Until a few months ago, any attempt to oppose Thailand‘s long-standing monarchy was considered quite fearful by the residents. This was done away with on 16 August 2020, when around 10,000 protesters gathered around Thailand’s Democracy Monument demanding a change in the country’s old and strict rules. This protest, which was initiated in 2020, is the biggest anti-government rally since the Military Coup (2014). The protests targeted mainly the monarchy and its influence in the political and military aspects.
Plan of the Protest
- Bring about Democratic reforms;
- Dissolve the Parliament;
- Rewrite the outdated military-written Constitution;
- Change the monarchy;
- Resolve various student issues and ensure job placements for students;
- Tackle the economic failure caused by COVID-19.
On 10 August 2020, the protesters had made ten demands for changing the economy. These ten demands included abolishing the ‘lese-majeste’ law, which had been in the picture since 1908 and strengthened over the years.
One of the three most wanted critics of the Thai monarchy, Pavin Chachavalpongpun (a lese-majeste suspect currently a refugee in Japan), clearly stated, “The ten demands have been written in a very formal, serious way. This is not just to humiliate the monarchy; this can be taken to Parliament.”
What led to these protests?
- Military Coup (22 May 2014)– After six months of political crisis, the Royal Thai Armed Forces, headed by Commander General Prayut Chan-o-cha, tried to take down the then Thai government. This was the 12th military Coup since the country’s first military oppression in 1932;
- The Coronation of the current King (2016)– The highly regarded monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, dies after a memorable reign of 70 years. The title then passed on to his son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who is the existing monarch of Thailand;
- Ratification of the Military-based Constitution (2017)– This action, done through a Referendum, increased the King’s powers.
This is followed by a series of unfortunate events that motivated people to express their dissent in the biggest anti-government rally that the country has witnessed so far.
Opposition of the Thai Monarchy and ‘Lese Majeste’
King Maha Vajiralongkorn has been heading the country since 2016. Opposing Thailand’s monarchy is considered ‘illegal’ and attracts heavy punishment under the country’s ‘lese-majeste’ law. This law’s literal meaning is ‘insulting the majesty.’ It is criminalized by Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code. The prescribed Section holds that anyone who ‘defames, insults, or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent’ can be punished with a jail term ranging from 3 to 15 years. This is extremely harsh.
According to Michael Connors, a Social Scientist, it had been established ‘in the interest of the palace.’ This law has been a vital tool for the royal family to curb any possible faults found in them. When throughout the years, a lot is being covered by various royal families around the world, very little is heard about the Thai royal family.
While raising their voices, the residents forgot the principle of ‘Social distancing.’ According to reliable sources, protesters have been arrested, with some being released over bail. Some have faced the dreadful ‘lese-majeste’ charges. Moreover, six such protesters had been arrested on 19 August 2020 and have been charged with ‘sedition, computer crimes act, violating the disease control act and using loudspeakers.
Current Scenario in Thailand:
One highlight of the ongoing protest is the presence of the urban demonstrators and high school and university students, unlike the olden times. Pavin said that it is evident that “the students have set a new benchmark in Thai politics.” The student-led groups have managed daily to carry out protests highlighting the protest’s agenda and to end the intimidation caused to activists. They rely on social media to organize and spread their objectives.
Several people have emerged in support of the protests. Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher on Thailand at the Human Rights Watch, mentioned that “when you dig deep into what motivates all these different voices, the bottom line is that they believe Thailand needs genuine democracy.” In July, before the protest gained momentum, the Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, was particularly ‘worried and concerned’ about the movement. He has urged police to show leniency. The cabinet Ministers fear that the protest could turn violent.
Notable references made during the protests:
- ‘The Hunger Game’ film franchise- Demonstrators were seen wearing black t-shirts and face masks, holding up the ‘three finger salute.’ This soon became ‘a symbol of liberation’ in Thailand;
- Songs and Chants- To promote the dissolution of the government and the rewriting of the Constitution, anti-government songs and loud shouts of “Get out!” roared outside of Thai schools and universities;
- ‘Harry Potter’ film franchise- On 03 August 2020, the movie’s references were used to correspond with the ongoing battle for leniency. Arnon Nampa, a lawyer, said that it was high time to speak about the King directly rather than in riddles.
According to Paul Chambers, a lecturer and special advisor in International Affairs at Thailand’s Naresuan University stated that “The protests in Thailand are historical because this is the first time in Thailand’s history that urban demonstrations have demanded such reforms.” With efforts being placed to alter the country’s very structure, one can only look forward to it all being done for a better tomorrow.
Disclaimer:- General information about the ongoing opposition has been provided, keeping in mind Thailand’s existing ‘lese majeste’ law.