In a string of protests staged across Thailand in recent weeks, thousands of students have revived the country’s youth-led pro-democracy movement. Amidst the coronavirus pandemic the protesters have demanded the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Wearing uniform black T-shirts and face masks, anti-government rap songs and chants of “Get Out” echoed outside Thai schools and universities as protestors called for the dissolution of the parliament and the rewriting of the constitution.
The demonstrations began when around 3,000 young people — led by the student coalition group Free Youth — assembled at Bangkok’s historic Democracy Monument. In the days that followed, smaller protests broke out in cities and towns across the country.
Thai Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong alleged that the spate of youth-led protests were most likely part of a larger political conspiracy. While he vowed to allow protests to continue without military interference, Kongsompong claimed that security forces would still need to closely monitor these movements, Bloomberg reported.
With the government yet to address the protestors’ grievances, the protests show no signs of weakening. According to Free Youth, more demonstrations are planned.
The Free Youth protestors first outlined their three big demands at the Democracy Monument — first, they called for the resignation of Chan-ocha and the dissolution of the parliament; second, they demanded the rewriting of the constitution; and third, they urged authorities to stop intimidating activists for exercising their freedom of expression.
Another factor that has fuelled the recent youth-led anti-government movement is the economic impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Due to the coronavirus-induced recession, thousands have been rendered jobless. Students, particularly graduates, find themselves especially vulnerable as they have few to no jobs to choose from. Many denounced the country’s leadership for failing to reverse the economic damage caused by the pandemic.
Many young people protesting today claim they are frustrated by the lack of pro-people reforms and years of economic stagnation. The countries’ stringent lèse majesté laws, which make defaming or insulting the king an illegal offence, have also shrunk the space for dissent considerably.
The pro-democracy rallies seen this week did not emerge out of thin air, the protestors merely picked up where they left off earlier this year, before public assemblies were abruptly halted due to the pandemic.
In February this year, thousands took to the streets after Thailand’s popular pro-democracy opposition party Future Forward, led by billionaire tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, was disbanded for allegedly violating election laws.
Today’s young protesters come from relatively privileged backgrounds and reside in some of the countries’ biggest cities and towns. Their methods are similar to those of protesters in the 1960s, who are considered Thailand’s first generation of student demonstrators.