In Bangkok, Thailand, on Saturday, tens of thousands of people took part in continuing democratic protests following a government crackdown that deployed water cannons containing a chemical stimulus to the crowd, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha.
Protests against the prime minister began in March this year after the dissolution of the popular pro-democracy party, but rose sharply this week and the crowd numbered in the tens of thousands.
The government responded to the growing protests with an emergency decree Thursday banning groups of more than five people and giving police the power to ban Bangkok areas for protesters. Along with this new event, protesters, including a human rights lawyer and several student activists, were arrested.
Protesters issued several demands, the most important of which was the resignation of the prime minister. Former General Prayut seized power in a 2014 military coup. Three years later, military leaders introduced a new constitution that gives seats in parliament to military officials – so much so that protesters claim that the prime minister will retain power regardless of the outcome of the election.
As Mr Wongcham told Reuters in July, protesters called for three demands: “dissolve parliament, end persecution of government critics and amend the constitution written by the military”.
Demonstrators are still working to achieve these goals, but more and more protesters are demanding change in the country’s monarchy.
As Richard Bernstein explained to Vox, Thai citizens have traditionally avoided statements that could be seen as critical of the royal family, currently headed by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, because of “big league laws that prohibit” slander, insult or threat “from a royal member. families “.
This changed: For example, at a protest in August, a student protest leader delivered a speech accusing the government of “deceiving us by saying that people born into the royal family are incarnations of gods and angels,” and asked: “Are you sure angels or gods have such a personality?”
The king, who ascended the throne four years ago, rules mostly from Europe, but has nevertheless spent extravagantly and “steadily gaining power” in a way that goes back to the days of the absolute monarchy of Thailand, according to the Economist. His support for the prime minister has disappointed Prayut’s critics, and successful efforts to bring royal wealth and military forces under direct control have led some protesters to call for new restrictions on the monarchy’s powers.
Arrests for violating the law on the majestic blade in the country continue, and on Friday two protesters were charged under an incomprehensible law for “an act of violence against the queen’s freedom” – in this case for shouting near the queen of Sutida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya. Two protesters face life in prison for “threatening the royal family.”
The allegations – as well as threats by the prime minister – did not deter protesters. After Friday’s police offensive, Saturday’s demonstrations remained largely peaceful – and were well attended despite public transport stops in Bangkok. According to police estimates, the Bangkok Post, about a few places around the city appeared about 23,000 people.
“The goal is to change the entire political system, including the monarchy and the prime minister,” one Bangkok student told the New York Times.
Crisis of democratic legitimacy
As Vox spokesman Zeeshan Alley explained in August, the protests in Thailand depend on the weak legitimacy of the current government.
Although the current Prime Minister Prayut allegedly won another term in 2019, the results of this election are being challenged. Since then, courts have disbanded the largest opposition party, and pro-democracy activist Vanchalearm Satsaksit has reportedly disappeared in Cambodia, possibly on orders from the Thai government.
Vanchalearm has not been seen since his abduction in June, and Jakrapob Pencair, another dissident living in exile, told the BBC in July that Vanchalearm, also known as Tar, was probably dead.
“I think the message is, ‘Let’s kill these people.’ These are outsiders, these are people who are different from us, and they should be killed to get Thailand back to normal, “said Jakrapob.” But nothing could be more wrong in that interpretation. I think their decision to kidnap and kill Tara and others to him subconsciously radicalized people. “
The protest movement is fueled by student activity, but it lacks a certain leadership, according to the BBC. The plan was reportedly inspired by activists in the decentralized democratic protests in Hong Kong to keep up with the arrests.
In part to circumvent the restrictions, activists also relied on pop culture symbols at the protests. According to Aleem,
Protesters used creative methods drawn from the world of popular fiction to cover up their criticism of the government and to mitigate allegations of violating political language restrictions. For example, some protesters disguised as Harry Potter characters to argue against the government and the monarchy. Other pro-democracy protesters demonstrate a three-fingered salute inspired The Hunger Games series.
The Thai government’s crackdown on protesters has been condemned by numerous international organizations. For example, Human Rights Watch argued that the ban on protests, as well as other new restrictions, meant that “the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly was in line with a government that is now demonstrating its truly dictatorial nature.” Amnesty International has announced arrests. protesters tactics of intimidation.
The protest movement is unlikely to stop any time soon, even if the government’s response begins to reflect on the brutal anti-protest repression that Bangkok witnessed in the 1970s.
“The dictatorship must confront the people, even under threat of arrest,” activist Panupong Yadnok told the Washington Post. “We will not back down. We will fight to the death. “
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