The large united protests against the Thai military junta last year have become fragmented after the latest wave of Covid. The main reason is that last year’s impressive protests got stuck in a rut without the movement expanding into new areas, especially the workers’ movement. Many handed over the role of opposing the junta to the opposition parliamentary parties. Not surprisingly, the opposition to the junta in parliament was hardly inspiring. Attempts at political reform are being blocked by the military’s built-in majority from appointed senators and the actions of the Pua Thai Party have been cowardly to say the least, especially on the issue of bringing the monarchy to account.
The new round of protests were revived by last year’s youth leaders and leaders of the Red Shirt movement which opposed the military ten years ago. The return of the Red Shirts is to be welcomed. But the weakness which dogged the movement last year remains. No serious work is being done to spread the movement into the organised working class. What is more, the protests, although being organised almost every day, are smaller and fragmented, with different groups organising separately.
More and more youth leaders are facing legal action after repeated arrests. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights report that in the past year there have been over 2 thousand prosecutions against 1161 protesters. [See https://tlhr2014.com/en/archives/34277 ]. Some Protesters face multiple charges. A total of 143 youngsters under the age of 18 have been charged. Most people face various “offences” concerned with protesting. But there are 124 people who have been charged under the draconian Lèse-majesté law. [See https://bit.ly/3zW9mCG and https://bit.ly/3larcLZ ].
One new development is the almost daily skirmishes between disaffected youth and the riot police at Din Daeng intersection in Bangkok. These young people, many of whom call themselves the “Breaking Through the Tear-Gas” movement or “Talu-Gaz”, deliberately respond to the violence of the riot police. The police regularly use tear gas, rubber bullets and batons to break up peaceful and legitimate protests. Rubber bullets are fired directly at people’s heads and on a few occasions, there have been reports of live rounds fired as well. The young people respond by using fireworks and catapults.
The Talu-Gaz youth, who are mainly unorganised and individualistic, come from poor families living in the area. They are different from the students who led last year’s protests. However, they have joined other and bigger anti-junta protests in the past. They are angry about their lack of future prospects and the way the government has mishandled Covid. They also wish to “get even” with the violent police.
Another development is the increasing numbers of young people who identify in some way with left-wing ideas. They are associated with the REDEM group. However, they are more like “autonomists” than Revolutionary Socialists because they reject leadership and the need to build a party. Despite this, they are also interested in Marxism.
Recently two pro-democracy Buddhist monks held a live social media discussion which attracted many viewers. The two monks cracked jokes and tried to keep things light and obviously enjoyed themselves. But their aim of making Buddhist teachings more accessible had mixed results, as people tended to leave the chat room when they started talking about more serious religious matters. Not surprisingly, the two monks have been criticised by conservatives and they had to explain themselves to the religious authorities. Never the less they remain unrepentant. After a criticism that monks should not be involved with politics, one replied that “soldiers shouldn’t intervene in politics”!
Finally, the thieves and gangsters in the junta seem to be falling out with one another. Drug dealer and “Mr Political Fix-it” Thammanat Prompao (pronounce as “Tammanat”) was recently sacked from the cabinet after trying to manoeuvre to get his boss “General Pig-face Prawit” to take over as Prime Minister instead of Prayut. This shows that splits in the ruling military party are developing as a result of mismanagement of Covid and the general mood in the country which is turning against the junta.
Giles Ji Ungpakorn