Govt invokes Security Act at the drop of a hat

THAILAND - The government has again opted to invoke the Internal Security Act (ISA) after a small group of protesters this week began a street demonstration outside Government House.

It appears the government has become "addicted" to the ISA, and it seems unable to stop using it to deal with protesters. The ISA has been invoked repeatedly, every time anti-government protesters gather in Bangkok.

The current administration invoked the ISA for the first time when anti-government group Pitak Siam staged a rally at the Royal Plaza last November. The group announced a plan to oust the government from power, but the government invoked the act, which portrayed the group in a bad light. Thousands of crowd-control police were mobilised, and they were well equipped to deal with the protesters.

On the very first day of the anti-government rally, police fired tear gas at the protesters during several clashes. The protest leaders decided to end the rally before sunset, citing security reasons.

The ISA was praised as an important tool for controlling the situation. Since that success, the government has consistently turned to the ISA when faced with protesters in the capital.

In the latest development, the People's Army to Overthrow the Thaksin Regime on Monday night moved from its previous protest site at Lumpini Park to set up camp just outside Government House. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is scheduled to visit Thailand from today (Oct 11), including stops at Government House and nearby Parliament House. The authorities therefore saw the need to drive away the protesters as soon as possible.

The protesters have been portrayed as troublemakers. Some government officials said that more anti-government groups would be joining the rally, including the 56 groups taking part in the civic sector's political-reform efforts. They claimed some state agencies or important locations in Bangkok would be seized.

Despite the troubling claims, only a few hundred people took part in the rally outside Government House on the first day.

The ISA should in fact only be declared when there is widespread unrest, and not when a few hundred people protest against the government.

It is not unusual that the government is concerned about the protesters. But it should have opted for a more appropriate measure to deal with them. The rally has been peaceful and the protesters are unarmed, which is in line with the Constitution. The protesters have the right to stage a public gathering, even if it is held just outside Government House.

If they wanted to save face for |the government during the Chinese premier's visit, officials could have opted to negotiate with the protest leaders so the rally does not affect |his trip to Government House.

Unnecessarily, the government opted to deal aggressively with the protesters by invoking the ISA and mobilising hundreds of crowd-control police, which is only threatening to make things worse.

However, a good sign emerged yesterday when the protesters agreed to move their rally back to Lumpini Park during the Chinese premier's visit, before considering to return to Government House. This move came after a meeting between the protest leaders and Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnog, who is in charge of security affairs.

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