Protesters mark the anniversary of the end of the absolute monarchy, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Protesters in Thailand gather to commemorate the anniversary of the Siamese Revolution, a bloodless coup in 1932 that ended the country’s absolute monarchy and initiated constitutional government.
The group marching in the capital Bangkok on Thursday filed three demands: constitutional reform, the withdrawal of 250 military nominees from the Thai parliament and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Police were out of power as hundreds of people shouting “Prayuth, get out” headed to the prime minister’s offices in the government house. A second group met at the Bangkok Democracy Monument.
Thursday’s rallies come a year after the start of large student-led protests for democracy that sparked shockwaves through the establishment of Thailand, particularly the protesters’ demand to reduce the powers of the revered monarch of the country. At its peak, protests attracted tens of thousands of protesters, but the momentum has slowed in 2021 due to the increase in COVID-19 cases.
Dozens of people have been arrested since the movement began, with key leaders receiving various charges under Thailand’s harsh royal defamation laws. Many were released from custody under conditions that include not protesting, but leaders such as Anon Nampa, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Panupong “Mike” Jadnok took to the streets again on Thursday, at the forefront of rallies.
“The constitution must come from the people,” protest leader Jatupat “Pai Daodin” Boonpattararaksa told the crowd in Bangkok.
“In 89 years since the end of absolutism we are getting nowhere,” he added.
Thai police on Wednesday warned protesters not to join rallies due to the coronavirus wave.
“Anyone who breaks the laws during the protests will have legal action against them,” Bangkok Metropolitan Police Commissioner Pakapong Pongpetra said, adding that authorities “will not use force if it is not necessary.”
Since the student-led protests began, anger against Prayuth has increased.
Reuters news agency said some of those calling for the prime minister’s resignation now include his one-time allies.
Political activist Nittitorn Lamula, a veteran of the “Yellow Shirt” movement who staged counter-demonstrations to defend the Thai king last year, will also lead a rally on Thursday calling for Prayuth to step down.
“People have to come out now to clean up the dirt from our system,” he told Reuters. “My goals are all for the nation, religion, the monarchy and the people and democracy, and it is this government that has pushed me out again, through its failures and mismanagement.”
For Nittitorn, the prime minister’s failures include not only the management of the coronavirus outbreak and the economy by his administration, but also that he has inadequately defended the monarchy from calls for reform. It also questions what he called Prayuth’s failure to restore democracy with the last 2019 elections.
Former army chief Prayuth first came to power in 2014 when he led a coup against the elected civilian government. A military constitution that allowed a military-appointed Senate to vote for the prime minister helped keep him in office after the polls were held two years ago.
In addition to Bangkok, protests are also planned from the northern tourist city of Chiang Mai to the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat.
“Public pressure is palpable, it is increasing and people want answers,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University and director of the Institute for Security and International Studies.
Still, with the military and the palace still behind Prayuth, it’s hard to see how it could be removed, he said.
“At this time there is no sign that the palace support has been withdrawn,” Thitinan said.
“We’re a little stuck with Prayuth indefinitely, until the next election.”
The next general election is in 2023.