A quiet start to 2021 . . .
After months of sustained protests, Thailand’s pro-democracy movement leaders paused their protests in mid-December – but vowed to make a stronger comeback in 2021. However, there are signs of serious obstacles ahead for the youth-driven movement. Authorities and conservative voices say the protesters have lost steam and support, while disagreements among protest groups have arisen over strategy and ideology. Meanwhile, an unprecedented number of activists face lese-majeste charges, and progressive candidates achieved poor results in local elections on December 20, failing to sell the movement’s message beyond Thailand’s big cities.
Return of pandemic woes . . .
Although Thailand had kept COVID-19 infections relatively low, in mid-December, an outbreak began in the province of Samut Sakhon, home to a large seafood industry and thousands of migrant workers. Coronavirus cases have since spread to other provinces, with the country recording 745 new cases on Monday and 527 on Tuesday. Thailand’s cabinet is set to extend the existing emergency decree for a further two weeks, and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has urged people to stay home. Analysts from Thailand’s major banks slashed their 2021 growth forecasts, expecting the new wave of COVID-19 to significantly disrupt the country’s already fragile recovery.
Political unrest far from over . . .
While some point to a lack of progress in pro-democracy reforms, the unprecedented wave of criticism leveraged against the monarchy and broader Thai society has already altered public discourse. A late-December survey by the National Institute of Development Administration found most Thai people believe the political situation will continue to be chaotic. With the new COVID-19 surge, ongoing economic uncertainty and social unrest, Thailand’s near-term future looks highly uncertain.