Thai protesters challenge monarchy as huge protests escalate

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said police would not use violence against protesters and it was up to the police to determine and prosecute any illegal speech. (AFP)
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Updated 20 September 2020

Thai protesters challenge monarchy as huge protests escalate

  • Protesters have grown ever bolder during two months of demonstrations against Thailand’s palace and military-dominated establishment

BANGKOK: Openly challenging the monarchy of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, thousands of protesters marched in Bangkok on Sunday to present demands that include a call for reforms to curb his powers.
Protesters have grown ever bolder during two months of demonstrations against Thailand’s palace and military-dominated establishment, breaking a longstanding taboo on criticizing the monarchy — which is illegal under lese majeste laws.
The Royal Palace was not immediately available for comment. The king, who spends much of his time in Europe, is not in Thailand now.
The marchers were blocked by hundreds of unarmed police manning crowd control barriers.
Protest leaders declared victory after handing police a letter detailing their demands. Phakphong Phongphetra, head of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, said on a video broadcast from the scene that the letter would be handed to police headquarters to decide how to proceed.
“Our greatest victory in the two days is showing that ordinary people like us can send a letter to royals,” Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, told the crowd before it dispersed.
At the biggest demonstration in years, tens of thousands of protesters on Saturday cheered calls for reform of the monarchy as well as for the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader, and a new constitution and elections.
Shortly after sunrise on Sunday, protesters cemented a plaque near the Grand Palace in Bangkok in the area known as Sanam Luang, or Royal Field.
It reads, “At this place the people have expressed their will: that this country belongs to the people and is not the property of the monarch as they have deceived us.”
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said police would not use violence against protesters and it was up to the police to determine and prosecute any illegal speech.
Bangkok authorities would need to determine whether the plaque is illegal and if it is it would need to be removed, Bangkok’s deputy police chief Piya Tawichai told reporters.
Far from all Thais support the new plaque, which resembles one that had commemorated the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 and which was removed from outside a royal palace in 2017, after Vajiralongkorn took the throne.
Prominent right-wing politician Warong Dechgitvigrom said the actions of the protesters were inappropriate and that the king was above politics.
“It didn’t achieve anything,” he said. “These actions are symbolically against the king, but the king is not an opponent.”
Thai authorities have said criticizing the monarchy is unacceptable in a country where the king is constitutionally “enthroned in a position of revered worship.”
Protests that began on university campuses have drawn increasing numbers of older people. That includes red shirt followers of ousted populist prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who had clashed for years with pro-establishment yellow shirts before Prayuth seized power in 2014.
“The new generation is achieving what their parents and grandparents didn’t dare. I’m very proud of that,” said Somporn Outsa, 50, a red shirt veteran. “We still respect the monarchy, but it should be under the constitution.”
Protesters say the constitution gives the king too much power and that it was engineered to allow Prayuth to keep power after elections last year. He says that vote was fair.
The next protest is scheduled for Thursday. Protest leaders called on Thais to take Oct. 14 off work to show their support for change.
“Radical change is hard in Thailand, but the movement has at least kept the momentum going,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University.


Palestinians should support candidates ‘based on issues not ethnicity’

Updated 5 min 51 sec ago

Palestinians should support candidates ‘based on issues not ethnicity’

  • Newman came within 2,000 votes of unseating Dan Lipinski
  • The 3rd Congressional District has been held by a Democrat since 1975 and is overwhelmingly Democratic

CHICAGO: Most Arab-Americans in an Illinois congressional district race chose to support an American candidate who supported Arab and Palestinian rights over a Palestinian Arab-American candidate they said could not win the election, the spokesman for the winner said on Wednesday.

Shadin Maali, whose family originates from Beitunia, Palestine near Ramallah, said she agreed to become the spokesperson for Marie Newman over the candidacy of Palestinian American videographer Rashad “Rush” Darwish because Darwish could not win and Newman could.

Maali, who serves as Newman’s campaign chairwoman and spokesperson, said Newman sought Arab-American support, embracing many of the community’s political concerns. Newman, she said, listened to the community and included them in her campaign. That support, she said, helped to unseat Congressman Dan Lipinski, an entrenched eight-term conservative Democrat who had marginalized Arab-American issues and supported many anti-Palestinian congressional bills.

“A representative, if they are going to represent our district, he needs to align with our values. If he wants our support, he needs to align with our values, which are not radical values,” Maali said during an appearance on “The Ray Hanania Show” on Detroit’s WNZK AM 690 and US Arab Radio network, which is sponsored by Arab News newspaper every Wednesday morning.

“We support human rights. To support civil rights. To support justice. The fact that he (Lipinski) didn’t care and denied and declined meeting with us was a slap in the face.”

Newman came within 2,000 votes of unseating Lipinski, losing in March 2018. But with Arab-American support, she easily defeated Lipinski in the March 2020 Democratic Primary by more than 2,816 votes.

Newman won with 52,384 votes while Lipinski lost with 49,568. The Palestinian-Arab candidate who tried to appeal to Arab-American candidates, Rush Darwish, spent nearly $800,000 on the election but only won 6,351 votes, or 5.7 percent of the 110,852 votes cast.

Maali said that she unsuccessfully appealed to Darwish to exit the race and support Newman, who backs many of the issues that Arabs and Palestinian Americans support.

Newman “had the strongest path to victory,” Maali said, while Rush Darwish, a first-time candidate with little experience, did not. She called it a “tough choice,” but added that in the end the best interests of the district’s constituents, including Arab Americans, was the priority.

“So, when she asked me to be her campaign chairwoman, it was a hard decision for me to make because we did have an Arab-American, a Palestinian-American running,” she said.

“That was the reason why I supported her because she represented us on our issues. She gave us a platform . . . and she could win.”

The 3rd Congressional District has been held by a Democrat since 1975 and is overwhelmingly Democratic. It was ranked as having the eighth largest Arab-American population of 50 American congressional districts by The New York Times. It also has the largest concentration of Palestinian-American voters, Maali said.

Maali said that to be successful in winning support for Palestine, Arab-American voters also needed to support the mainstream American population on issues that were important to them.

“Palestine is not the only issue,” she said.

“We care about health care. We care about education. We care about incentives for small businesses. We care about the refugees and immigration reform. We care about all of those issues. We are here as Americans. We care about making sure human rights are not violated anywhere in the world.”

Maali said that Newman supported the right of Arab-Americans to express their opposition to the policies of foreign countries such as Israel, noting that boycotts were an expression of free speech.

Acknowledging that Americans boycotting the racism of the government of South Africa helped to force the end of apartheid there, Maali said Americans also supported boycotting Israel’s government policies, which discriminated against civilians.

“We wanted to make sure we would always be able to practice our right to boycott because it is a fundamental civil right,” Maali said.

Lipinski, she said, supported the passage of legislation that punished Americans who supported boycotting Israeli government policies in the Occupied West Bank.

During the second segment of the radio show, conservative political consultant, Jeff Davis, of Victory Media, said that the public should not rely on news media polling that showed former Vice President Joe Biden as having a significant edge over President Donald Trump.

Davis said that voters should concentrate on several key battleground states including Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina and Michigan.

An analysis of the Arab-American population shows that four battleground states — Michigan, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania — have significant Arab-American voters who could help to drive the election results.

But Davis said that with the new system of mail-in ballots, some state elections might not be fully tabulated for as long as 10 days after the Nov. 3, 2020 election.

“The question really is, how soon will we know? The difference is vote-by-mail applications because of COVID-19 are through the roof. What that means is you are going to have a certain amount of percentage that is going to be outstanding on election day,” Davis said.

 “We might not know for nine days (after the election),” Davis said.

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“The Ray Hanania Show” is broadcast every Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. EST in Detroit and simulcast on the Arab News newspaper Facebook page. For more information, visit Arab News online at www.arabnews.com/us2020election.