Why are the citizens protesting in Thailand?

Democracy Dec 17, 2020

The Land of the free ‘Thailand’ has experienced a wave of protests this year. It started post the dissolution of the Future Forward Party in February 2020, by the constitutional court of Thailand. Academic protests began in various schools and universities but came to a halt due to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A timeline of the protests:

The protests resumed in mid-July when On 18 July, Thailand witnessed one of its largest street demonstrations. The protestors organised in the name free youth and laid out its 3 core demands :

  1. A new constitution
  2. An end to the harassment of activists.
  3. Dissolution of the house

The demonstrators stated that they did not aim to overthrow the Monarchy but only to reform it. After July 18 the protests began to spread all over the country. Some major demonstrations were carried out in Maha Sarakham Province, Nakhon Ratchasima Province. On July 25th an activist group named Seri Thoey called for the addition of the demand for legislation on same-sex marriage in the 3 core demands.

The student groups submitted 10 demands on 26th August to the House of Representatives.

To delay a scheduled vote on the constitutional amendment, the parliament set up a study committee on 24th September. Discontent prompted #RepublicofThailand to trend first in the country's Twitter, with more than 700,000 retweets, the first mass public expression of republican sentiment in the country. Protestors on 14th Oct peacefully marched to the Government House, where they faced assault from pro-royalists.On the 15th of Oct, authorities declared a severe state of emergency in Bangkok, and the gathering of five or more people was banned.

Why are they Protesting?

Thailand has a history of military coups. The current army chief turned Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, came into power by the coup of 2014. Since then, he allegedly has been trying to curb citizen’s rights and concentrate power into the hands of the military. Last year, after a parliamentary election, Prayuth retained power. Finally, in February, the court’s decision to ban the pro-democratic Future Forward Party triggered the protests. The Monarch Maha Vajiralongkorn since 2016, has taken full control of the Crown Property Bureau and has brought two Army units under his direct control. The youth finds the actions of the king to be taking the nation to absolute Monarchy.

Demands of the protestors :

The basic demands of the students are that they want a reform in the monarchy and a balance between the masses and the army. They also demanded for the stepping down of the PM. Thailand has a law named the lese majeste law, which states that anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent” will be punished with a jail term between three and 15 years. The protestors demand the scrapping of this law and letting them exercise their freedom of speech. They also demand a separation of the king’s wealth from the Royal budget. The youth wants the king to remain politically neutral and not endorse a coup and seek to perform checks and balances on the King.

The protestors have been using pop culture and mobilizing the youth against the crown. The authorities have not shown any readiness to accommodate the demands of the protesters. And the protestors are adamant about their demands. These protests are not expected to pacify anytime soon. With the impact of the COVID-19 and the fragile environment, the economy of Thailand might suffer huge losses.

This article has been written by Manasi Barve for The Paradigm

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