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Turbulent Thailand

Thailand politicians squabble as protesters vow to continue

Opposition parliamentarian self-harms in chamber with concealed knife

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha attended a special two-day joint session of parliament that looks unlikely to provide him any relief from Thailand's ongoing political crisis.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- Political observers do not expect the Thai parliament to come up with anything likely to dissuade protesters from continuing demonstrations during a two-day joint session of the lower and upper houses that concludes at 10 p.m.

The special sitting degenerated into mudslinging on Tuesday with the opposition calling on Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to resign. Prayuth asked House Speaker Chuan Leekpai for permission to reply.

"If there had been no coup back then [in 2014], would there have been rioting?" Prayuth asked the politicians. "Have you forgotten what you did then that caused the chaos and corruption? You seem to have a short memory."

Prayuth compared the present political conflict to the situation before the coup he staged as army chief in 2014 against the caretaker government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The Prime Minister implied that the then ruling party, Pheu Thai, represented a "parliamentary dictatorship" and that Yingluck's cabinet was corrupt.

The government's quarreling with the opposition overshadowed any effort to address issues raised by youth-led pro-democracy protesters in recent months -- specifically the resignation of Prayuth and his government, constitutional amendments, and reform of the monarchy.

There was a moment of drama at about 5.50 p.m. when Wisarn Techatirawat of the opposition Pheu Thai party produced a knife and sliced his left arm, demanding of the prime minister, "Do you want to be a tyrant or a hero?" Wisarn was quickly surrounded by other members of parliament who removed the knife and helped him from the chamber.

"After two days of wasteful discussion, the parliament could try and strike a compromise by creating a committee with oversight," Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammatirat University, told Nikkei Asia.

Yuthaporn expected the inconclusive sitting would instead stoke anger among the protesters and make them keep up daily protests at a time when investment, business confidence and tourism are hitting all-time lows. "In the worst case, the protests could gradually escalate up to the end of the year if the protesters don't get what they want," he said.

Boonyakiat Karavekphan, a political scientist at Ramkamhaeng University, agreed with Yuthaporn. "You can see it that the issue of charter amendment, which is the major request of the youth-led protest, is not on the agenda," he said. Bookyakiat said the omission and failure to address issues would only serve to encourage extra-parliamentary political activity.

One of the largest rallies seen so far turned the domestic political brawl into a major diplomatic incident. Well over 10,000 demonstrators descended on the German embassy late yesterday to deliver a letter asking pointed questions about King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who resides most of the time in Bavaria. The key issue was whether the Thai king conducts state business on German soil, a question that has already been raised in the German parliament.

Three protest representatives were allowed to enter the mission to meet with Ambassador Georg Schmidt, who promised to forward the letter to Berlin.

Supporters of the Thai monarchy display images of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Queen Suthida, late King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Lumphini park in central Bangkok, Thailand Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.    © AP

On Tuesday, a very small group of ultraroyalists protested in front of the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, airing a conspiracy theory floated by a Russian-paid troll based in Bangkok that Washington has been using the pro-democracy movement to interfere in Thai politics.

"Your job in Hong Kong was good but it doesn't work for Thailand," read a sign held up by one of the ultraroyalists. It was directed at Ambassador Michael George DeSombre, who was the chairman of Save the Children Hong Kong from 2015 until he took up the ambassadorship in Bangkok this year as a political appointee of President Donald Trump.

A larger royalist rally in Lumphini park on Tuesday saw many people dressed in yellow arriving early. The group swelled to over 1,000 by 6 p.m. when they sang the national anthem before dispersing peacefully.

A pro-democracy group announced plans for the next rally on Thursday on a skywalk over the Pathumwan intersection, where a heavy response by riot police using water cannons, tear gas and skin irritants occurred on Oct. 16 attracted considerable domestic and international criticism.

Additional reporting by Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat

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