Thai Parliament set to meet in shadow of fresh wave of protests

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) – Thai lawmakers will debate the escalating anti-government protests at a special session from Monday (Oct 26) as demonstrators step up pressure on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha with plans for more rallies.

Prayut, who has ignored calls to quit, has said that the session would address some of the grievances of activists, who are also calling for monarchy reform and amendments to the constitution.

But an agenda for the sitting showed lawmakers should debate coronavirus infection risks stemming from the protests and its possible impact on the country’s re-opening plan, and an incident involving some demonstrators targeting a royal motorcade.

With Parliament unlikely to resolve any of the key demands of the pro-democracy activists, the three-month-old protest movement is likely to gather further momentum. The protesters have made Prayut’s resignation their primary demand, and say a charter – written by a panel appointed by Prayut’s junta after a 2014 coup – was instrumental in helping him retain power after the 2019 elections.

The Prime Minister has struggled to quell the protest movement, forcing him to withdraw a state of emergency in the capital within a week of its imposition and asking protesters to “take a step back” to de-escalate the situation.

MORE PROTESTS

But protesters rejected the olive branch and have called for a march to the German embassy in Bangkok on Monday. The march is aimed at pressuring King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who spends the bulk of his time in Germany, to ask Prayut to step down.

The Thai government may be drawn into a “prolonged stand-off with the protesters, coupled with the arrests and harassment of leaders, in hopes of the movement’s losing momentum,” said Christopher Ankersen, associate professor at New York University’s School of Professional Studies Centre for Global Affairs.

If the government is forced to make some compromise, a drafting of a new constitution – “a slow, long and arcane process” – could be used to buy time, Ankersen said, adding that Prayut’s resignation could also be on the table.

Prayut has said the government is open to amending some unspecified parts of the constitution though Parliament last month stalled the charter amendment process.

An opinion poll by Suan Dusit University showed that more than 62 per cent of respondents felt discontent with Prayut’s performance was the key reason for the escalating protest movement. Another survey by the National Institute of Development Administration showed 59 per cent of the 1,336 respondents are worried the protests will lead to violence and conflict.

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