Pro-democracy students demand the removal of coup leader-turned prime minister and reforms of the monarchy
At least 50,000 people attended two anti-government protests over the weekend. For participants, the country belongs to the people and not to the monarch. Whilst the king has remained silent, the prime minister has called for unity to fight COVID-19. New rallies and a general strike are planned. The student movement is growing, getting support from partisans of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Some 50,000 people, mostly young students, took part in two anti-government protests over the weekend.
Although the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, a pro-democracy student group, expected 100,000 protesters, these rallies were the most impressive since the 2014 military coup.
At one of the rallies, protesters placed a commemorative plaque, later removed by the authorities, near the Grand Palace. The sign read: “this country belongs to the people and is not the property of the monarch”. Police announced that they might press charges against the people behind the gesture.
In an open letter to King Maha Vajiralongkorn, delivered to Bangkok’s police chief, the protesters demand the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his government, a new democratic constitution, and the reform of the monarchy.
With respect to the sovereign, they want a review of his political role and an audit of financial endowment. This is a major point since the monarch is seen as a sacred figure in Thailand, and any offence against him can be punished with imprisonment for up to 15 years.
The Royal Palace did not answer the protesters' questions. The king is currently in Europe, where he spends most of his time. For his part, Prime Minister Prayuth limited himself to thanking law enforcement agencies and demonstrators for their "peaceful" conduct, and called on the country to join the fight against COVID-19
Since mid-July, also due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, public pressure has mounted against the prime minister, a former commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army, who came to power in a coup six years ago.
He has led a civilian government since last year, but has been accused by the opposition of rigging the elections that led to the formal end of the military junta.
His government has also been criticised for its management of the pandemic crisis. The country's economy is largely dependent on tourism, which has been almost completely wiped out by the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak.
Encouraged by the outcome of the two days of protests, students announced a new rally for next Thursday in front of Parliament this time. The student movement has also called on ordinary Thais to take part in a general strike planned for 14 October and to boycott the Siam Commercial Bank, in which the king is the majority shareholder.
According to press reports, student actions are winning the sympathy of increasingly large sections of the population, including the "red shirts", supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire removed from the military in 2006, and his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, who also served as prime minister.
Some analysts note that the youth movement can have a lasting impact on the country's politics only if it is able to enlist the support of the rural population.