1st Thailand pro-democracy march since 2014 coup

Agence France-Presse
Discontent with the administration of ex-army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha is seething, with a progressive opposition party disbanded and the country's economy faltering

PROTEST. A man holds a sign that reads, 'We are tired of Prayut, stop the 2017 constitution' during a demonstration calling for the creation of a new constitution in Bangkok on March 13, 2020. Photo by Romeo Gacad/AFP

BANGKOK, Thailand – Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters marched on parliament in Bangkok Friday, March 13, wearing black T-shirts to mourn the state of Thailand under an army-aligned government, in the first street protest for several years.

Discontent with the administration of ex-army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha is seething, with a progressive opposition party disbanded and the country’s economy faltering as the COVID-19 crisis batters the key tourism industry.

Protesters have met inside university campuses in recent weeks but are now edging back onto the streets of the capital, which has played host to rival – and often deadly – rounds of street politics over the last 14 years.

Thailand voted Prayut’s conservative government into power a year ago.

It was the first election since a 2014 coup and held under an army-scripted constitution that critics say gave Prayut an unfair advantage.

The boisterous but peaceful “Black Friday” rally, calling for the government to quit, is the latest reflection of his unpopularity.

“Our families are grassroots people and we’re directly affected by government policy and the failing economy,” 22-year-old student leader Thip Ubsorn said.

Thailand’s pro-democracy movements – often led by students – have often ended in bloody army crackdowns.

Experts say they will need to stir a coalition of young and old from across Thailand’s political divide to pose a serious threat to the government.

But Prayut, a gruff and gaffe-prone former general, has become a lightning rod for anti-government sentiment after leading a coup then holding onto power as a civilian leader.

“If a government can’t govern properly, they shouldn’t be in power,” Chai, a 70-year-old protester, said.

“The country has gone nowhere (since Prayut came to power). Isn’t 5, 6 years enough?”

The powerful Thai military has carried out 12 successful coups in nearly 90 years and remains lodged in the nation’s politics.

But now students – organized on social media and also emboldened by Hong Kong’s protest movement – are slowly mobilizing once again.

“We’re not scared, we’re a new generation,” one 27-year-old post-graduate student who called herself BK told Agence France-Presse.

“We’re wearing black to mourn the death of the rule of law, justice and democracy in our country. This is the beginning.”

Thailand’s constitutional court last month disbanded the Future Forward Party, a movement popular among millennials, which won over 6 million votes at last year’s polls.

Its stridently anti-military agenda rattled the conservative establishment.

But the party’s abolition and the ban from politics of its frontman Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has enraged a public weary of rule by ex-generals and big business affiliates.

Thailand has one of Asia’s highest income disparities and the impact of the coronavirus is forecast to hammer back economic growth to under 2% this year. – Rappler.com