The club’s stadium was filled to capacity with the crowd estimated at 20,000, many of them members of the Santi Asoke movement led by Phra Bhodhirak and the multi-coloured group. It was the biggest gathering of anti-Thaksin people in recent years.
Gen Boonlert had earlier said that he would stop his anti-government campaign if Sunday’s crowd was fewer than 1,000. Bouyed by the unexpected high turnout, he and the other organisers are now thinking about a second rally in a month or so.
A staunch royalist, the retired general accused the government of inaction in dealing with people who were insulting the monarchy and openly called for a coup d’etat.
The leaders of another anti-Thaksin group, the yellow-shirt Peoples Alliance for Democracy (PAD), stayed away from Sunday’s rally but did not stop their members from joining the Pitak Siam gathering. PAD spokesman Panthep Wongpuapan said that the PAD would only stage a protest if the government tries to force through a so-called reconciliation bill which would grant amnesty to exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung earlier said with a trace of contempt that he would not rate Pitak Siam highly. But after Sunday’s show of force, he might have to think differently because Pitak Siam and its like are not the spent force he assumed them to be and remain a force to be reckoned with.
On Monday, Udon Thani's red-shirt leader Kwanchai Praipana threatened to organise counter-protests against Pitak Siam. The radical leader of the Rak Udon group, which is affilicated with the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), also warned the Yingluck government of the likely negative consequences if it fails to bring Thaksin home during its four-year term in office.
Village headmen and kamnan have also threatened a mass protest if the government proceeds with a bill seeking to cap the terms of these local leaders to four years, instead of staying on until retirement at 60 years of age as it is now.
Having enjoyed a pleasant ride for more than a year, it appears that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her new cabinet have a rough time ahead in dealing with the different interest groups, in addition to the other social and economic problems which are bound to pop up.
Despite all the challenges and minus a coup, the government will be able to muddle through and complete its four-term term because of its overwhelming majority in the parliament. Only a self implosion as a result of its own self-destructive policies, such as the rotten rice pledging scheme and massive corruption, could bring this government to its knees.