21 May 2014

General Prayeth vs Dr Seri: a glimpse of the Thai army's tactics?

We get our first glimpse of General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s masterplan for Thailand’s future – which includes the arrest of a popular protest leader.

One day after the head of the Royal Thai army declared martial law, we got our first glimpse of  General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s masterplan to pull Thailand out of the political hole it now finds itself in – and as holes go, it’s a big one.

Thailand’s anti-government faction, largely made up of Bangkok’s upper and middle classes, has been out protesting on the streets for six months in an attempt to shut the country down.

Meanwhile, the government, which is backed by Thailand’s rural poor, has been clinging to power by its finger-tips as the nation it is charged with administering spirals into chaos.


General Prayuth’s key strategy then – other than closing a handful of TV stations down and threatening to get tough with ‘social-media extremists’ – is to get Thailand’s warring political tribes to sit down and start talking.

That process began today in the comfortable confines of the Thai Army Club in Bangkok. Opposing parties were put in the same room and told to begin negotiations – although the only thing they agreed to was to have another meeting.

There was one other development of note today and it concerned the arrest of one of the protest leaders – a flamboyant academic cum celebrity called Dr Seri Wongmontha.

We met ‘Dr Seri’ earlier this year on a protest stage in central Bangkok. To my genuine surprise, he interrupted a speech to many thousands of supporters and challenged me to debate. As you can see in the video, I tried to question him on some of their key demands – for example, the view that an unelected council of experts should devise political reforms before elections are held.

It seems Dr Seri’s revolutionary sales pitch has fallen foul of the generals, however, because the silk-suited showman was arrested today at Bangkok’s main airport for insurrection and seven other charges – making him the first leading protestor to be hauled in by the authorities (he was briefly detained, then released this afternoon after posting bail).

It’s all rather curious. Outstanding arrest warrants were issued against Dr Seri and 29 other top protest leaders several months ago, but nothing was done to enforce them.

Still, General Prayuth and colleagues may have decided that the arrest of this well-known entertainer was a good way to concentrate minds on the difficult road ahead.

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