December 30, 2019 / 10:51 AM / 2 months ago

Political exercises: Thai rivals plan to mobilise thousands

BANGKOK (Reuters) - More than 10,000 people have registered for a “Run Against Dictatorship” in Bangkok next month while supporters of the Thai government plan to stage a rival walk on the same day, organisers said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: The symbols of a Thai 'Run Against Dictatorship' (L) and a pro-government walk which are being organized for January 12, 2020, are displayed on mobile phones' screens, in Bangkok, Thailand December 30, 2019. REUTERS/Vorasit Satienlerk

The twin events, set for January 12, point to the rising political temperature in Thailand, though there is no immediate sign of any return to the violent street protests that have roiled the Thai capital over the past two decades.

Opponents of the government say it manipulated an election held in March to extend the rule of junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha and they now fear that authorities will move to disoolve the vocal opposition party Future Forward.

“We want to show the government the discontent that citizens have with the administration,” university student Tanawat Wongchai, who is helping organise the anti-government event, told Reuters.

The rival event is called “Walk to Cheer Uncle” - a reference to Prayuth’s nickname of Uncle Tu. Organisers say some 2,500 people have registered to take part.

“This event is for the public, for all of us, in the name of the people who love Uncle, love the nation and the monarchy,” its Facebook page says.

The two events will be held on Jan. 12 at parks that are 11 km (seven miles) apart at overlapping times.

“These events could open the floodgates to more gatherings,” said Ben Kiatkwankul of the Maverick Consulting Group political advisory firm.

OPPOSITION RALLY

On Dec. 14, thousands of people joined a rally for opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit after authorities sought a ban on his Future Forward party for violating electoral law - an accusation the party says is unfounded.

Thanathorn has already been banned as a member of parliament.

This month’s rally was the biggest protest since Prayuth took power in a 2014 coup in the name of ending street violence between conservative, royalist “yellow shirts” and “red shirt” backers of ousted populist leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thanathorn has been invited to the anti-government run, but has not been involved in organising it, organiser Tanawat said.

Plans for the run had to be hastily redrawn last week after local authorities barred use of the original venue.

Government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat said the prime minister was not connected to either event and cared only about the safety of participants and those in the area.

“Each side can organise events, it is their right, as long as it is within the scope of the law,” she added.

Another potential flashpoint comes on Jan. 21, when the Constitutional Court will rule on whether to dissolve Future Forward on a complaint it seeks to overthrow the monarchy. It rejects that accusation, which is not directly related to the charge that it broke election rules.

Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Gareth Jones

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