Updated: Jul 12, 2021
By Torunika Roy
“The power they took from people will return to people”- this is the message that the young generation wants to convey to the government through their protests in Thailand. The young generation of Thailand (mostly students) are openly confronting the authority in Thailand. It seems that even the pandemic cannot stop students from raising their voices against the military government.
Why are the students protesting?
The students have three demands that they want the government to accept, which are- to end harassing people, to amend the Constitution, and to dissolve the parliament. The students are done with the autocratic nature of the government that acts as a ‘puppet’ of the Monarchy. The students believe that the present government does not care about people and just makes rules that suit the monarchy. For example, the government shut down Thailand’s popular southern islands for a year-end visit of King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s youngest daughter Princess Sirivannavari at the beginning of January. This order led to road closures and created transportation problems for many people. Moreover, when the former junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha became the Prime Minister, he promised to step down after three years. However, that never happened and he consolidated his position by acting as a guard of the monarchy.
Other than this, there has been a surge of illegitimate actions taken by the government. The referendum that was made in 2016 and the elections that took place in 2018 were unfair. Many Thai activists and journalists were arrested for campaigning against the government. Moreover, Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code brings out the concept of Lese-majeste, which forbids anyone from insulting royalty. Due to Lese-majeste, anyone who defames the monarchy would be sentenced to prison for up to 15 years. Under this law, many people who have talked against the monarchy on social media have been arrested and sent to jail. Students believe that it infringes on their freedom of expression, which is a basic human right.
Among other things, the present King of Thailand, King Rama X is notoriously known for his controversies in Germany. His family lives lavishly while some people suffer from poverty in Thailand. In order to support his lavish lifestyle, the King has raised the taxes that has troubled the civilians. Moreover, due to Thailand’s long history of coup and junta, exports were banned that impacted the economy negatively. Despite the weak economy of Thailand, the King has become rich whereas the public has suffered a lot.
How did the protests start in 2020?
The protests began at the beginning of 2020 but were interrupted due to Covid-19. When the progressive Future Forward Party was dissolved illegitimately in February, the students decided to raise their voices. The FFP party was questing the legitimacy of the government and the actions of monarchy, thus representing the students. Furthermore, students started educating themselves about the dark history of Thailand through a Twitter account, Niranam that talks about the stories of coups, the Thammasat massacre in 1975, the death of King Rama VIII, and disgusted stories of King Rama X.
When there were relaxations from the Covid-19 protocols, the students gathered again in great numbers. In July, a group of Egyptian tourists arrived in Thailand and broke the quarantine rule, and went shopping. One of the soldiers was also tested positive that created a stir in Thailand. People started criticizing the authority for their reckless attitude with respect to that situation. On October 14, a big protest took place at Sanamluang, which included people from all generations.
How is the protest different?
The Free Youth Movement is an organization that mainly organizes the protests. The leaders of the organization want their three demands to be accepted along with the resignation of the PM and abolition of Article 112.
Although students are fighting against the aggressive nature of the authority, the protests are peaceful in nature. Instead of having a main leader, the protests are comprised of student associations from different universities. The protestors have found creative ways of challenging authority. They have made an anti-government anthem. According to BBC, one of the lines of the song that says “the most delicious food is sunflower seeds” is changed to “the most delicious food is taxpayers’ money”. Protestors are also using the famous ‘three-finger’ salute from the Hunger games that represent their defiance against the monarchy. A ‘milk-tea’ alliance has been formed among the protestors from Thailand, Hong-Kong, and Taiwan (due to their similarity in drinking milk tea and in having anti-China sentiments). There is also cooperation among K-pop fans in Thailand, who have collected funds to sponsor their activities.
Furthermore, students are mocking and trying to fool the officials. For instance, students who are active on Twitter and Telegram change their location and time of protest frequently to confuse the guards. There have been instances where a fake location was set up by the students and was informed through Telegram. However, the students never appeared but the guards were already present with their heavy vehicles. Recently, there was a fashion show organized by the students to mock the Thai princess Sirivannavari, who is known for owning a clothing brand from taxpayers’ money. Among other things, protestors are also adopting tactics used in Honk-Kong such as ‘Jungle-phone’ and sign languages to signal police arrival or request equipment.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning that many women are actively participating in the protest. It is because they face severe consequences of authoritarianism. In Thailand, High school students are required to wear a uniform, for which they have specific standards. If there is any slight modification in the uniform, students get harassed verbally or sexually.
How has the Government responded?
As expected, the government has made several attempts to stop the protests. On 14 October, a massive protest took place in which the Royal Convoy passed by the protestors. The next day, the government announced an emergency and cracked down on the protestors in the morning. However, it did not scare the students off. In the evening, thousands of people gathered and pushed back the riot police with their umbrellas, who used chemical-filled water cannon to disperse the peaceful activists. Many activists were also arrested by the police and later released outside the main city. Also, many students, who were hit by the blue water (it was hard to remove the color), had to hide in hotels to avoid arrests by the police.
In this way, the government has taken severe measures such as unleashing the force on students, using water cannon filled with blue chemicals, and releasing Yellow-shirt royalists. Yellow-shirt royalists are pro-monarchy. They are sent among the students to create violence so that the government gets an excuse to crack down on students. They can be easily identified because of their short army-like haircut. They always support the king by holding the King’s photo above their head and are often appraised by the King for their ‘bravery’. Many students have come up with the idea of rallying with ‘Minions’ to mock the Yellow-shirt royalists as Minions are known as ‘no-brainers’, dumb, and someone who follows the leaders blindly.
This fight has become tough but it would not bring the morals of students down. The students have vowed to fight till the end without any fear. They are up for any challenge to bring a fair system to Thailand. For students, it is not just about the fight against the government but also the fight against the conventional thoughts that bring chaos to society. For students, it is now the time to change the country and they won’t stop until they achieve their goal.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ytharth.