Around 300 anti-government demonstrators rallied outside the Tesco Lotus superstore, North Pattaya Road, on June 23. They were led by Potjanarot Kaewpaluk, a former Democrat party politician, who spoke out against the corruption of the present Pheu Thai administration led by Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of exiled premier Thaksin Shinawatra who is widely seen as the de facto leader.
Many protestors wore white masks in the image of the 17th century English rebel Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up Parliament and was tortured to death by the authorities.
Potjanarot spoke out against what she claimed was an elected dictatorship in Thailand. She explained that the white mask movement was growing in popularity, thanks largely to Facebook and other social media, and aimed to pressure the government into resigning by democratic and peaceful means.
About 600 red-shirted followers of the government assembled on the other side of the road, outside City Hall, to challenge the views of their opponents. Juriporn Sintupai, the red shirt leader, said that it was important to oppose the white masks because their views would only divide the country even more. He added that some white masks were anti-democratic and wished to bring about another military coup which would lead to serious violence and a political disaster in Thailand.
The two opposing groups used loudspeakers to drown out each other’s messages and, for a time, the situation looked very tense. However, Deputy Mayor Ronakit Ekasingh had taken some precautions and there were several hundred policemen, civic volunteers and municipal officers on duty to keep the two sides apart. At 6 p.m. both groups sang the national anthem and dispersed without serious incident.
On the same day, 38 demonstrations were staged in cities and towns nationwide to publicize the white mask cause. In comparison to the rally in Bangkok, which attracted more than 2,000 supporters, the provincial protests were much smaller.
A City Hall spokesman here said, “It is important that political demonstrations remain peaceful in Pattaya as our income depends largely on encouraging foreign tourists who must feel safe at all times.”