Thailand braces for mass protests after parliamentary ‘coup’ against Pita

Move Forward supporters protesting at Democracy Monument on July 19 laid out plans for more rallies to support their “martyred” party leader, Pita Limjaroenrat.

The Nation

The Nation



July 21, 2023

BANGKOKMove Forward supporters protesting at Democracy Monument on Wednesday laid out plans for more rallies to support their “martyred” party leader, Pita Limjaroenrat.

Supporters called the mass rally at 5pm, straight after the Constitutional Court suspended Pita pending its ruling on whether he was unqualified to contest the May 14 election because he owned shares in media firm iTV.

In what his supporters deemed a heroic scene, Pita stood up and informed Parliament that he had received a letter from the court to say he was suspended from duty as an MP.

Before leaving the assembly hall, he declared that Thailand had changed since the election, with Move Forward and its supporters having completed half of their journey to change the country. Move Forward won the election on a promise to oust the military from politics and reform Article 112, the lese majesty law that shields the monarchy from scrutiny and criticism.

Pita then raised his fist and walked out of the hall to a standing ovation from 150 Move Forward MPs, many of whom had tears in their eyes.

His opponents, including most of the 250 junta-appointed senators who oppose changes to the lese majesty law, also joined forces with MPs from the outgoing government coalition to block Pita from being renominated as a prime minister candidate.

As the Constitutional Court announced its 7:2 majority decision to suspend Pita, many of his supporters waiting outside Parliament rushed to the front gate, attempting to break through the police barricade to get inside.

Some lit flares and threw papers through the gate but there were no reports of injuries and protesters dispersed quickly.

The United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration then made a Facebook call for protesters to gather at Democracy Monument at 5pm.

“People can no longer tolerate this. Today let’s conduct a funeral at Democracy Monument for senators and Constitutional Court judges who refuse to respect the people’s will,” the post read.

Human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa announced he was cancelling his schedule to join the rally, and urged all supporters of democracy to come along.

At 5pm, a crowd of several hundred people gathered at Democracy Monument, which was wrapped in a banner that read “Pita, prime minister of the people’s consensus”.

Protest leaders then addressed the crowd, demanding justice for Pita in the face of “persecution” by the Constitutional Court and the Election Commission. They said senators had blocked election-winner Move Forward’s democratic right to lead the next government. They also alleged that outgoing Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha was behind a conspiracy to block Pita from power.

“We are being pushed aside. We are confronting a group of people in power in this country. They trampled us and are trying to bury us. But we are seeds, the more they trample us, the more we will grow,” Arnon told demonstrators. He also reminded the crowd that Move Forward had grown from the 81 MP seats its predecessor Future Forward won in the 2019 election.

“Now, Move Forward is the No 1 party. This year, we won 14 million votes. In four years, we’ll definitely get 20 million votes,” he said.

“You destroyed Pita now. But in four years, you’ll face Rangsiman Rome. His name already tells you that Rome is not built in one day.” Rangsiman is a Move Forward MP, as well as party spokesman and deputy secretary-general.

At 10pm, protesters issued a statement containing three demands.

It called for the immediate resignation of senators, for the eight-party Move Forward-led coalition to remain united, and for the coalition not to compromise on their election promises to the people.

Earlier, some senators pledged to support Pita’s prime ministerial bid if he renounced his stance on amending Article 112. However, the Move Forward leader refused to back down.

The rally at Democracy Monument ended with a mock funeral for senators and court judges as protesters placed cremation flowers into a coffin, before dispersing at 10.30pm.

Chiang Mai saw a similar mock cremation on the same day, as Move Forward supporters gathered at the Pratu Tha Pae city gate at 8.30pm. About 100 protesters burned an effigy representing the Constitutional Court.

Pita and Move Forward supporters have already announced schedules for more rallies.

Kasetsart University students will call for senators to resign during a rally at their Bangkok main campus from 5pm on Friday (July 21).

On Sunday, anti-coup activist Sombat Boonngamanong will lead a rally at Pathumwan Square. His group plans to march between MBK shopping mall, Siam Square, and CentralWorld to protest “dictatorship”.

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