Giles Ji Ungpakorn
How did it start? The reasons why students started to revive the pro-democracy protests are that this new generation have seen that pushing for reforms within the parliamentary system has not worked. Opposition parties and politicians have been cut down by the military controlled courts. The junta were and still are blatantly using Covid as an excuse to try to ban protests. Anyone who speaks out is being intimidated by security officers and political exiles in neighbouring countries have been murdered by military death squads. The economy is a mess and youth see little to be hopeful for the future. In fact they share these feelings of anger and frustration with over half the adult population who voted against the military party in the last flawed elections. The difference is that the youth do not share the fear which is common among older activists who have been through military crack-downs.
It is not just university students. Secondary school students, often from more elite schools are joining in. LGBT activists have also taken part as open LGBT activists against the junta.
It is best to see the continuum of the pro-democracy social movement from after the 2006 coup with different groups popping up to take the lead. The youth are now taking the lead. [See “Role of Thai Social Movements in Democratisation” https://bit.ly/2aDzest ].
So far the most significant development is the establishment of the organisation “Free People”. The aim is to expand the movement to ordinary working people beyond students and youth. It has 3 major demands: stop intimidating activists, re-write the constitution and dissolve parliament. People are fed up with the fixed elections, the appointed senators and the military designed “Guided Democracy” system in general. [See Guided Democracy after the Flawed 2019 Election https://bit.ly/2Wm6bzI ].
Since the activist lawyer Anon Numpa stood up and raised a number of criticisms of king Wachiralongkorn, the underlying anger about the behaviour and arrogance of the new idiot king has come out into the open. People are angry about laws which prevent the monarchy being subjected to criticism and accountability. They are angry that he spends his time with his harem in Germany and changed the constitution to allow him to do this more easily. They are angry that he changed the constitution to bring all wealth associated with the monarchy under his centralised control. The extra demands from the Thammasart University mass protest on 10th August reflect a feeling that the monarchy should be reformed and its privileges cut back. These developments are to be welcomed.
Some political exiles abroad encourage the view that Thailand is an “Absolute Monarchy”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The movement should not over-estimate the power of the king. He has very little power and is a willing tool of the military and the conservatives, more so even than his weak father. Therefore suggestions that boycotting royal degree ceremonies would be enough to topple the regime are diversions. [See: “Absolutism” https://bit.ly/2teiOzQ and Can an absolute ruler hold power from abroad? https://bit.ly/3hxGFCv ].
Although the much welcomed criticism of the monarchy can weaken the junta and hasten the long over-due day that Thailand becomes a republic, the military and its parliamentary dictatorship remain the main enemy of Thai democracy and a strong mass movement to topple the military still needs to be built. Workers need to be involved. Events after the Second World War show that Thai military dictatorships can hold power without using the monarchy. We need a socialist republic in Thailand.