Interviews with protesters from both sides before the serial crackdowns and declaration of a severe state of emergency show that despite clashes and different ideologies, the supporters of both monarchism and democracy both shows signs of a desire for peace.
The Democracy Monument surrounded by protesters during the protest on 14 October, 2020.
After the student-led protest announced a call for monarchy reform, several royalist groups gathered to support the monarchy. Simultaneous rallies of the 2 groups did not occur until 14 October.
A royalist group had gathered on the morning of 16 August to observe the student-led protest that took place in the afternoon. As the number of pro-democracy protesters grew and grew, they dispersed in the afternoon as some in their protest seemed likely to stir up violence.
The confrontation on 14 October marked the first time pro-democracy supporters met the royalists. However, the emergence of the royalist group this time seemed to be suspiciously semi-officially organized.
As revealed by social media and photos, many of the people in yellow were government officials. Some seemed to be police officers recruited from other provinces countrywide. Also, official documents revealed that government offices in Chiang Mai, Phayao and the Department of Agriculture among others, gave out orders to recruit civilians to join nationalist activities.
Supattra was sitting with her group. She seemed that well prepared for the protest with a folding chair.
Supattra Sittiracha, 82, a former doctor, joined the protest because she wanted to understand the thoughts of the younger generation and to support the movement. She had participated in protests before 2006 and this time, she admired the bravery and intelligence of the students.
Supattra told Prachatai that she wanted to see Thailand as progressive as other developed countries. The social gap and injustice should be eradicated so people could access opportunities and could have better social welfare helping them to live happily.
"Everyone can have ideas. It depends on what information they have received or sometimes they consume only one-sided media. And what has always been instilled in us and has always been repeated affects our decisions. We respect opinions. People who think differently can co-exist. But we don’t want to be blamed as ‘nation-haters,’ ‘scum of the earth,’ ‘drunk,’ or ‘ignorant’. I think that’s not right. Then, they insult the kids saying they don’t know anything. If they were open-minded and came into contact with them, they would see their intelligence and bravery are well beyond my generation. When I experience the atmosphere, it increases my energy and increases my courage”
She said that political discourse was a significant factor that prevented the formation of peaceful and logical discussion and that caused fractures and hatred in society. She also believed that confrontation between the 2 groups would not be violent because the student-led rally was pure and she understood the opposition’s stance.
High school students join the student-led protest.
A group of high school students joined the rally after their classes. They did not follow the general strike as they still had to be responsible for their studies but they were committed to joining the rally.
They revealed their anger towards the government, especially the day before when 21 activists were arrested on 13 October without arrest warrants or being told the charges. They said that they were scared of being arrested but they could not just sit back; the rally needed a huge crowd to accelerate the change.
“We are here to show our rights, to show our own voice that we are powerful enough to change our country,” said one of the students. “I want the government to take action and agree to listen to our demands so that our country can progress in the direction that people want. And for those who are still afraid about joining the rally, I want them to think how we can get what we want.”
They were concerned about the violence that might occur if the 2 groups confronted each other but they were also confident that the student-led rally would not cause any violence.
Kai surrounded by police in uniform and yellow shirts. Behind her was a small stage of red-shirt protesters.
Kai, 60, and a group of red-shirt protesters set up a small stage that was surrounded by police in uniform and police look-alikes in yellow shirts. They were dancing and enjoying music while the crowd was walking to Government House.
Kai said that she was not afraid of the police and soldiers as they were nice and they were on duty. She also told her experience of confronting yellow shirts who gathered nearby. She said that they called her ‘scum of the earth’ and they had a small argument. But it was not new for her; she had already experienced it in the past.
Kai said that she was inspired by the student-led movement. She was discouraged that the red-shirt protesters might no longer be present. But after she had seen the students fighting for their future, she was roused and felt encouraged to join the protest.
On the same day, at Makkhawan Rangsan bridge, yellow shirts gathered for a royal motorcade. As reported, many yellow shirts seemed to have been recruited by people supporting the government, such as Suthep Thaugsuban and Suwit Thongprasert, the former Phra Buddha Isara. And some were civilians from various government agencies.
It was widely reported on social media that some yellow shirts were recruited under duress by the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority. They also caught pictures of yellow shirts on a truck marked “Lak Si'”. Some of them raised 3 fingers, a sign of support for the student-led protest, when the truck passed by another group.
Thairath reported that the Royal Guard 904 also gathered at the King Rama V statue and later tried to approach the student-led protesters at night. However, despite questions about recruitment, quite a number of people showed their devotion, love and respect for the monarchy and were willing to wait for the royal motorcade.
A group of yellow shirts near Makkhawan Rangsan bridge.
M, 17, a representative from Sammasigkha Pathom Asoke School, waited to greet the royal motorcade with his friends. He said that his school promoted this activity and 54 students agreed to join.
“I feel good to join the activity greeting HM King Rama X. This is my first time to join,” M revealed. “We are scheduled to go back to school at 7 p.m. but I don’t know yet what time he will come.”
Prachatai asked him if his school had any safety measures to protect their students when there was another protest organized nearby. He said that he was not informed of any details but he was not worried because he could not see any potential threat or violence from the student-led protest.
Chalor Bunyachoti, 61, enjoyed lunch with her friends. She told Prachatai that she had prepared since the day before. They woke up early to prepare food and drove from Kanchanaburi so that they could get a good spot to see His Majesty.
“We are here to show our respect and our loyalty. I am excited. this is my first time to greet King Rama X.”, said Chalor. She also said that she was not concerned about another rally and she would do her part.
Phanit and her friends at lunch while waiting to greet the King.
Phanit Phakkaso, 72, from Pathum Thani, had prepared an umbrella and raincoat in case it rained during her wait. She said that she rejoiced in joining this event as she had seen the monarchy work hard since the late King. As Thai people, we should not disgrace the nation that all Thai Kings died for.
Phanit said that she did not care about the student-led rally and she did not think that there would be any violence. Also, she thought that it was better for the 2 groups to avoid confrontation and she just wanted to show her gratefulness and respect to the nation and the monarchy.
“I want us to love each other and to love the monarchy always. I am willing to die for the monarchy because these days, I don’t have anything to worry about. I have no child. I have no husband. These days, I am a Royal Thai Volunteer. I have studied. I know everything about history, but children these days have not learned. We have to bring it back. The political situation has become like this. If people had studied. They would know what is what.”
Father [King Rama IX] is still up there, watching from above everything we do. He is extraordinary. I am not kidding. It is as if he came down to look at the country, we would live happily. But there is an evil. But he cannot do anything. But Father created everything. We are now number one in Asia, in the world. Let’s say that. But we are a small country, we don’t talk about it. We have no debt, no debt and we’ve never been colonized. So I want us to love each other, love the nation as our ancestors made it. We must preserve this,” said Phanit.
Some yellow shirts did not give interviews because they “did not have information about the issue” although Prachatai told them that the interview would be opinion-based.
Thidatep Piboon is an intern from Mahidol University International College (MUIC)