In Bangkok, Thailand, tens of thousands took part in ongoing democracy protests on Saturday following government crackdown on Friday, in which riot police unleashed water cannons containing a chemical irritant to crowds, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha.
Protests against the prime minister began in March this year, following the dissolution of a popular pro-democracy party, but have risen sharply this week, with crowds in the tens of thousands.
The government responded to the growing protests with an emergency ruling Thursday that banned groups of more than five people and gave police the power to restrict Bangkok̵
Protesters have called for several resignations, most notably the resignation of the prime minister. Former General Prayut took power in a military coup in 2014. Three years later, military leaders introduced a new constitution that gives seats in parliament to military personnel – so much so that protesters say the prime minister will retain power regardless of the outcome. from the election.
As Panu Wongcha-um reported to Reuters, protesters made three demands in July: “the dissolution of parliament, an end to harassment of government critics, and amendments to the constitution written by the military.”
Protesters are still working to achieve these goals, but protesters are increasingly pushing for changes 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, which is currently ruled by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, because of “lèse-majesté laws that prohibit” slander, insult or threat “to a member of the royal family”.
That changed: For example, in a protest in August, a student protest leader gave a speech accusing the government of “misleading us by saying that people born into the royal family are incarnations of gods and angels,” and asked, “Sure.” are you that angels or gods have that kind of personality? “
The king, who ascended the throne four years ago, rules largely from Europe, yet spends extravagantly and “constantly gains power” in a way that goes back to the days of Thailand’s absolute monarchy, according to The Economist. His support for the prime minister has disappointed Prayut’s critics, and his successful efforts to bring royal wealth and military power under direct control have led some protesters to call for new restrictions on the monarchy’s power.
Arrests for violating the country’s splendor laws continue, and on Friday two protesters were charged under a vague law of “an act of violence against the queen’s freedom” – in the case of the baptism near Queen Sutida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya’s motorcade. The two protesters face a potential life sentence for “endangering the royal family”.
These accusations – as well as threats from the prime minister – did not deter protesters. Following Friday’s police offensive, Saturday’s demonstrations appear to have remained largely peaceful – and well attended despite public transport stops in Bangkok. About 23,000 people found themselves in several places in the city, according to a police estimate released by the Bangkok Post.
“The goal is to change the entire political system, including the monarchy and the prime minister,” a Bangkok student told the New York Times.
Crisis of democratic legitimacy
As Vox’s Zeeshan Aleem explained in August, the protests in Thailand depend on the weak legitimacy of the current government.
Although the current Prime Minister Prayut apparently won another term in 2019, the results of these elections are disputed. Since then, a major judicial opposition party has been disbanded by the courts, and pro-democracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit has been reported missing in Cambodia, possibly by order of the Thai government.
Wanchalearm has not been seen since his abduction in June, and Jakrapob Penkair, another dissident living in exile, told the BBC in July that Wanchalearm, 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 have to be killed to get Thailand back to normal,” Jakrapob said. “But nothing could be more wrong in this interpretation. I believe that their decision to kidnap and kill Tar and others before him subconsciously radicalizes people. “
The protest movement has been fueled by student activism, but lacks some leadership, according to the BBC. This is by design – activists reportedly drew inspiration from the decentralized pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong to maintain momentum among the arrests.
In part, to circumvent the restrictions on speech, activists also rely on the symbolism of the pop culture of the protests. According to Aleem,
The protesters used creative methods derived from the world of popular fiction to cover up their criticism of the government and to soften allegations of violating the restrictions on political speech. For example, some protesters dressed as Harry Potter characters to assert their arguments against the government and the monarchy. Other pro-democracy protesters demonstrate three-fingered salutes inspired by Hunger Games series.
The Thai government’s crackdown on protesters has been condemned by a number of international organizations. Human Rights Watch, for example, argues that the ban on protests, as well as other new restrictions, mean that “the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful, public assembly are in pieces by a government that now shows its truly dictatorial nature.” “Amnesty International has described the arrests of protesters as a tactic of intimidation.
However, the protest movement is unlikely to stop soon – even if the government’s response begins to reflect the brutal repression against the protest that Bangkok saw in the 1970s.
“The dictatorship must face 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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