Not So “Surprise” in October for the US Presidential Election than for the Thai Student Protests

Prior to October, political pundits in the US had been toying with the “October surprise” theory ahead of the US presidential vote on November 3. Whereas Bhim Bhurtel speculated that a trade deal with China is in the offing before the November vote, the Economist meanwhile, deemed the US-China clash in the South China Sea as a potential “surprise” in the run-up  to the presidential election. But with the month of October nearing its end, the “surprise” which many political pundits are predicting earlier, seemed to be a stretch to begin with. There are two notable reasons for this.

First and foremost, the series of positive diagnoses of President Trump’s inner circle members alongside himself in early October, virtually disrupted his presidential campaign up to the point that he is faced with even more limited time to stage any “October surprise” prior to the November vote. Such event thus, is far from the case as in the 1980 presidential election that saw Ronald Reagen beating the then President Jimmy Carter that year ⸺ through the delay of American hostages’ release as alleged by particular primary sources such as former Iranian president, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr. What occurred for the Trump administration, instead, is an unexpected event that has to do with COVID-19 virus instead of manufactured “surprise” as had been the case in 1980. With Trump started campaigning after his short admission to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, it showed that he is running out of time just to put his presidential campaign back on track. And not to mention pulling out another “October surprise” with a trade deal with China or a military conflict in the South China Sea ⸺ the two potential scenarios projected by certain political pundits.

Second, it seemed the Trump’s camp is turning to a “low-hanging fruit” through its focus on Hunter Biden’s emails as the latest “October surprise” against Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. This, of course, cast an end to the predictions of the Trump administration staging high impact “October surprises” either through a trade deal with China or a military conflict in the South China Sea. With Trump’s presidential campaign focusing on the younger Biden’s emails as an election issue, the expected impact of such “October surprise” has been greatly reduced than those of “high-hanging fruits” ⸺ another trade deal with China or a military conflict in the South China Sea.

While such revelation ⸺ cast a light on the relationships between both Bidens and certain Chinese billionaire and company ⸺ may resonate well to the Trump supporters, the impact scale of such disclosure to Biden’s presidential bid is still largely unknown up to this point. Even if such revelation really blows out of proportion in the coming days, there are bigger and more menacing issues which American voters are concerned with, namely, the COVID-19 pandemic, its socio-economic fallout and racial riots in certain states. With so many issues coalescing together, there is no certainty that the younger Biden’s emails will stand out among all these pressing issues. Rather, it may be diluted by this mix of big issues and stopped short of the Trump campaigners’ hope of tilting the presidential election in favour of them. Moreover, given the extremely short period leading to the November 3 voting day, it will need a great miracle to elevate the issue surrounding Hunter Biden’s emails into a decisive “October surprise” that affects the result of the presidential election.

‘Surprise’ Sprung Up in Thailand

On the other side of world, however, real “surprise” sprung up in a nation in which many political observers have overlooked in the first place. Initially triggered by the dissolution of Fast Forward Party (FFP), the first wave of Thai student protests in February was not paid special attention by the world at that time. But with the coming of the COVID-19 pandemic and the national lockdown it generated, a second wave of protests came into the picture starting from July onwards. It was also during this period that the Thai monarchy has become an issue of the protesters, with the movement now putting a 10-point call to revoke the King’s immunity, reduction of royal budget, cessation of lèse-majesté law, end of the monarch’s endorsement of future military coups and six other sub-demands.

The climax of the Thai student protests, however, was reached on October 14 when mass protests unexpectedly took place at the Democracy Monument located in Bangkok. At this juncture, the protests have spread to at least five provinces in Thailand and protesters have organized themselves into a movement calling for “three core demands” to be met by the Prayut administration: resignation of the Thai prime minister; and passage of amendment bills for a new charter; and reform of the monarchy. When the Thai government imposed a state of emergency in Bangkok the following day, clashes with the protesters ensued when the police started its crackdown in the capital city. While political pundits are expecting “October surprises” from the US presidential election, the sudden turn of events in Thailand in mid-October, developed into a real “surprise” that really dropped our jaws.

Staged by Thai students for the very first time, the latest protests are different from the violent protests architected by either the royalists (Yellow Shirts) or the rural pro-Thaksin supporters (Red Shirts) in the past.  Arguably, those who organized the protests are not from either political camps but rather, young students or working youths demanding change in the Thai political system, including a bold call for the reform of Thai monarchy. The protests, of course, also drew certain Red Shirts into the cause and with that, they grew into a nationwide movement occurring in several parts of the countries. By all means, the protesters’ demand for monarchy reform is unprecedented in the first place ⸺ considering Thailand is a country in which the monarchy remained to be untouchable and is safeguarded by the long-standing lèse-majesté law against its critics. But with the “surprise” of the Thai student protests this October, a history has been made for the Southeast Asian nation.

The Comparison

Despite the world is experiencing a turbulent year with unprecedented impacts in 2020, the ongoing US presidential election fell short of producing the “October surprises” as expected by many political pundits months before. By comparison, the recent Thai student protests suddenly caught international attention due to their unexpected surge in mid-October and the unprecedented demand for monarchy’s reform put forward by the young protesters. Whilst such wave of protests is not related to the US election, it is clear that Thailand has more “surprise” than the US in the month of October.

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