene with police. “I have fought against the junta for four years. I will not give up.”