Thailand students have chosen to risk coronavirus pandemic threat to demand for their basic rights  |  Photo Credit: AP
- Thai students have begun massive protests against its military-backed government
- Students are defying coronavirus ban and risking it all to demand a change in the outdated constitution
- Their innovative ways to protest include the use of a Japanese anime character and a “Hunger Games” salute
Thousands of Thai protesters have taken to the streets in an unprecedented fashion, chanting “down with dictatorship” and “the country belongs to the people”. At the core of these protests is the coming together of students who are braving the COVID-19 pandemic to demand their rights as citizens.
The Bangkok streets have come alive with people joining the anti-government demonstration on Sunday that was one of the biggest since a 2014 coup. Thousands gathered at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, a traditional venue for political activities.
A significant number of policemen keep an eye on the protesters. On one side are a handful of supporters of the monarchy that is propped by the Thai army. What are the protesters demanding?
Students are demanding three key things:
- Hold new elections
- Amend the constitution, end the lese majeste law
- Stop crackdown on critics of the government
What is the lese majeste law?
Thailand’s lese-majeste law is a strict law that forbids the insult of the monarchy or questioning anything that any of the royals do. The Thai military that seized power through a coup in 2014, has been putting people in jail with unfair trials and harsh sentences with no appeal. Critics say the military-backed government uses the law to clamp down on free speech.
Despite repeated calls by the United Nations to amend the contentious and outdated law, Thailand has done nothing to amend it.
How is Thailand governed?
The country was an absolute monarchy till a military coup toppled it in 1932 but that has done nothing to hand over power to the people. The nation sees a coup every 6 years on an average, reports AP. So the prevalent governance model is the military rule with constitutional monarchy.
Thailand’s current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha is a former general who ousted an elected government in 2014 and served as a PM in the military regime that succeeded it.
When elections were held in 2019, Prayuth was back in power and his critics say the exercise of polling was so heavily rigged in Prayuth’s favour that he could not have lost.
The immediate trigger:
The pro-democracy Future Forward Party (FFP), with its charismatic leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, had turned out to be particularly popular with young, first-time voters. The Thai military-government ordered its dissolution in February. ALso, a popular leader Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who had been living in Cambodia in exile since 2014, went missing. Protests broke out across Thailand but coronavirus containment related bans had shut them for a while.
What triggered the immediate protests is the detention of a prominent student leader who had been leading the growing movement that demands political reforms. Parit Chiwarak, 22, was arrested on the outskirts of Bangkok for taking part in a demonstration last month. Students have held regular protests since then, reports the BBC.
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