Defying pandemic restrictions, a student network challenges Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who came to power in a coup. As public pressure against the military is growing, protesters want parliament to be dissolved, a new constitution to be written and an end to repression. Fears grow over the economy. For some analysts, the prime minister is using the coronavirus emergency to limit freedom and concentrate power.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Defying COVID-19 restrictions, hundreds of young Thais took to the streets yesterday calling on the government to resign and parliament to be dissolved.
Free Youth, a network of student groups, held a rally on the outskirts of the capital to challenge Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army commander, who came to power six years ago through a military coup.
Other rallies were held in the provinces of Ayutthaya, Khon Kaen, Sakon Nakhon and Pattani. And more protests are expected over the weekend.
In recent weeks, the prime minister has come under pressure as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and its effects.
On Monday, around 200 people protested outside army headquarters, demanding Prayuth’s resignation. Two days earlier, at least 2,500 people took to the streets in Bangkok in one the largest public protests since the 2014 coup. For now, the police have made no arrests.
Prayuth has led a civilian government since last year, but for critics the elections that led to the formal end of military rule were rigged.
Last February, the Constitutional Court ordered the dissolution of the second opposition party, giving the former general a stronger parliamentary majority.
The students are demanding a new democratic constitution, since the current – legacy of the coup – does not protect the rights of the opposition. Thanks to the exclusive control of the Senate, the military can maintain its grip on power.
The student movement has also targeted the monarchy, which brings greater danger of arrests. On Tuesday 21, Prayuth warned protesters against attacking the king, which to many in the country sounded like a veiled threat.
Protesters also criticised the government's handling of the economy. Due to the pandemic crisis, this year’s university graduates are afraid of not finding work.
According to Thailand’s central bank, the country’s GDP is expected to contract by 8 per cent in 2020. The United Nations estimates that the Thai economy will lose US$ 47 billion, especially in the tourism sector, the country's greatest source of revenues.
The state of emergency imposed because of the pandemic is expected to last at least until the end of August. For human rights groups, the government is using it to crack down on dissent, stop critical voices, and ban protests.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, like other governments in Asia, Thailand is using COVID-19 to limit freedom and concentrate power.