In a rare act of defiance of power, thousands of Thais gathered in downtown Bangkok on Thursday.
Thursday morning, the Thai government declared a state of emergency in Bangkok: gatherings of more than five people are now prohibited, the media ordered not to cover the demonstrations. In front of a crowd composed mainly of young and very young – many high school students in uniform – the speakers succeeded one another, standing on trucks, without even a working microphone, to shout on the recurring themes of their movement: departure government, new constitution and, above all, what no one had dared to do before them, a reform of the monarchical institution.
Criticism of the monarch’s permanent interference
For the first time in this country where the monarchy had until now a semi-sacred status, citizens criticize aloud the permanent interference of the monarch in political affairs and his management of royal finances. “The king leads the high life in Germany, while the economy here is collapsing, the soldiers listen to nothing, we can no longer accept that”, articulates, very determined, Tian, a 16-year-old high school student who affirms that he is not afraid to die under the bullets of the police since “Anyway if we do nothing now, we have no future in this country, it’s like dying slowly.”
The business district of Rajprasong where the demonstrations were held is symbolic: it is where the Red Shirts, a previous social movement in favor of democratic opening, had settled for months in 2010, before being violently repressed by the military, who ended up shooting the crowd, killing around a hundred. But this time, resolving to the use of force seems difficult: “The demonstrators are our children, how can we shoot our youth?” asks a former activist in his seventies, who says that for the first time in decades, “These young people give me hope in my country”. The opposition political parties remain in retreat for the moment, which helps to protect them: “As long as they stay away from parties, these young people are considered innocent”, explains Sunisa Nuttawa, a lawyer who came to show her support for the movement.
Three fingers raised in rallying
The state of emergency is imposed in the name of “national security”, especially because during large gatherings on Wednesday, the demonstrators obstructed a procession carrying the Queen. Instead of the extreme deference that is expected of Thais when a member of the royal family hits the public highway, the young people in attendance greeted the passing of the royal vehicle with three raised fingers, their rallying sign from the film Hunger Games. These images turned on the networks and shocked the country. “No one could imagine such a scene a few years ago”, says historian Charnvit Kasetsiri.
A wind of unprecedented freedom of speech is blowing over the country. Different civil society groups take advantage of the gap opened by the students to make themselves heard. Groups as diverse as rappers, peasants who challenge the new laws on land ownership or feminists, so far remained very discreet in Thailand, and who, for the first time, have dared to claim the right to land. ‘abortion.