Anti-government protests continue in Thailand

The political situation in Thailand has been unstable since the military coup in 2014. On Jan. 12, a large rally against
present administrative power occurred at the State Railway Public Park in Bangkok.

Colloquially termed as the “run against dictatorship,” over 10,000 people attended the event. Although most participants wore plain T-shirts, some showed up in humorous costumes. Most attendees were young and have a strong sense of democracy in protest of the Thai government.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the leader of the Future Forward Party and key proponent against dictatorship in Thailand, also appeared. In homage to the film “The Hunger Games,” many participants raised three fingers into the sky as a sign of unity and a symbol of anti-military government.

In 2014, Prayuth Chan-Ocha, the current president of Thai-land, supported a military coup as the commander of the Royal Thai Army. Since then, various martial laws have been set in place to ban any gathering of more than five people to discuss political opinions on the National Council for Peace and Order, the newly-instated government. Because of these rules, gaining permission for demonstrations is a complicated process, so the “run against dictatorship” was formed as a running event rather than a political event.

Although Thailand returned to a civilian government last year, members of the junta are still playing a central role in
decision-making, causing an uproar from the public. Subtle hostility between pro-democracy demonstrators and the military has continued since the ousting of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who implemented a universal healthcare system and policies to reduce rural poverty. Thaksin’s caretaker government faced criticism from the People’s Alliance for Democracy due to human rights abuses, police corruption, and tax evasion.

Looking back at the political turmoil, it is clear that the core of the problem was the lack of policy favoring middle and upper-class members, as Thaksin gained much support from rural populations in the northeast.
These conflicts ultimately culminated in violence. In 2010, military troops fired at Thaksin demonstrators, leading to
hundreds of casualties. The army led a coup once more in 2014, replacing the private government led by Thaksin’s sister Inrak Shinawatra.

On Dec. 14, 2019, the Future Forward Party (Thai Second Opposition) held a major political rally. Prayuth’s administration, accompanied by conservative groups, displayed significant opposition to this move. Authorities had called for a ban on the Future Forward Party a day prior to the event. Thailand’s election panel argued that the party had accepted multi-million dollar loans from Thanathorn and thus had infringed political party laws.

However, Thanathorn has garnered support from six other political parties in
Thailand to push for changes to the constitution, which has been maintained since the coup in 2014.
Three demonstrations have called for the current Thai government to be overthrown. However, it may be impossible
for opposition parties to reform the current political sphere without military support.

In spite of the actions of the junta, Thanathorn has not lost hope.“I don’t see how we can transition our country to democracy anytime soon,” Thanathorn said in a New York Times interview.

“It is going to be a long journey. It requires a decade if we are lucky. Yet, it will be meaningful, in the sense that people will have the opportunity to vote. That’s a promising first step.”

Editor’s note: This story originally was published in Volume 106, Issue 9 of The Guilfordian on Jan. 24, 2020.