The pro-democracy movement wants his resignation, constitutional reforms and limits put on the king's power. The prime minister's threats are a response to repeated clashes between protesters and police. For Thai expert, pro-democracy demands are a breakthrough for the country and all of Southeast Asia.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said today that all the laws of the state will be used to stop the protests that have rocked the country in the past few months.
Since July, thousands of young people have been demonstrating almost every day calling for the prime minister’s resignation, the institution of a democratic constitution and a review of the role of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, considered lop-sided in a constitutional monarchy like Thailand's.
Prayuth's announcement came a day after thousands of protesters threw paint at police headquarters in downtown Bangkok. The prime minister’s statement is seen as a response to the incidents on Tuesday, when protesters removed barriers put up by police and camped in front of Parliament. The clashes left 55 injured, including six by gunshot.
Yesterday Thailand’s parliament rejected the constitutional demands put forward by the pro-democracy movement, causing tensions to rise even more.
The protesters fear the prime minister plans to use the lèse-majesté law to clamp down on protest. In Thailand, the sovereign is treated like a sacred figure, and any offence against him can be punished with up to 15 years imprisonment.
Prayuth is the prime target of the protests. A former commander-in-chief of the army, he came to power in a 2014 coup, and has led a civilian government since last year. His critics accuse him of imposing a tailor-made Constitution in 2017 and of rigging the election that marked the formal end of the military junta.
According to Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, history is not on the side of the prime minister. “The demands of the pro-democracy movement are a breakthrough, unthinkable even just last year,” he told AsiaNews. The Thai scholar said the protest movement had succeeded in "breaking the traditional taboo about the monarchy, placing both the monarchy and the monarch at the front and centre of Thai politics.”
For Thitinan, if Thai democracy triumphs over autocracy, it will boost democratisation processes elsewhere in the world, including Southeast Asia, where democratic governments are absent (Laos, Brunei and Vietnam) or are "elected dictatorships" (Cambodia).
“The Milk Tea Alliance, for example, shows that the newer and younger generations in some Asian countries despise authoritarianism in favour of democracy,” he said. The pro-democracy movement has sprung up online to support pro-democracy groups in Thailand, Hong Kong and Laos. It originally emerged to oppose China's hegemonic claims in the region, with activists mainly present in the Philippines and Taiwan.