By Akina Nanayakkara
Image Credit: Aljazeera
The first series of protests began on the 23rd of February 2020. Preconditions to the distrust in government are mostly rooted in Prime Minister Prayut’s five-year rule. Under the leadership of Prayut, there were substantial limitations put on citizens and their civil rights, as well as growing poverty and inequality. In August 2016, a constitutional referendum was held in order to construct a new constitution. The referendum was only partly democratic and had 61% approval from only 59% of voters.
The main trigger for the unrest seen in 2020 is the dissolving of the Future Forward Party. The Future Forward Party, or the FFP, was a progressive centre-left political party founded by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul. The party stood mainly for reducing military power and establishing economic and social equality. Following the dissolving of the party, majority student-led demonstrations began. Protests mostly stemmed from secondary schools and universities which quickly spread onto a national scale. However, this was interrupted due to the coronavirus outbreak after strict measures were put in place forcing all schools and colleges to shut down.
After restrictions eased slightly, the demonstrations began once again in June 2020. Unrest grew once more after the disappearance of pro-democracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit. Satsaksit was a human rights activist who had been previously residing in Cambodia and went missing on the 4th of June 2020. An online newspaper based in Thailand reported that Satsakit was abducted by armed assailants in front of his residence in Cambodia. The area’s police dismissed the claims; however, many protestors remain suspicious and have accused the Thai government of organizing his disappearance. The demonstrations have continued to the present day with protests growing to the largest on record since the 2014 coup.
On the 18th of July, the largest demonstration began at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok organized by the young people across Thailand. The crowds of protestors eventually reached between 10,000 and 20,000 people. Campaigners brought a list of 10 demands which called for drastic monarchical reforms. The reforms varied from Removing the King’s immunity against lawsuits to investigations into the murders of those criticizing the monarchy. As of October 16th 2020, the government officially approved a 30-day severe state of emergency after the protest in Bangkok which soon became uncontrollable for armed forces. Police attempted to break up the unrest by using water cannons and detained 20 demonstrators and their leaders. However, the protest only grew in power despite the armed forces’ efforts to contain it.
As of late October 2020, Prime Minister Prayut has refused to resign despite numerous protests and opposition. The latest challenges by mostly young protestors towards the monarchy are unprecedented. Although restrictions have been put in place by Thai authorities, many refuse to back away from demonstrating. This movement against the Thai government has been, arguably, one of the largest the nation has witnessed in modern history.