Nitithorn Lamlua, leader of the Students' and People's Network for Thailand's Reform (STR), spoke to The Nation's Anapat Deechuay and Somroutai Sapsomboon about the plans to shut down Bangkok and the belief that the group is prone to violence. Excerpt
WHY IS THE STR VIEWED AS HAVING HAD A HAND IN VIOLENCE?
The STR is not positioned to confront violent situations, but we have analysed important strategies that would lead to direct pressure on the government. Demonstrations are not enough pressure, but at the same time, what we do will be within a peaceful framework.
WHAT’S THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN STR AND THE PEOPLE’S DEMOCRATIC REFORM COMMITTEE?
We work together, and the STR is also part of the PDRC committee. The STR does not have many members, but we are strong and understand the situation. We’re willing to confront violence if state officials unleash it. Most of the members were part of the People’s Alliance for Democracy and have had experience with political struggle.
YOUR PRECARIOUS MOVES FACE THE RISK OF A VIOLENT CONFRONTATION, DON’T THEY?
It’s up to state officials, and is not something that the STR should be worried about. To say we provoke violence is but a move to discredit people’s right to protest. Politics today is about good and evil, right and wrong, morality and immorality. So society must choose if they want it to be like this or if they should address it.
DOES THIS MEAN THE STR’S STRATEGIES ARE MEANT TO DESTABILISE THE GOVERNMENT GREATLY?
From what we see, we have achieved our goal every time, particularly at the Thai-Japanese Stadium [on December 26].
The STR’s assessment was not beyond expectation. Though about a million people came out, the prime minister didn’t pay any attention, used force to retaliate and then tried to frame us. This only shows that this government is most immoral and shameless, so the PDRC had to think again about how it could apply pressure and hence came the idea of the “Bangkok shutdown” operation.
HOW DO YOU ASSESS YOUR OPPONENTS?
I think they don’t have many alternatives now. When asked if the government officials are 100 per cent fully cooperative with the prime minister, the answer would be that her administration has weakened, though it hasn’t reached a stage where they should step down. I think the prime minister recognises this, so her choice is to use violence in the hope that it would strike fear.
If they [detain] the leaders [of the protest movement], then the public will be deprived of an important force and it will become difficult for them to find a replacement under the current circumstances.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE SHUTDOWN WILL ACHIEVE?
I think it will diminish the authority of the state and the prime minister. I believe things will start changing after January 13.
SOME BELIEVE THE MILITARY WILL NOT HELP END THE STALEMATE.
I think the people’s sector must start thinking like the military, not like the protesters. You must start thinking like the military when planning strategy.
The STR is clear that if the military steps out, it will need to protect the people.
If it stages a coup, the STR will continue to protest because we will not accept it. The military can choose to prevent violence by urging the government to respect the law and step down.
DO YOU THINK THE MILITARY WILL BE A DECISIVE FACTOR IN VICTORY?
The military can hasten that and reduce the loss of lives. Nevertheless, the PDRC has not decided how it will deal with the possibility of a military coup.