Giles Ji Ungpakorn
The mass protest against the dictatorship that erupted at the funeral of Apiwan Wiriyachai, when hundreds raised the three finger salute, was like a flash of lightning at midnight. It must have cause Prayut and his fellow junta gangsters much unease, but it must have also upset Yingluk and Taksin.
At first, when hundreds of pro-democracy redshirts flocked to the airport to receive Apiwan’s body, which was flown in from the Philippines, where he had been forced into exile, this was symbolic of people who wished to honour a leader who represented democracy and elections at a time when Thailand is under the blanket of dictatorship. Apiwan was not a particularly prominent redshirt leader, but his death became a symbol. Moreover, he had been charged with lèse majesté, the favourite repressive tool of all those who wish to destroy democracy.
When the crowd at the funeral chanted encouragement to Yingluk when she appeared, it was a crowd that was within the boundaries of supporting the Pua Thai Party and Taksin, and we cannot deny this. But to support a leader who was charged with lèse majesté goes a bit further because Taksin, Yingluk and Pua Thai do not want to talk about lèse majesté, never mind calling for its abolition.
However when the crowd erupted with anger into making the three finger anti-dictatorship salute, they were clearly acting independently of Pua Thai or the redshirt UDD leadership which have constantly tried to stop any anti-junta protests.
This “flash of lightning at midnight” is a clear reminder to all that underneath the “calm” appearance of Thai society after the coup, millions are extremely angry and wish to see the end of the dictatorship. Given organisation and leadership, this mass power can be mobilised. But it will take time and we will not automatically see more lightning until the next opportunity arises.