In depth: Why are there protests in Thailand?
Thailand has been witnessing massive but peaceful protests for months now. The pro-democracy protesters are mostly students who want the end of royal military rule. The southeast Asian country is already battling economic crisis and corruption scandals.
Thailand has seen many violent clashes after it was converted from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 1932. The country of over 70 million has a Buddhist majority. Following a coup in 1947, Thailand has been ruled by the military for the most part. The divide became apparent when in 2006, populist leader Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted as Prime Minister by the military in 2006 and has been in exile since.
The new rulers
The current ruler, Maha Vajiralongkorn, became king in December 2016. Prime Minister Chan-ocha came to power through a coup in 2014, when he seized power from Shinawatra’s sister. Though there were elections last year, it is alleged that Chan-ocha meddled with electoral laws during the 2019 elections results, which has enabled him to remain in power.
In recent months, the protesters have challenged the king’s decision to declare Crown wealth as his personal property, which made him by far the wealthiest person in Thailand. It had until now been notionally held in trust for the benefit of the people.
There have also been questions over the king’s decision to take personal command of all military units based in Bangkok – a concentration of military power in royal hands unprecedented in modern Thailand. The king used to spend most of his time in Germany but had to come back due to the protests.
There are three demands by protestors: dissolution of Parliament and the PM’s resignation, changes to the Constitution, and an end to harassment of critics. Any statement against the monarchy or the king can land the person in jail for up to 15 years!
The 3 Fingers salute
As the protesters are fairly young and want nothing to do with military rule, their ways of protests are also novel. The “anti-coup” three-finger salute from The Hunger Games series has become almost an official protest signal. There are others gestures too such as the hands crossed over the chest, and hands pointing above the head. Some of these gestures are the same as those used by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
In a recent order, the government has banned assembly of more than five people anywhere in the country to crackdown on the protesters and rallies.