Earlier this month, the capital city of Thailand was witness to what is being regarded as the largest and boldest political demonstration since the 2014 military coup. The ongoing demonstration has brought together as many as 10,000 protestors on the streets of Bangkok. This student led demonstration aimed at revising the constitution and subsequently calling for a change in the nation’s current power structure more so by challenging the monarchy which is a direct jail sentence under Thai law. Furthermore, these pro-democracy protests with slogans like ‘Freedom over fear’ and ‘Where is democracy’ ask extremely fundamental questions which the political discourse in Thailand has in the past few years failed to address. According to a BBC report one of the protestors said “Lastly, our dream is to have a monarchy which is truly under the constitution.” Another demand is for the current Prime Minister Mr. Prayut Chan-o-cha to step down, who won the quiet disputed elections last year. Earlier this week Facebook blocked a group by the name of ‘Royalist Marketplace’ with as many as a million members engaged in discussions about the reform of the Thai monarchy, which is a major cause of concern for instance the social media giant is evidently acting in line with the current government and bureaucratic structure who have now gone into damage control mode and the same can be seen as an attempt to minimize the global attention that the protest is getting. Furthermore, Thai businesses are being subject to a sudden boycott by protestors as CNA international reports how Burger King franchise is the newest addition to this list to have had to finally now down this boycott with respect to accusations of being pro government. There are parallels with Hong Kong, where businesses seen as antagonistic to the protest movement were boycotted by its supporters in favor of “yellow” companies that back the movement. The biggest of dozens of street protests across Thailand to date drew more than 10,000 people in Bangkok on Aug 16, but social media shows broader support, with some protest hashtags used or shared by millions of accounts. What we are witnessing in Thailand is historic and remarkable due to the sheer magnitude of the protests and its implications. What’s more astonishing that the country of Thailand that was once a strict monarchy is witnessing a natural course of evolving into a democratic constitutional monarchy if the protestors were to above their objective.
The extremely fascinating costumes that caught the eye in these protests are Harry Potter costumes and other pop culture references and inspired slogans indicative of the engagement of youth in political and public life in Thailand. What’s even more fascinating is how this series of demonstrations are testament to a new chapter in the history of Thai politics with the engagement of an average Thai youth. It’s important to note that the protests are in context of the dissolution of the pro-democracy Future Forward Party (FFP) as per a court order in February, which is something that the youth of Thailand didn’t take well. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and state of emergency in the nation the protests came to an end abruptly. Things hit the roof when Wanchalearm Satsaskit, an activist living in Cambodia in exile since 2014 went missing. Although, the Thai government has denied any involvement in the matter, the protestors don’t seem to buy the argument one bit. Also, a student leader by the name of Parit Chiwarak was arrested on charges of sedition, which along with the various things is what has caused the demonstration to last. Critics accuse the monarchy of helping extend the army’s hold on politics in Thailand, where there have been 13 successful coups since the end of absolute royal rule in 1932. Before the 2014 coup, Bangkok was roiled by more than a decade of often violent clashes between yellow shirt royalist protesters and rival red shirts loyal to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. What is interesting is that amidst the global wave of populism this movement is a step in the way of democracy for Thailand not only proving it to be a distinct political landscape but also an interesting case study for assessing the practical implication of the democratization process. The demands may not seem far to unreasonable but only time will tell how the government will respond to this major development which is in congregation with a sudden global wave of political unrest in Belarus and Mali.