Student protesters in Thailand are stepping up pressure on the military-backed government with calls for greater democracy and less power for the monarchy, a potentially explosive demand just as leaders struggle to handle the country’s worst-ever economic crisis.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered again as part of near-daily gatherings across Thailand, which have gained momentum after the arrests of top leaders who have since been released on bail. One of those arrested, Arnon Nampa, last week made
a rare public call for rolling back measures that increased the power of King Maha Vajiralongkorn since he took the throne in 2016 — prompting a complaint to the police.
Some groups have also demanded the government rewrite the constitution by the end of September to disband the
military-appointed Senate and change election laws to make them more democratic, after which the government would resign and hold a new vote. While Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha has made some conciliatory statements, one of the groups called Free People — a union led by several different organisers — expects a crowd of 10,000 people for a protest on August 16.
“The plan now is to mobilise more people to join our cause,” said Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, one of the organisers of Free People group who also inspired youths to gather on July 18, which was then the biggest demonstration since the lockdown began.
“What the government is trying to do is buy more time,” he said. The grassroots nature of the protests are unusual for Thailand, where demonstrations over the past two decades have largely been backed by powerful political actors such as former elected leader Thaksin Shinawatra and his rivals in the royal establishment.
That presents a greater challenge for Prayuth, a former army chief who led a 2014 coup and stayed in charge after a disputed election last year conducted under rules written by his military government. “The government has no idea how to deal with it,” said Kevin Hewison, an expert in Thai politics and an emeritus professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.