- Tasnia Rahman
Youth Rebellions Spark Nationwide Protests to End Monarchy in Thailand
2020: Welcome to the year of youth awakening.
From fueling the Black and Indigenous Lives Matter movements to lobbying for anti-racist motions in school boards to spearheading nationwide protests with the intent of governmental reform - us youth have really taken matters of our present and future well-being into our own hands this year. If you have not already heard: the latter of these incidents is currently occurring in Thailand where student-led movements have galvanized the entire nation into action.
Pro-democracy protesters in the country are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, constitutional changes and reforms to the monarchy. These primary demands are being projected through the slogan “Resign, Rewrite, Reform.” The slogan, along with a three-finger salute adopted from the rebellions in the fictitious world of teen favorite ‘Hunger Games’ franchise, have become symbols of defiance in the movement. Social media, such as Telegram, and Facebook have been rendered crucial tools for the organization of these protests and creative protest methods such as hand signs (to communicate the arrival of police, request help, etc) have been at the forefront of the action.
A Cupful of History
Although Thailand ended its absolute monarchy in 1932, its political climate has always been unstable. The military has consistently interfered in the system, and contributed to a dozen successful coups against elected leaders, with the most recent one being in 2014. The current Prime Minister happens to be the former army chief and lead architect of said coup. He overhauled the Constitution - this snatched power from its citizens. The country is now on its 20th Constitution.
Stemming from its long history of political unrest, the movement in Thailand gained renewed momentum in February of 2020 after a popular opposition political party was ordered to dissolve. The protester populations - predominantly comprised of students, many of whom are in high school - initially took to the streets of Bangkok. They expressed frustration at the military-style school rules over their behaviour and attire. This eventually spread to other Thai provinces. It gathered steam to evolve into a large-scale challenge to the Thai monarchy, which forms the crux of the country’s uneven distributions of wealth and power. The ongoing cycle of confrontations began with planned demonstrations on October 14.
A Timeline of Recent Events
October 14: Protesters jeered while brandishing the three-finger salute while the Queen’s motorcade passed through the streets of Bangkok. In response, the police arrested protesters who are now under the threat of facing harsh penalties under obscure laws. Additionally, the government issued an emergency decree banning the gathering of more than four people.
October 16: Police drove away protesters using water cannons - spraying liquid containing a chemical irritant and blue dye. Demonstrators challenged this tactic by turning up in larger numbers the following day and continuing to ignore the emergency decree.
October 18: The fifth consecutive day of protests - rallies were held across 20 provinces. Protesters dodged the authorities by employing evasive tactics, many of which were borrowed from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
October 22: The Prime Minister revoked the emergency decree after acknowledging that Thailand would not ‘become a better society through the use of water cannons.’
October 23: In Bangkok, demonstrators were tear-gassed for the first time.
October 26: Thousands of protesters marched to the German embassy in Bangkok on Monday seeking an investigation into the Thai King’s activities during his lengthy stays in Germany - in an effort to address the reform of the monarchy.
October 26-27: The parliament convened a two-day emergency session on Monday to deal with the enduring protests. This session provided the first government platform for both sides to have a dialogue about the pressing issue. During this discussion, the leader of the largest opposition party Sompong Amornwiwat - reflecting the demands of tens of thousands of protesters - asked the Prime Minister to resign. The Prime Minister refused. As for the demands of the protesters, Mr. Prayuth briefly mentioned them but they went largely unrecognized as he chose to focus instead on the ‘illegal’ nature of the protests.
November 14-19: The movement pressured the Thai government to call more sessions of Parliament to debate changes to the constitution on Tuesday and Wednesday.
November 21: Expecting little to no constructive outcome to result from these parliamentary sessions (as has been the norm), the protesters organized their biggest march to take place on November 21.
These protests have severe repercussions under Thai law, as any criticism of the royal family is taboo and criminal under a statute known as Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code. The monarchy is protected by Thailand’s powerful lese-majeste law, which can bring a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. Laws on sedition and criminal defamation, as well as a computer crimes law that governs online content, can also be used to limit free speech. Such laws have resulted in many arrests. Fortunately, despite the removal of many of the protest leaders through these laws, youth activists still have not lost heart. Instead, they have embraced these developments. A youth activist has recently been quoted saying: ‘They think arresting leaders will stop us. [...] It’s no use. We are all leaders today.’
It is important to note that the absence of a centralized leadership is what sustained the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong long-term - a movement that the rebellion in Thailand has drawn significant inspiration and support from. Although the outcome of the Thai movement remains to be seen, we can hope that the trajectory of these protests will follow along the same lines as the Hong Kong protests and endure the test of time until the demands are addressed.