Defying a ban on public gatherings, thousands of Thai students and other youth protested at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok July 18. They are calling for the resignation of the government, a new constitution, an end to harassment of government critics, and the overturning of laws that punish criticism of King Maha Vajiralongkorn with up to 15 years in prison.
The monument commemorates the mass movement that brought down the absolute monarchy in 1932 in what was then Siam. It was replaced with a “constitutional” regime, largely run by the military. The officer corps has carried out 12 coups since then, the latest in 2014, which brought to power Prayuth Chan-ocha, head of the army.
Prayuth’s party came in second in last year’s election for the lower house of parliament, which supposedly returned Thailand to civilian rule. But he was elected prime minister with the votes from upper house members, who are hand-picked by the army brass.
Protests broke out after a February court ruling dissolved an opposition political party, giving Prayuth a tighter grip on power. But they tapered off in March, after the government imposed an emergency decree and lockdown on the pretext of combatting coronavirus.
The ensuing shutdown of trade and tourism has deepened the crisis for the already battered working people. Suicides are rising and the newly formed charity Covid Thailand Aid has been inundated with requests for help.
“The emergency decree has been used to control people,” Parit Cheewarak, a leader of the Student Unions of Thailand, told protesters. “Lift the decree immediately.”
“Some 500,000 of us are about to lose our jobs” due to the shutdown and growing economic crisis, Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, secretary general of the Free Youth, said.
“The laws protect the rich and leave the people with nothing,” 18-year-old protester Sang told Agence France-Press.