The protest movement in Thailand appears to be in a deadlock as Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha refused to resign from office after protesters’ deadline for him to step down came and went.
Prayuth told supporters he is not quitting as he left a Buddhist temple where a prayer session was held Saturday evening for national peace and prosperity.
Protesters meanwhile called for another rally at central Bangkok on Sunday after the 10pm deadline passed.
Prayut’s office issued a statement earlier in the day repeating his plea to resolve differences through Parliament, which will discuss the political situation in a special session starting Monday.
“The government is sincere in solving the problem and committed to following the law in doing so,” he told reporters.
“Although the on-going political situation comprises many opposing views among different groups, we should rather take this as an opportunity for Thais to consult each other on what is best for the nation,” said the statement.
Prayut this past week issued a call to allow Parliament to seek a solution to the crisis, and in a gesture to appease the protesters, revoked a state of emergency for Bangkok he had imposed a week earlier that made protest rallies illegal.
The protesters, however, said they were sticking to a deadline of 10pm Saturday for Prayuth to meet their demands that he resign, and that their arrested comrades be released from jail.
One of the protest leaders, Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa, told a crowd outside Bangkok Remand Prison that protesters should gather there Saturday and consider their next step as they wait for a response from Prayut.
Protesters had rallied outside the prison on Friday to press for their comrades’ release. They welcomed the release of Jatupat, who called for seven others still imprisoned to be freed.
However, three prominent protest leaders were denied release on bail Saturday morning.
In addition to calling for Prayut’s resignation, the protesters’ core demands also include a more democratic constitution and reforms to the monarchy.
The protesters charge that Prayut, who as then-army commander led a 2014 coup, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s general election because laws had been changed to favour a pro-military party. The protesters also say that a constitution written and passed under military rule is undemocratic.
The implicit criticism of the monarchy, which protesters believe wields too much power, has irked conservative Thais because it traditionally has been treated as sacrosanct and a pillar of national identity.
There is concern that the situation may become more volatile, because in the past week there has been a mobilisation of forces who claim to be defenders of the monarchy.
Royalists held rallies in several cities, in many cases led by local civil servants. On Wednesday, a small counter-protest held in Bangkok turned violent when a few attendees attacked anti-government students. (Source: CNA)