“Prayut, fuck you!” ” Several tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators braved Saturday, October 17, for the third day in a row, the ban on gatherings in Bangkok to demand the resignation of the prime minister and reform of the monarchy, before dispersing peacefully. The day before, for the first time, the police had used water cannons to disperse the protesters, who were demonstrating against a background of growing tensions with the police.
On Saturday, the demonstration spread to several sites outside the city center, made difficult to access after the authorities closed all metro lines. “I am worried about my safety. But if I don’t protest, I won’t have a future “said business school student Min, 18, who brought a helmet and gas mask to protect herself from a possible law enforcement charge.
Across the Chao Phraya River, thousands of protesters shouted: “Long live the people, down with the dictatorship! ” While others blocked traffic in the south-east of the city, posting signs: “You cannot kill us, we are everywhere”. Other protests have taken place across the country.
Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, a headliner of the protest, has been arrested, according to images broadcast live on social media. He is being prosecuted for violating the assembly ban. “Be prepared physically and mentally for a possible repression”, had warned a little earlier the organizers of the movement which calls for the resignation of the Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha. The rebels are demanding a reform of the powerful and extremely wealthy monarchy, a taboo subject in the country a few months ago.
Protesters jailed in the north of the country
King Maha Vajiralongkorn did not directly comment on the current events, but said on public television that Thailand has “Need a people who love their country, a people who love the institution” that represents the monarchy.
On Thursday and Friday, several thousand people had already gathered in the center of the capital, despite the promulgation of an emergency decree prohibiting any gathering of more than four people. Dozens of people have been arrested over the past four days, including nine leaders of the pro-democracy movement. Some have been released on bail, others, like Anon Numpa, who is particularly outspoken towards royalty, have been jailed in the north of the country.
The opposition Pheu Thai party called on the government to immediately lift the emergency measures and release those detained. The promulgated decree is “A green light” given to the authorities “To violate fundamental rights and carry out arbitrary arrests with impunity”, condemned the NGO Human Rights Watch, calling on the international community to react.
“Don’t break the law, (…) I will not resign ”Thailand’s prime minister warned on Friday, adding that emergency measures would be applied for up to thirty days. A curfew is, moreover, not excluded in the capital if the situation were to continue.
General Prayut Chan-o-cha has been in power since he overthrew Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in a 2014 coup. “Hundreds of thousands of people are calling for change today”, noted the latter on Twitter, urging Prayut Chan-o-cha to do everything to “Restore peace” in the kingdom.
Likelihood of military takeover
In addition to political tensions, there is a serious economic crisis. Dependent on tourism and locked down since the Covid-19 pandemic, Thailand is in the midst of a recession with millions of people unemployed. The authorities motivated the promulgation of the emergency measures, in particular denouncing incidents Wednesday against a royal procession.
Several dozen demonstrators, on the sidelines of a large pro-democracy rally, raised three fingers in front of Queen Suthida’s vehicle in defiance. Two activists were arrested and indicted for “Violence against the queen”, an extremely rare charge, punishable by life imprisonment.
Thailand is used to political violence, with 12 coups d’état since the abolition of the absolute monarchy in 1932. Given the situation and the hardening of positions, “The likelihood of another takeover of the country by the military is possible”, according to Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.