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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Street protests against Thai government are getting bigger and more grim

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Protesters in Thailand have been demanding political reforms for a year, but the government hasn’t budged so far. Meanwhile, the atmosphere on the streets is becoming grimmer now that there is also fierce criticism of the economic consequences of the pandemic.

It has been a year since students in Thailand and recently middle-class people have manifested themselves and taken to the streets to demand political reforms. For example, in August last year young people presented their “ten points manifesto”. In it, they called for Prime Minister Prayut’s resignation.

The young people regard the prime minister as the personification of an old political culture. He staged a coup in 2014 and was able to remain in power as prime minister five years later, after contested elections.

The monarchy is also targeted in the bundle of requirements. The king has a lot of effective power in Thailand and there are severe penalties for lèse majesté. According to the activists, that is no longer possible in a modern democracy.

Demonstrations

A long series of demonstrations started in September 2020. Tens of thousands of participants often turn up in the capital Bangkok. The government usually picks up various figureheads of the protest, partly because they would not comply with the gathering ban that has been in force since the start of the corona crisis.

The fate of 23-year-old student leader Parit Chiwarak, who invariably stands on the barricade, has become a symbol of the fierce struggle against the government. This spring, the young man spent almost four months in jail. He was released on parole in May after a hunger strike. But recently he was arrested again because he had protested against the arrest of other activists.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere on the street is becoming more aggressive.
Last week, police used both a water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters. A 15-year-old boy was said to have fallen into a coma after being shot in the neck.

One participant emphasizes that it was a peaceful action. Officers say they were pelted with paint and smoke bombs. According to the police, the water cannon was deployed ‘in accordance with international standard procedures’ and no live ammunition was fired.

The protest no longer comes only from young people who want to change the political system. There is also a lot of dissatisfaction with the government’s corona policy. The total number of infections in Thailand has risen above a million and many companies went bankrupt. An impoverished middle class feels the effects of the pandemic directly in their wallets and takes to the streets.

“These protesters are less well organized than the students, are angry and frustrated and seem willing to use violence,” human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement.

The HRW calls on the Thai government to take the grievances of these people seriously.

But for now, there is no dialogue. Opposition councillors have tabled a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Prayut and five of his ministers. Perhaps this will be debated in parliament at the end of this month or early September.

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