Young people in Thailand take the protest to the streets
A number of protests broke across Thailand this week. Thousands of students joined the country’s youth-led pro-democracy movement. They demanded the resignation of Thai Army-backed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. Wearing a uniform, black T-shirt and face masks, demonstrators were seen at different protest sites holding up the iconic three-finger salute from the ‘Hunger Games’ film franchise. This became a symbol of liberation in Thailand soon after the military coup in 2014. Anti-government rap songs and chants of “Get Out” echoed outside Thai schools and universities. Protesters chanted for the removal of the parliament and the rewriting of the constitution.
The history behind the events
The demonstrations first began on Saturday. Around 3,000 young people — led by the student coalition group Free Youth — assembled at Bangkok’s historic Democracy Monument. Smaller protests broke out in cities and towns across the country.
Thai Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong on Friday said that the youth-led protests were most likely part of a larger political conspiracy. He promised to allow protests to continue without military interference. Kongsompong claimed that security forces would still need to closely inspect these movements, according to a report by Bloomberg.
Why are young people protesting against the Thai government?
The Free Youth protesters first pointed out their three demands at the Democracy Monument last Saturday. 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 scaring activists for exercising their freedom of expression.
Another factor that has led to the recent youth-led anti-government movement is the economic impact of the ongoing pandemic. It has brought the country’s successful tourism industry to a big stop. According to the Bank of Thailand, the country’s economy is expected to reduce by a minimum of 8% this year, as per CNN. Thousands have been jobless. Students, particularly graduates, find themselves helpless as they have few to no jobs to choose from. Many blamed the country’s leadership for failing to save the economic loss due to the pandemic.
Other factors that resulted in the protests
People are criticizing the emergency order by the country’s prime minister, which strictly bans public assembly. It stops people from leaving their homes and also includes a clause to prevent the spread of misinformation that may cause public fear. Critics are blaming the Thai government of using the order as a means to stop public protests. Over the last few years, the government has even been accused of kidnapping critics and activists. In 2018, the locals found the bodies of two missing activists floating in the Mekong River.
The political scene in Thailand
The pro-democracy protests are regular in Thailand. They had stopped because of the pandemic. In February this year, thousands of people protested. Thailand’s popular pro-democracy opposition party Future Forward, led by billionaire tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, was removed for violating election laws. Students gathered on college campuses across the country to express their anger at the government’s decision. They said that the government was undemocratic. This was a total misuse of power.
The young protesters are very different from the ‘Red Shirt’ protesters. The Red Shirts, formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), was a political movement after the 2006 coup. The group mostly consisted of rural workers who demanded the return of the then PM Thaksin Shinawatra. They also protested against the harsh living conditions in Thailand’s countryside. But today’s young protesters are from privileged backgrounds.
As young people could not gather in public during the Covid-19 pandemic, student protests took it online. Thai youth used Twitter as a platform to show their dissent and show support to pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Protesters from both countries are using hashtags like #nnevy and #MilkTea alliance to counter Chinese nationalist trolls.