In a democratic system everyone has the right to protest. Rallies, marches, sit-ins and blockades are an integral part of an open and vibrant public space. Demonstrations give people an opportunity to air grievances and to publicly signal the depth of their support. And they furnish the media with potent images of dissent.
The ongoing rally of the People’s Alliance for (Sufficiency) Democracy (PASD) in Bangkok demonstrates the power of this form of political protest. In the face of determined dissent the Samak government has been forced into some significant backdowns. Hasty plans to amend the 2007 constitution have been referred to a parliamentary committee. And the government seems to be rushing to reposition itself on the Preah Vihear world heritage listing, an issue that has come from nowhere largely on the strength of the PA(S)D’s street campaign. The protests also provided an energising backdrop to a vigorous no-confidence debate in parliament, during which the opposition was said to have “chopped up” Samak and his cabinet colleagues. On the back of the PA(S)D protests the media have been feasting on the morsels.
Some of the key checks and balances of a democratic system appear to be working.
So will the PA(S)D go home, satisfied with a job well done? They have embarrassed the government and forced backdowns on key items in their list of demands. Their dissenting cause has received massive publicity. There can be little doubt that the public is well aware of the of the failings of Samak and his colleagues.
But I strongly suspect that the PA(S)D doesn’t want to go home (though court orders and a lack of mass support may force them to). They don’t want to leave the streets because they are not really interested in the specific issues that they have used to attack the government. These issues are just convenient tools. Government backdowns mean nothing because the PA(S)D has a much more ambitious agenda.
Their agenda is to bring the elected government down. Their agenda is to campaign for a perverted form of democracy-“sufficiency democracy”-in which representation is achieved by appointment. Their agenda is to impose a minority viewpoint on Thailand’s political future.
Is this part of the tradition of democratic protest? I don’t think so.