Tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators braved the ban on gatherings in Bangkok on Sunday, for the fourth day in a row. They took to the streets to demand the resignation of the Prime Minister and a reform of the monarchy.
“Dissolution of Parliament!”, “Shame on the dictator,” chanted the crowd. The largest gathering, gathered near the Democracy Monument in the heart of the capital, sang the national anthem, raising three fingers, a gesture of resistance borrowed from the movie “Hunger Games”.
The tensions on Friday, when the police evacuated the protesters using water cannons, did not dissuade the protest, a majority of young people.
“Speak freely about the king”
Several demonstrators held up portraits of leaders of the protest arrested in recent days, including that of activist Anon Numpa detained in Chiang Mai (north). Helmets, goggles and protective masks were distributed against a possible charge from the police.
“There will be no democracy in this country without reform of the monarchy,” said a 24-year-old, on condition of anonymity. “I want to be able to speak freely about the king, it is a legitimate right”, launched a student.
The movement urges the repeal of the lese majesté law which punishes from three to fifteen years in prison any defamation or insult to the monarch and his family. He also asks for more transparency in the finances of the wealthy monarchy and the non-interference of the sovereign in political affairs.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn did not directly comment on the events, but said Thailand “needs a people who love their country”.
Another, smaller gathering was held in the heart of the business district. The organizers called for other demonstrations in several provinces of the kingdom, as well as abroad. On Saturday, tens of thousands of people had already demonstrated at several sites outside the city center.
“If the protesters defy the law, the police will do whatever is necessary to enforce it,” national police spokesman Yingyos Thepjumnong warned.
The movement, which has been on the march for three months, calls for a reform of the Constitution. “We must change the amendment on senators”, appointed entirely by the military, noted Phat, a 24-year-old lawyer.
Threat of curfew
Protesters are also calling for the resignation of Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, brought to power by a coup in 2014 and legitimized by controversial elections last year. Some denounce its “bad” economic record as the country, locked since the coronavirus pandemic and very dependent on tourism, is in the midst of a recession, with millions of people unemployed.
The soldier has warned that he will not resign, brandishing the threat of a curfew if the situation continues. Ban on gatherings of more than four people, proscription of online publications deemed “contrary to national security”: the authorities have already promulgated emergency measures Thursday to try to break the dispute.
They justified their decision by denouncing incidents against a royal procession: dozens of demonstrators had raised three fingers on Wednesday in front of Queen Suthida’s vehicle in a sign of challenge.
The emergency decree promulgated is “a green light (…) to violate fundamental rights and make arbitrary arrests with complete impunity,” lamented the NGO Human Rights Watch on Saturday, while dozens of activists were arrested in recent days.
Thailand is used to political violence, with twelve coups d’état since the abolition of the absolute monarchy in 1932. Some observers note that a new seizure of power by the military might be possible if the situation were to continue.