About 100,000 people expected to join tomorrow’s anti-government protest in Bangkok

The rally, the largest since the 2014 military coup, will be held on the campus of Thammasat University. Students are getting stronger and putting pressure on the government and the monarchy. The country is divided between protesters and the ‘salim’, the regime’s apologists.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – At least 100,000 people are expected to gather tomorrow on the campus of Thammasat University to protest against the government, a student group announced.

The university said it would prevent the rally, but the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration student group has pledged to carry out its protest, the largest since the 2014 military coup. Another rally is set for this Sunday in front of Government House.

Partly due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, public pressure has been mounting against Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army, who came to power in a coup six years ago.

Since last year, Prayuth has led a civilian administration, but his critics accuse him of rigging the election that marked the formal end of the military regime. Meanwhile, the military-dominated cabinet has also been criticised for the way it has managed the pandemic crisis.

Thailand’s economy is heavily dependent on international tourism, which the COVID-19 epidemic has brought to a standstill; forecasts indicate that the country’s GDP will contract by 8.5 per cent this year.

The protesters, mostly young students, are calling on the government to quit, end the dictatorship, and reform the Constitution along democratic lines.

They also want a review of the political role of the monarchy and of its financial endowment, as well as the abolition of the crime of Lèse-majesté, whereby anyone criticising the sovereign can get up to 15 years in prison. The Thai king is seen as a sacred figure.

Prime Minister Prayuth appealed to the protesters yesterday. In a televised message he asked them to avoid mass gatherings that could trigger another viral outbreak.

The current wave of protests began in mid-July. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 61 people have been indicted on sedition charges and face up to seven years in prison.

For Prajak Kongkirati, from Thammasat University’s Faculty of Political Science, the students are putting pressure on the government at a time of declining popularity.

“The youth movement has the potential to gain momentum and include the middle class, working class and people outside of Bangkok as part of the protests,” Prof Kongkirati said.

Indeed, the country seems split. When the national anthem is played, especially in cinemas, people divide between protesters who stay sitting and those who stand.

Anti-government protesters call the latter salim (a traditional Thai dessert), a derogatory term denoting submission to the establishment and its conservative values.