Politics

What Are The Protests In Thailand About?

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Thousands of people in Thailand are taking to the streets to protest a new ban on mass gatherings. 

The ban was meant to end months of civil unrest, but has only led to more protests. 

What Are The Protests About, And Why Are They SSignificant? 

On the 15th of October Bangkok declared a severe state of emergency. 

Gatherings of more than four people were banned, and 80 people have already been arrested because of the new rules. 

There have been scenes of the military shooting water cannons at the non-violent crowds, and protestors making three-fingered Hunger Games salutes in response. 

The protests in Thailand started back in February this year, when a prominent opposition party – which had become popular amongst young people – was banned by Thailand’s Constitutional Courts. 

A lot of young Thai people are fighting for more freedom against their government. They want the prime minister to step down because he’s seen as authoritarian in his leadership.  

They’re also pushing to change the country’s relationship with their monarch, who they believe holds a disproportionate amount of power over its people. 

Emma Connors: “One interesting thing about Thailand [is that] it’s always sort of been self-governed. So for about 800 years it was ruled by the kings, and then there was sort of a constitutional sharing earlier this century. But the monarchy remains an extremely important and powerful institution in Thailand.” 

That’s Emma Connors, the south-east Asian correspondent for the Australian Financial Review 

She explained to me that there are three key players that the Thai people are protestingthe king, the prime minister and the military.  

Thailand’s current Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, actually came to power following a military coup back in 2014. 

EC: “There’s sort of been this history of the military coming in and riding over governments, and having their way, and installing governments, and that’s been the pattern – and this is what the young protesters are determined to break.” 

Emma told me that up until 2016, the royal family were well respected and loved throughout Thailand. But people aren’t so happy with the current Thai King, Maha Vajiralongkorn. 

EC: “I remember going jogging in the central park in Bangkok and at 7 oclock everyone would stop absolutely stilland they would play the national anthem, and everyone would have their hands on their hearts, and it was quite incredible – just how widespread it was among every age group.” 

Emma told me that since King Maha Vajiralongkorn took over from his father, the public sentiment towards the Thai monarchy has been very different.  

People aren’t happy with how the king is using his new power, but can’t actually voice these opinions without facing huge consequences.  

That’s because of something called the lèse majesté law, which acts like a sort of royal defamation ruling that anybody can get caught up in. 

For some context, a grandfather who sent texts insulting the queen was jailed for 20 years, and a Swiss national who spray-painted posters of the late king while drunk was jailed for 10 years. 

Critics have argued for years that use of the law is a huge blow to freedom of speech, and the United Nations have been really trying to get Thailand to amend it – so far unsuccessfully. 

EC: “They are openly demanding curbs on the monarchy’s power. That really distinguishes this movement from all others in the history of time. This is what makes these protests [and] these protestors so brave … every single one of them is risking a long jail term. 

The young protestors have gained an incredible amount of support from youth globally. Hong Kongers and Taiwanese allies are showing solidarity through a #milkteaalliance and others are tweeting #IStandWithThailand.  

Emma argues that the timing of these protests is part of a wider global pattern, where new generations come in and want the traditionalists out.  

She also can’t overlook the role the pandemic has played in creating this moment for Thailand. Its economy relies heavily on tourism, and its people have been suffering more than ever this year.

The Takeaway 

Ultimately, the protestors see Thailand’s new mass gathering ban as a way to stop their fight for a new democracy – a democracy that could move away from its traditional ties to the royals and co-exist with its monarch as a figurehead, in the way that we do here in Australia with Queen Elizabeth II. 

But the protestors also want a new democratic leader that will support its people out of these hard times and, not even this ban has stopped them fighting for that.