Amid government crackdowns, Thailand’s protest movement gained momentum

Hundreds of thousands of people took part in pro-democracy protests in Bangkok, Thailand on Saturday, following a government crackdown on Friday that saw riot police find water cannons. Chemical inflammation On the crowd demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayath Chan-ocha.

Protests against the prime minister began in March this year after the dissolution of the popular pro-democracy party, but have increased dramatically in size this week, with crowds in the thousands.

The government responded to the growing protests with an emergency decree on Thursday, banning groups of more than five people and giving police the right to restrict areas of Bangkok to protesters. Protesters, including a human rights lawyer and several student activists, have been arrested in connection with the new move.

Opposition groups called for the beleagured PM to resign. A former general, Prithvi took power in the 2014 military coup. A new constitution was put in place by military leaders three years later, setting aside parliamentary seats for military officials – with many arguing that the prime minister would retain power regardless of the outcome of the election.

As Panu Wongcha-am reported to Reuters, protesters made three demands in July: “Dissolution of parliament, an end to harassment by government critics, and an amendment to the military’s written constitution.”

Protesters are still working towards those goals, but increasingly, opponents are also demanding a change in the country’s monarchy.

As Richard Bernstein explained to Vox, Thai citizens have traditionally avoided statements critical of the royal family, which are currently governed by King Maha Vajirlongkorn, the country’s “L-Majesty’s law, which defames, insults a member of the royal family or Threatening. “

That has changed: for example, at a protest in August Gust, a student protest leader delivered a speech accusing the government of “fooling us by saying that people born into a political family are incarnations of gods” and asking, “Are you sure?” Do angels or gods have this kind of personality? ”

The king, who ascended the throne four years ago, reigns mostly from Europe, but nevertheless, according to economics, he is endowed with immense and “definite power” in a way that goes back to the last days of Thailand’s entire monarchy. Critics of the effort have been frustrated by his support for the PM’s job, and his successful efforts to bring royal property and military forces under his direct control have led some opponents to call for new limits to the monarchy’s power.

Arrests for violating the country’s loose-majesty laws are ongoing and on Friday, two protesters were charged under the ambiguous law for “acts of violence against the Queen’s freedom” – in this case, for booming near the Ayodhya motorcade of Queen Suthida Wazirolongkorn. Both politicians face a possible life sentence in jail for endangering their families.

The allegations – as well as threats from the prime minister – have not disappointed protesters. Demonstrations that lasted until Saturday after the police raid on Friday appear to have been largely peaceful – and Bangkok was well attended despite public transport being closed. As many as 23,000 people were evacuated from several locations around the city, according to a police report by the Bangkok Post.

A Bangkok student told the New York Times: “The goal is to change the whole political system, including the monarchy and the prime minister.

Crisis of democratic legitimacy

As Thais’s Zeeshan Alim explained in August Gust, Thailand’s protests are sticking to the current government’s rigid legitimacy.

Although incumbent Prime Minister Priyuth clearly won a second mandate in 2019, the election results are disputed. Since then, one of the main opposition parties has been disbanded by the courts, and the pro-democracy activist Vancheleram Satsaksit was reported missing in Cambodia, possibly at the behest of the Thai government.

Vanchalerum has not been seen since he was abducted in June, and another disgruntled Jakrapob Pankair, who lives in exile, told the BBC in July that Vanchelarum, also known as Tar, was probably dead.

“I think the message is: ‘Let’s enjoy these people. These are outsiders, these are people who are different from us and should be killed to bring Thailand back to normalcy. Jakrapobe said. “But nothing could be further from the truth. I believe that his decision to kidnap and kill Tar, and others before him, has been made subconsciously by the people. “

The protest movement has been fueled by student activism, but lacks defined leadership, according to the BBC. Through this design – activists have been inspired by decentralized pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong to maintain momentum during the arrests.

To avoid restrictions on speech, activists also relied on the symbolism of pop culture at the time of the protest. According to Aleem,

Opponents have used constructive methods drawn from the world of popular literature to challenge their criticism of the government and reduce allegations of violating restrictions on political speech. For example, some opponents have dressed up as Harry Potter characters to further their arguments against the government and the monarchy. Displays a three-finger salute inspired by other pro-democracy opponents Hunger Games Series.

The Thai government’s crackdown on protesters has been condemned by various international organizations. Human Rights Watch, for example, argues that the ban on protests, as well as other new restrictions, means that “the right to freedom of speech and the right to a peaceful, public legislature is at stake, which is now showing its true dictatorship.” Nature. Amnesty International has ordered the arrest of protesters as a threat.

It is unlikely that the protests will stop any time soon, even if the government’s response to the violent protests in Bangkok in the 1970s began to echo.

“Dictatorship must be confronted by the people even under the threat of arrest,” activist Panupong Jadnok told the Washington Post. “We will not go back. We will fight to the death. ”

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