Protesters in Thailand are rallying to mark the anniversary of the Siamese Revolution, a bloodless coup in 1932 that brought an end to the country’s absolute monarchy and ushered in constitutional rule.
The group marching in the capital Bangkok on Thursday made three demands: constitutional reform, the removal of 250 military appointees from the Thai parliament and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
The police were out in force as hundreds of people yelling “Prayuth, get out” made their way to the prime minister’s offices at the Government House. A second group gathered at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument.
Thursday’s rallies come a year after the start of huge student-led protests for democracy that sent shockwaves through Thailand’s establishment – particularly the protesters’ demand to reduce the powers of the country’s revered monarch. At their peak, the protests drew tens of thousands of demonstrators but momentum has slowed in 2021 because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
— Thai Enquirer (@ThaiEnquirer) June 24, 2021
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 under 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.
Thai police on Wednesday warned protesters against joining the gatherings due to the coronavirus surge.
“Anyone who violates the laws during protests will have legal actions taken against them,” said Bangkok Metropolitan Police Commissioner Pakapong Pongpetra, adding that authorities “will not use force if it’s not necessary”.
The police have prepared for the rallies as demonstrators are marching to parliament to press their demand for the ouster of 250 senators and Prime Minister and a rewriting of the constitution. @TNAMCOT pic.twitter.com/teHQuUCqAF
— TNAMCOT English (@TNAMCOTEnglish) June 24, 2021
Since the student-led protests began, anger against Prayuth has mounted.
The Reuters news agency said 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, will also lead a gathering on Thursday calling for Prayuth to step down.
“People have to come out now to clean up the dirt in our system,” he told Reuters. “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 takes issue with what he called Prayuth’s failure to restore democracy with the last elections in 2019.
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.