Thai Cabinet approves Parliament special session to discuss protests

Emergency rules and police crackdown on activists have failed to halt daily rallies

Pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok making the anti-dictatorship three-finger salute yesterday at 6pm, the time at which the national anthem is usually played in public transport stations. PHOTO: REUTERS
Pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok making the anti-dictatorship three-finger salute yesterday at 6pm, the time at which the national anthem is usually played in public transport stations. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK • Thailand's Parliament will hold a special session next week to discuss the demands of pro-democracy protesters, after emergency rules and police crackdowns on activists failed to halt daily rallies across the nation's capital and other major cities.

A Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha agreed to support a two-day sitting of Parliament from next Monday, Mr Anucha Nakasai, Minister for the Prime Minister's Office, told reporters in Bangkok yesterday.

The proposal still needs to be endorsed by King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

The move for parliamentary debate follows six straight days of rallies attended by tens of thousands of protesters calling for Mr Prayut's resignation, a rewriting of the Constitution and reform of the monarchy.

While the Prime Minister did not say yesterday how far the government could go in meeting protesters' demands, Parliament may move forward the process of constitutional amendment to placate them.

"Given the escalating protest movement, Parliament won't be able to delay the process for charter amendment any longer," said Dr Virot Ali, lecturer at Thammasat University's Faculty of Political Science. "The move might be a tactic to buy time without really considering what the protesters demand, which will escalate the movement even further."

Deputy Prime Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow had said on Monday that the ongoing protests were a political problem that needed to be solved using political processes.

The protesters have vowed to carry on the demonstrations until all their demands are met.

Yesterday evening, thousands again gathered at various locations in and around Bangkok and flashed the anti-dictatorship three-finger salute to the national anthem.

The demonstrations were relatively subdued after protest organisers on social media urged demonstrators to go home and save their energy for a fresh rally today, reported the Bangkok Post.

Protests have gained momentum since the government announced a ban on gatherings of more than four people last Thursday.

Dozens have been arrested, including the movement's leaders largely made up of young people and students.

Two detained protest leaders - Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak and Panusaya "Rung" Sithijirawattanakul - were arrested again yesterday as soon as they had been freed on bail granted by a court over earlier charges related to the protests.

Street protests since mid-July are the biggest challenge in decades to the monarchy and to Mr Prayut, who rejects accusations of engineering an election last year to keep power.

Yesterday, a Thai court ordered the suspension of an online TV station for violating emergency measures aimed at ending the protests.

Another three media outlets are being probed for similar offences.

Voice TV had also been found to have breached the Computer Crime Act by uploading "false information", digital ministry spokesman Putchapong Nodthaisong told reporters.

Mr Rittikorn Mahakhachabhorn, editor-in-chief of Voice TV, said it would continue broadcasting until the court order arrived.

"We insist that we have been operating based on journalistic principles, and we will continue our work presently," he said.

Voice TV is owned in part by the family of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck, who was overthrown by Mr Prayut in a 2014 coup.

Mr Prayut has said he will not quit in the face of the protests. However, yesterday, he ordered the police to reconsider their censorship of media outlets.

"Our job is to protect the country and eliminate ill-intentioned actions aimed at creating chaos and conflict in the country," Mr Prayut told reporters after the Cabinet meeting.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2020, with the headline Thai Cabinet approves Parliament special session to discuss protests. Subscribe