Pro-democracy protesters in Thailand have rallied to mark the 89th anniversary of the Siamese Revolution, a bloodless coup that brought an end to the country’s absolute monarchy and ushered in constitutional rule.
Demonstrators marching in the Thai capital Bangkok on Thursday had three demands: constitutional reform, the removal of 250 military appointees from the parliament and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
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The police were out in force as hundreds of people yelled “Prayuth, get out,” and made their way to Parliament House. The protesters carried red and white flags as well as replicas of an iconic plaque that commemorates the 1932 revolution.
The rally came a year after the start of huge youth-led protests demanding democracy that sent shockwaves through Thailand’s establishment – particularly a demand to reduce the powers of the country’s revered monarch. At their peak, the protests drew tens of thousands of demonstrators but momentum slowed in 2021 because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
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Dozens of people have been arrested since the movement started, with key leaders hit with multiple counts under Thailand’s tough royal defamation laws. Many were released from detention on conditions that include not protesting, but leaders including Anon Nampa, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, and Panupong “Mike” Jadnok were out on the streets again on Thursday – at the forefront of the rallies.
“The constitution must come from the people,” protest leader, Jatupat “Pai Daodin” Boonpattararaksa, told the crowd in Bangkok.
“In 89 years since the end of absolutism we have not got anywhere,” he added.
‘Willing to listen’
Thai police warned protesters against joining the gatherings due to the coronavirus surge but allowed Thursday’s march to proceed along a circuitous route to Parliament House, where legislators are due to vote on several amendments to the constitution.
But the proposed changes fall far short of those sought by the protesters, which include restoring more power to political parties and elected office holders.
Outside the parliament, opposition legislators received the protesters demands, while a ruling party legislator also made a brief appearance on a makeshift stage with the protest leaders.
“We are willing to listen,” Sira Jenjaka said, to loud jeers from the crowd.
Protesters hand a replica of the “People’s Party 2020 Plaque” and copies of 1932 charter to representatives of the opposition. They insist any efforts to rewrite the charter must be done through elected drafting committee and every section must be open to change. #ม็อบ24มิถุนา pic.twitter.com/EM4An8ylcB
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Since the student-led protests began, anger against Prayuth has mounted. Some of those calling for the prime minister’s resignation now include his one-time allies.
Political activist Nittitorn Lamula, a veteran of the “Yellow Shirt” movement who held counter-demonstrations to defend the Thai king last year, also lead a gathering later on Thursday calling on Prayuth to step down.
“People have to come out now to clean up the dirt in our system,” he told Reuters prior to the protest. “My goals are all for nation, religion, monarchy and people and democracy, and it is this government that has pushed me to come out again, through their failures and their mismanagement.”
For Nittitorn, the prime minister’s faults include not only his administration’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and the economy but also that he has inadequately defended the monarchy from calls for reform. He also took issue with what he called Prayuth’s failure to restore democracy with the last elections in 2019.
At Phan Fa Lilat Bridge, another anti-gov’t group calling themselves “Thai Mai Thon” (Impatient Thais), is gathering before they will march to Gov’t House. The group is led by former Redshirt and Yellowshirt leaders including Jatuporn Prompan and Veera Somkwamkit. #ม็อบ24มิถุนา pic.twitter.com/IURkwsygU3
— Khaosod English (@KhaosodEnglish) June 24, 2021
‘Stuck with Prayuth’
Former army chief Prayuth first came to power in 2014 when he led a coup against the elected civilian government. A military-drafted constitution that allowed a military-appointed Senate to vote for the prime minister helped keep him in office after polls were finally held two years ago.
In addition to Bangkok, protests are also planned from the northern tourist city of Chiang Mai to the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat.
“The public pressure is palpable, mounting, and people want answers,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University and director of the Institute of Security and International Studies.
Still, with the military and palace still behind Prayuth, it is difficult to see how he could be removed, he said.
“There are no signs for me at this time that the palace backing has been withdrawn,” Thitinan said.
“We are kind of stuck with Prayuth indefinitely, until the next election.”
The next general election is in 2023.