Thailand Protests Erupt Again

Focused on monarchy, PM, education . . .

Thailand continues to be rocked by weekly mass protests as youth activists tackle various issues central to their demands. They are calling for the 2018 Crown Property Act to be revoked so that the King no longer has a personal monopoly over royal assets that the protesters claim should come under civilian control. Protesters have also criticized the Constitutional Court for its alleged lack of judicial standards after ruling that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s stay in army-provided housing is not considered special treatment, even if he is no longer part of the army. Meanwhile, students have staged school protests, and some have chosen to attend classes without uniforms to call for reforms to Thailand’s education system.

Return of lese-majeste . . .

Prime Minister Prayut’s warning that he would use all legal means to take action against the pro-democracy protesters was not an empty threat. A total of 23 activists, the largest number in years, have been charged under Thailand’s strict lese-majeste law for defaming the monarchy during the protests. Some of the activists willingly presented themselves to police, hoping to draw attention to supposed injustice. While the use of lese-majeste to punish political dissent may further delegitimize the royal institution, its recent application signals the government is unwilling to compromise with protesters.

Weakened or strengthened?

Other recent developments do not bode well for Thailand’s pro-democracy movement. A volunteer protest guard group said that it would stop providing security at protests after one of its members had an altercation with some students. Free Youth, one of several groups in the pro-democracy movement, has floated the idea of creating a Thai republic. But many other student leaders, despite calling for reforms, say they still want to preserve Thailand’s constitutional monarchy. Free Youth has also alienated domestic and international supporters with its use of a logo reminiscent of the hammer and sickle of the Soviet-era flag. Factionalization may signal weakness to an increasingly intolerant political establishment, but protesters remain unfazed. The next protest has been called for this Thursday, which coincides with Constitution Day commemorating Thailand’s adoption of a constitutional monarchy in 1932.