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Thai Protesters Vs Thai Government, the latest situation

Kritsada Mueanhawong

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OPINION

In 1932, the old Siam Kingdom went through a fundamental change when, on June 24 the King, Rama 7, woke up to find his powers as an absolute monarch stripped from him by a new democracy movement. A new constitution would limit the King’s powers, under a constitutional monarchy. In 1933 there was a military coup, the first of 12 Thailand has had to endure since.

88 years later, here we are with five months of protests under our belt. The current round of protests is different from in the past and it’s not just about political grievances. In fact these young protesters are an entirely new breed of Thai protesters. Not only young but also educated and being from a generation exposed to international media… more worldly than their predecessors.

The latest protests are also characterised by their demands to adjust the role of the Thai monarchy under the constitution – to codify the monarch’s role and limit his or her powers. This is extraordinary because it’s the first time highly sensitive matters about the royal family have been brought up in public.

The Thai monarchy has been a revered institution, mostly though the work of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej who served the Thai people for an astonishing 70 years before his passing in 2016.

Now young Thais are openly discussing matters about their royal family, discussions which would have never aired in polite Thai society in the past. There are also numerous, and infamous, examples of un-Royal photos and videos being shared in social media.

This all forms a vivid background to the current protest movements. But are the young protestors running out of steam? Protest leaders were talking of gatherings of one million people, about forcing the government into changing the constitution and the current prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha standing down.

But we haven’t seen a million people on the streets, probably only up to 20,000 people in a few protests. And the Thai PM has steadfastly refused to stand down.

As we stand now the dreams and demands of the young protesters remain just dreams. The government and the army have shown no indication that they will concede any ground or make any changes to accommodate their demands.

Apart from a few staged joint sessions of parliament, and a promise to set up some committees to examine some aspects of the demands, the gulf between the protesters demands and the conservative coalition government, backed by the army, remains wide. And there’s an ocean of space between the two where there is little common ground or areas for compromise.

The change to a constitutional monarchy on June 24 was a bloodless coup… there had been no public discussion or a cultural revolution to work towards the change. It just happened, directed through the power of Thailand’s elite together with the army.

And the situation has been so ever since with a sometimes uncomfortable alliance between the establishment, army and the palace becoming the norm in Thai politics. Any attempts at full democracy have been fleeting and simply led to the next army coup.

The current quasi democracy in Thailand… really an army-led Junta dressed up in a tatty constitutional overcoat… has run the country since a general election in March 2019. The current PM never even stood for election but was voted into the position by a joint sitting in parliament.

That parliament includes a 250-member senate… ALL appointed by the Army before the dissolution of the NCPO, the leadership group that led the coup in Thailand in May 2014.

The current protests, their objectives and demands are worthy and courageous but haven’t yet inspired a majority of Thais to come out on the streets with them.

Whilst polls and social media don’t show any general enthusiasm for the current PM or his shaky coalition government, the young protesters haven’t yet been able to grasp the political realities and provide a pathway towards their objectives beyond slogans and ideology. Certainly not enough to galvanise a rump of Thai voters that could threaten the status quo.

The protesters unveiled their 10 point manifesto back in July, listing their list of demands – reform and changes towards a modern democracy. But for now they may need to refine their demands and tackle one thing at a time in a country that, currently has many other things to worry about as the borders remain mostly closed and the economy tanks.

 

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Issan John

    Wednesday, December 16, 2020 at 3:33 pm

    The “young protesters” have probably brought about their own demise by the divisions now appearing in their own ranks, particularly with the “Free Youth” movement which will alienate many Thais who may otherwise have sympathised with the original protests.

    The extremists have screwed the rest.

    In my view there’s no need for the authorities to use any draconian powers or the lese majeste law to control the protests as it simply feeds the protesters, foreign media and foreign interference, and all the powers-that-be have to do is sit it out and let the “young protesters” destroy themselves.

    • Avatar

      Preesy Chepuce

      Thursday, December 17, 2020 at 2:31 pm

      “Foreign interference”, sounds like another term for foreign investment and education and training… if anything, “foreign interference” is the most urgently-needed thing in Thailand to save it and transform it into the modern prosperous democracy its young people would like it to be.

  2. Avatar

    Ian

    Wednesday, December 16, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    We don’t want your view issan john your not Thai so leave these people to fight for what they believe and keep your views to yourself if they succeed it will be amazing for Thailand and farang like you with your fragile visa conditions that can be changed in a minute but hey you carry on supporting this corrupt institution ,the west supports you Thailand

    • Avatar

      Issan John

      Wednesday, December 16, 2020 at 7:25 pm

      Fortunately for many here, and for Thais, you are not “we”, neither are you “the west”.

      FWIW, I’m not “supporting” either the authorities or the protesters, as I would have thought was obvious to anyone with a functioning brain cell, simply expressing a view which I doubt either of them will be influenced by.

      • Avatar

        Preesy Chepuce

        Thursday, December 17, 2020 at 2:34 pm

        Well for those many of us who lack the functioning brain cell that you so critically depend upon, you sound very much like you’ve gone native , and in favour of the establishment, and against the youth. Whilst you might think you’re right, you might wonder why few else do.

    • Avatar

      Singharacha

      Thursday, December 17, 2020 at 2:33 am

      “The west supports you Thailand”
      Awww! What do you mean by “west”?
      So-called “pro-democray” protesters are supported by Western bilionnaires, who claimed themselves as “philanthropists” but in reality are looking to submit the Thai people to get more power and more money.

      The money they give, directly or through their NGOs are not donations or gifts but investments.

  3. Avatar

    EdwardV

    Wednesday, December 16, 2020 at 6:22 pm

    “ The current PM never even stood for election but was voted into the position by a joint sitting in parliament.” – not taking sides but isn’t that exactly how most parliamentary systems work?

    • Avatar

      Issan John

      Thursday, December 17, 2020 at 4:07 pm

      Ed V, I’m not “taking sides” either, but maybe you mean “exactly how most DEMOCRATIC parliamentary systems work”?

      Unfortunately parliaments based on the “Westminster model” are fundamentally non-democratic by any recognised definition.

      Not only do their MPs not represent the electorate since they’re elected on a “first past the post system” which doesn’t reflect how the electorate voted since there is no proportional representation, but even though the PM is supposedly “the person who commands the confidence of the House of Commons”, the House of Commons never gets asked.

      The present Conservative government, for example, has 56% of the MPs, but only won 435 of the popular vote.

      The US is no better, with two of the last five presidents actually losing the popular vote.

    • The Thaiger

      The Thaiger

      Thursday, December 17, 2020 at 6:42 pm

      Firstly, he never stood for election as an MP, so was not voted for by the people. And, in the Westminster system, the elected leader of the winning party automatically becomes the PM, no from a joint sitting of parliament. In Australia’s case, the Governor General, who stands in as the resident Head of State representing the British Crown, is nominated by the sitting PM and then offered the position through a symbolic joint sitting of parliament. But the Governor General, or the Queen of England, have little real power as they traditionally take their advice from the PM and his or her party, although they can, at their own peril, make constitutionally difficult decisions from time to time (as in 1975 in Australia when the Governor General sacked the elected government).

  4. Avatar

    Ian

    Thursday, December 17, 2020 at 1:13 am

    Typical sitting on fence Mr John your not issan yet you use this lol your a sad man in a village what just reads the internet then casts his views from his wood shack I am the west where are you from cuckoo land as you obviously not proud of where your roots are as you won’t divulge lol

    • Avatar

      Issan John

      Thursday, December 17, 2020 at 4:47 pm

      Ian, I have no problem whatsoever in “divulging” where “my roots are”, which are British with pretty much equal measure of English, Scots, Welsh, Irish and Australian (the latter two from a time when both Ireland and Australia were still “British”).

      I see no reason to be either “proud” or ashamed of “my roots”, though, as it’s an accident of birth rather than anything I had a hand in or contributed to, and I can think of little more sad than those who are “proud” of something they’ve played no part in.

      As for “sitting on the fence”, I’m not supporting either side since I’m a guest here so I don’t think it’s for me to do so, but I see no reason not to point out some facts, which many here seem blissfully unaware of, or to have a view on the consequences of people’s actions if they’re in the public eye.

      As an example, some may be interested to know that the current Thai parliament was elected according to the Constitution of 2017, which was approved by 61% of voters (with a 59% voter turnout), with 58% voting separately for the PM to be jointly elected by elected MPs and the nominated Senate.

      That IS how Thais voted.

      At the same time, though, that’s far from the full story as not only was there no alternative to the 2017 constitution, such as the 1997 “People’s Constitution” which was Thailand’s first (and only) constitution written by a directly and popularly elected Constitutional Drafting Assembly, but opposition groups to the constitution were barred from campaigning against it by the military junta, who arrested, detained, and prosecuted voters in military courts who even expressed their intention to vote against the draft,
      while the military junta actively campaigned for its adoption with 350,000 canvassers and there were no independent monitors.

      Thais don’t need guests here to “take sides” – they’re perfectly capable of thinking for themselves and deciding their own future without any help from me (or from you).

  5. Avatar

    Ameila Leary

    Thursday, December 17, 2020 at 6:16 pm

    Calling yourself a common man and pretending that in the name of the Thai monarchy and military dictatorship, you are not doing atrocities, then provide the democracy that the demonstrators have been demanding for a long time. If you are so confident of your Thai’s excellent job, then why are you silencing the voices of democracy and even banning those who are showing Thai realities all over the world?

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