New Directions through Old Ways: Thailand’s Current Tensions

Last Saturday, tens of thousands of young Thai citizens descended onto Bangkok’s Democracy Monument as Thailand’s biggest and loudest anti-government protest in the last few years, being even bigger than Thailand’s 2014 coup that was led by former military chief Prayat.

Thailand is a nation which has long endured a series of military coups and violent protesting. Its current protests are the continuation of many problems that have only worsened due to another issue, this being the massive economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic. With the fall of the Thai economy, much anger is being directed towards both the government (which is mostly filled with army generals and military personal) and the royalist establishment.

The people’s denunciation of the former army chief turned Prime Minister of Thailand Prayuth Chan-ocha is interlinked to this exhibition of fury, with the protests having three clear aims: to demand a new constitution for Thailand, fresh elections, and the abolition of repressive laws – including the royal defamation law.

 “The government doesn’t care about us, so either we come out or we lose anyway,” said an 18-year-old student called Sang, giving one name only. “The laws protect the rich and leave the people with nothing.”

This comes as many reference specific laws that are used by the Thai Royal Family as defamation law, which protect the monarchy and its supremely rich King Maha Vajiralongkorn from press criticism and public outcry.

Alongside this, many have decided to wear the full black clothing, a method which has been borrowed from the pro-democracy protesting within Hong Kong that started last year, with many Thai protesters staying on into the night rallying against the current conservative Thai government.

Hundreds of police officers have attempted to stop the protesters from accessing the democracy monument in Bangkok, with scuffles breaking out between protesters and police officers as the former attempted to enter. The place where the protests started is at the memorial for the 1932 revolution in Thailand that established the constitutional monarchy.

With many worrying that the Thai kingdom could be slipping back into absolutism through the monarchy, this prospect of this happening is exacerbated by the current prime minister and his hard-line pro-monarchy generals that surround him.

Since then in the following years the nation has seen the economy freeze up in many ways and its freedoms continue to shrink under new laws. It is because of such things that this pandemic has only been a catalyst for the reinflation of Thailand’s pro-democracy movement.

Thailand is expected to suffer from severe economic consequences due to the global coronavirus pandemic, with some analysts’ surveys predicting that Thailand’s economy will contract more than others in Southeast Asia at a rate of 6 per cent, and with a weaker rebound in 2021 of 4 per cent. Because of this, thousands of students are now expecting to be jobless when they finish university in the coming years, joining a growing middle class and working class that expect unemployment. The situation is only made worse by Thailand being a nation that has a weak welfare system to maintain its populace.

Thailand is now facing further uncertainty for its future, one that was already established by an antagonised public bearing the brunt of massive economic strain and a military regime that is loyal only to the country’s controversial king. Now that COVID-19 has amplified these already existing tensions, there is much to be seen of what Thailand’s future will become.

Featured image credit: Clint Oka on Unsplash