Pro-democracy demonstrators score small victory . . .
Despite monsoon rains and a COVID-19-related national State of Emergency, tens of thousands of pro-democracy/anti-monarchy protesters showed up over the weekend near Thammasat University in Bangkok. The Red Shirts, a political movement that emerged in the early 2000s in response to rising inequality and a weakening of democracy, joined the protests, which had been previously driven by Thai students. The demonstrations, featuring music performances and rousing speeches, ended Sunday in front of the Grand Palace with a symbolic feat: the protesters placed a plaque defying the monarchy that reads (in Thai): “The people have expressed the intention that this country belongs to the people, and not the king.”
Breaking taboos by demanding reforms . . .
By repeatedly criticizing the monarchy, the protesters have pushed political boundaries in a way that has not been seen in decades. Their criticism culminated in the delivery of a document to Thai authorities on Sunday highlighting 10 demands for reforming the monarchy. Demonstrators are demanding that the monarchy not be above the Constitution and that the military-affiliated government be dissolved to allow for a free and fair general election. Currently, every government policy in Thailand needs to be approved by the king, and the country has strict lèse-majesté laws that can lead to 15-year imprisonment for those criticizing the monarchy.
History of strong government response to protests . . .
The protesters show no signs of backing down, and the outcome looks grim if a compromise with royalists cannot be found. In Thailand’s history, such popular demonstrations have often led to a violent authoritarian response. In 2010, some 100 Red Shirt protesters were killed in weeks of protests. Hoping to avoid a similar outcome, peaceful demonstrations are set to continue this Thursday, and another major rally is scheduled for October 14, on the anniversary of the 1973 student uprising that led to the end of a period of military dictatorship.
- Khaosod English: Opinion: Thai society faces challenges beyond cycles of protests
- The New York Times: Protests shake Bangkok, challenging old guard’s grip on Thailand
- Southeast Asia Globe: A night of surprises, as Thai taboos pushed further than ever before