Written by Arshiya Sangar, a grade 11 student
On July 18, a crowd of 2500-3000 young people gathered at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, raising the three-finger symbol of liberation.
Why would such a large group of youth gather in a public place in the middle of a pandemic? The reason is that the pro-democracy movement in Thailand has seen a revival in the past few years. Smaller protests were recorded in cities and towns across the country.
How and Why The Protests Have Developed
The reasons for this youth uprising are manifold. Because of a lack of economic reform (thus leading to stagnation), students and graduates are facing joblessness, and in their view, the government is not trying to reverse the economic damage. Additionally, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands have lost employment, and the flourishing Thai tourism industry has completely broken down. The Bank of Thailand predicts a contraction of at least 8% for the Thai economy, one of the worst projected declines in the Asia – Pacific region.
These conditions have been made worse by the emergency imposed by the government to handle the pandemic; despite being a country that has tackled the pandemic quite efficiently (as of 24 July, they have gone 60 days without local transmission), it is expected that emergency will be extended for another month, mandating no public assembly or moving out of houses, along with a clause preventing the reporting or spread of information that might ‘cause public fear’. Critics claim this is being used to suppress political opposition.
Since he came to power in 2014, Prime Minister Chan-ocha has cracked down relentlessly on pro-democracy protestors, with several accusations of abductions being made against the government. The disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a member of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (also known as the Red Shirts, who preceded the current pro-democracy protestors), in June this year, was one of the catalysts for the protests.
Another catalyst was the disbanding of an emerging opposition party, the Future Forward party, in February 2020, allegedly over election misconduct. Thousands took to the streets in protest against this.
Thai Regime In The Recent Past
Politics in Thailand has been unstable since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. In May 2014, the current Prime Minister, Prayath Chan-ocha, led a military coup (i.e. a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government), the 12th military coup since 1932. He promised to restore democracy and provide political stability. However, contrary to these claims, he proceeded to suspend the Constitution, ban political gatherings and imposed a nationwide curfew. In July 2014, an interim Constitution was issued, giving the military sweeping powers.
What followed was an administration that was firmly against democratic freedoms. When elections were called in 2019 (for the first time since the coup), the youth voted in large numbers for pro-people democratic reform, and the main opposition party, Pheu Thai, won the vote. Nevertheless, they were not allowed to pick a leader. Instead, the military chose the 250 member senate, naturally picking Chan-ocha as the Prime Minister once again.
What does the youth want?
They have three major demands: they demand the resignation of the Prime Minister, the dissolution (the action of formally ending or dismissing an assembly, partnership, or official body) of parliament along with rewriting of the Constitution, and an end to State and judicial intimidation of activists and critics for exercising their freedom of speech and expression.
How long do they plan to protest?
The protest has migrated online as well, with protestors taking to Twitter, in many cases joining hands with the protestors in Hong Kong to collectively respond to hate. The protests show no signs of slowing down, and protestors plan to continue through the pandemic.