Thailand’s political unrest fails to ease down amid global pandemic tensions
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Picture Credit: JONAS GRATZER/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES
Thailand’s political scene has been multifaceted and at the centre of global news reporters’ confusion as the nation itself is divided among royalists and those that identify themselves as pro-democratic. Various social economic reports are insufficient to describe a deep murky situation as even individuals that claim to oppose the decisions of wealthy individuals such as Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister of Thailand and head of the Pheu Thai Party in one of the country’s largest political coups during 2006, are surprisingly powerful landowners who are politically involved too.
The current version of the Thai political crisis comes off the back foot of a military coup initiated by the former PM in 2006 and later by the military style leader and Army General, Prayuth Chan-ocha who promised to end political dysfunction and achieve the nation's goals, all to no avail.
The driving factors fueling the current political situation are focused on; removing power distances between the elite and commoners, ending violence and abuse of power on citizens and changing laws and decrees of the constitution though these issues have been replaced by economic pressures caused by the global pandemic. An analyst researcher from Gavekal Research, describes the situation in the following sense,’’if so, then the smile on Thai faces today is a rictus of anger, pain and fear: political anger, economic pain and fear about the future.’’
Insider reports have recognised the intricate and covert structure of the Thai Monarchy which is maintained strongly by Draconian law structure and ensures that those who criticise are severely punished.
Thailand is now facing recognisable changes in leadership style following the death of one of the longest reigning monarchs in the world, King Bhumibol in October 2016, paving way for Maha Vajiralongkorn to bend the country’s military towards his exact decree with a clear need for fear spreading and consolidating power and influence represented via his overhaul of mega Thai companies such as Siam Cement and Siam Commercial Bank.
The influence of the monarchy and military appear to have a symbiotic and iron grip on the people as the military represented by recent comments made by the General, Apirat Kongsompong on the student led protests as being ‘’chung chart’’ igniting old memories of ultra royalist attacks in 1976.
Members of the public raising a famous,’Hunger Games’ mirroring three finger salute calling for an end to autocratic rule by the Monarchy
A cleverly and well timed first hand photo depicting the universal message that Thailand’s people are fighting for and with a strong youth flair in mind.
Trouble in Paradise
The demonstrations in Thailand have rocketed and the three main demands of protesters include, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s resignation, amendment of the constitution so as to permit for greater democratic participation, and finally, restructuring the role of monarchy while subjecting it to legal, political, and fiscal lapse.
Pro-democracy protesters have majorly accused the king of wasting taxpayers’ money, and criticised him for spending most of his time in Germany, while Thailand faces economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. They have furthermore been demanding major reforms to the monarchy and have called for lese-majesty to be scrapped completely.
Last month, thousands of demonstrators marched to the gates of the German Embassy in Bangkok to ask Angela Merkel’s government to investigate their king on his frequent lavish trips to Germany and ignoring the current economic and political situation back home.
“People of Thailand are now done. Done with being used and abused by a monarchy that does not care about its people at all. People are now speaking up against the injustice. When our country is suffering from not just a global pandemic but so many various problems and the monarch is enjoying his time in a lavish villa in Germany, what kind of leader is this? I think Thailand is now waking up and realising that it needs to bring the change. The time of resistance is here!” said a resident in Bangkok.
In this entire conflict, the three main stakeholders, the army, the monarch and its supporters, and a diverse group of people involved in progressive movement haven’t really narrowed down to substantive dialog yet therefore, the protests continue to happen throughout the country.
An enigmatic and emotional footage highlighting the Thai people’s unity and strength for a more pro democratic future
According to a recent report in The Guardian, Thai police have been reportedly summoning pro-democracy protesters “to face charges under the country’s fierce lese-majesty law, ahead of a major protest that will call for the king to hand over control of the royal fortune.”
However, the picture on the other side shows a different story. Some are willing to come out and support the king and the overall political situation. “People in Thailand are mad. They are showing their anger. We want him back in our country, and we want him now. We are fighting and we will fight. We are Thai, the descendants of the bravest of the brave,” said a resident of Phuket region in Thailand.
A first hand shot detailing the messages the people of Thailand demand those in power.
The extent of protests that are occurring as the people power through to take back their freedom as sourced on Thai PBS World
The current situation
It was on 23 February 2020 when the entire turmoil got triggered due to the Constitution Court's decision to disband the Future Forward Party (FFP) which led to massive demonstrations in various institutions nationwide. These protests were mainly organised by students who came with various hashtags unique to their institutions such as Thammasat University, Chulalongkorn University, Ramkhamhaeng University, Kasetsart University, Srinakharinwirot University and Prince of Songkhla University on 24 February. Various high school students also organised protests at Triam Udom Suksa School and Suksanari School. Initially, it began with the involvement of limited individual institutions.
The most unique feature about the protest was the involvement of the youth. However, this protest, which was organized exclusively on the academia grounds, was halted in late February due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with all universities, colleges, and schools shutting down.
This protest also made use of the social media very tactfully. The use of online media, such as TikTok and Twitter, including various hashtags, has characterized the protests. Hashtags have emerged for protests at each institution.
The second wave of the protest began in the month of July, when large scale street demonstrations, mostly led by ‘Free Youth’ protesters were witnessed by the people of Thailand at the democracy monument in Bangkok. However, it was stated by a Free Youth leader, that they do not aim to overthrow the monarchy. After 18 July, the protests began to spread across the country.
To highlight the most important feature of this protest is the involvement of the students, a Harry Potter-themed demonstration with 200 people featuring a public speech by Anon Nampha which openly criticised the monarchy, and demanded amendment of increasing royal prerogative and lèse majesté law.
Richardt Schoonraad, Srijita Chakrabarti, Kavya Kothiyal