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Thailand: what is leading young Thais to protest, risking everything?

Students holding blank sheets, flashing three-finger defiance salute, exhibiting enmity against the government, Bangkok. Thousands of people, mostly students are protesting every day on the streets of Thailand amid the fear of coronavirus.

What has happened in Thailand that students all around the country have stepped on streets to protest against the ruling elite? What are the protestors demanding? Furthermore, how are these anti-government rallies going to transform the future of politics in Thailand?

History of Thailand politics

Before 1932, Thailand was under absolute monarch under the kingship of Thai and the late Thai kingdoms of Siam. The ‘Democratic Revolution’ of 1932 has forced the existential absolute monarch government to change to a constitutional monarchy.

In 2014 Thai coup d’etat, being the leader of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), Prayut Chan-o-cha became prime minister of Thailand. This was the event that sparked a revolution amongst the citizen.

The little spark flamed up after the dissolution of the pro-democracy Future Forward Party at the ending of February 2020. Soon after which Prayut Chan-o-cha again hopped back into power as an unelected prime minister.

Why are people protesting against the government?

Prayut Chan-o-cha the current prime minister of Thailand is the retired general, who led the 2014 coup. Under his governance of 5 years the condition the country has worsened.

The economy of the country has fallen, human rights have been violated, unemployment has hiked. People’s anger has revolted when the government clearly tried to make a monopoly in the country by dissolving opposition Future Forward Party (FFP).

Pongsak Phusitsakul, the opposition leader whose party has been dissolved by the ruling monarch says; he has been intimidated by the government right before going for an election rally when six plain-clothed police officers daunted him from participating in elections. He says “I’m used to it.”

People in Thailand have tried in past to protest against government; but the results have been disastrous. The protests were quelled by police and armed forces, with dozens assassinated, including students; downtown Bangkok.

What are the protesters in Thailand demanding?

In the protest on Sunday, 16 August more than 20,000 people around the country gathered at Democracy Monument. This event was the largest demonstration in the country after the coup of 2014. The protest was coupled with Democracy Monument, which denotes the public’s win over the monarch in 1932.

The 8-hours long protest was done in the heart of the city amid the coronavirus pandemic; when the public gathering is not allowed; which makes the protest constitutionally illegal. Despite that, the protestors stood strong by their demands.

The protesters have following demand from the government:

  • A new constitution
  • Protection of human rights
  • A fresh and fair legislative election
  • Elimination of Senate
  • Redrafting lèse majesté law and royal prerogative.

Other than these there are various other matters that demonstraters presented during Sunday’s protest like; LGBT rights, economic & political rights, educational reforms, military reforms etc.

Young Thais in protests

Samsen Wittayalai school, Bangkok; a group of 30 students clamouring “Down with dictatorship, long live democracy”. Students flashing three-fingered salute and holding blank white sheets proclaiming that they don’t have liberty to express themselves.

After the anti-government protest in Bangkok on Sunday; the number of protesters around the country has been increasing every day, especially the youth population. Thailand’s media report says that protests by students are also seen in Ratchaburi, Udon Thani, Khon Kaen, Surat Thani, and Nakhon Sawan provinces, in the past week.

After the government’s failed promises and repressions of human rights and freedom; the youth wanted a fresh start for the country with pro-democracy parties in power after the 2019 election; therefore they turned out to vote. But the party which won by the third-highest number of votes, pro-democracy Future Forward Party was requisitely disbanded in February; leading Prayut Chan-o-cha to remain in power under the military-drafted constitution.

This has consequently lead to the rise of protest among people calling the move as ‘undemocratic’. Parit Chowarak, leader of the Student Union of Thailand says; “The privilege and superiority should not be inherited by blood, this system has dragged Thailand.”

Young protesters safety in Thailand

In Thailand speaking anything against the monarch is considered a crime under lèse majesté law. Even after knowing that protesters are speaking up about the dissatisfaction they have from the government. Also, there have been various cases in which the vocal critics of the monarchy and the military have been abducted and assassinated. Under such a situation students coming forward and standing against the government could be perilous.

The United Nations Children’s Organisation UNICEF has asked all the parties to ensure the safety of children involved in the protest; Also have supported them to express their opinions without any intimidation from any authorities. The country’s prime minister says that; he believes that the students are bullied in joining the protest.

Thailand Office of Basic Education Commission has also issued an order allowing the students to organize and participate in such protests in school provinces. But the protest must be peaceful and outsiders must not be allowed to participate in them.

“We don’t want dictatorship” in one of such protest a 15-year old girl along with her fellow teammates sang; “We don’t hate the country, but we hate you, Prayuth Chan-Ocha,”