Socialist Worker

Protesters rattle the monarchy in Thailand

by Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Issue No. 2727

Protesters battled riot police and water cannons

Protesters battled riot police and water cannons (Pic: PA)


The amazing demonstrations in Thailand against the military junta and the monarchy in the past few days show how far the movement has developed.

Large youth-led pro-democracy protests have hit the Thai military junta since August. In September crowds on protests swelled to over 100,000.

It was the 47th anniversary of a mass uprising against a military dictatorship on 14 October. Crowds gathered in similar numbers and marched to Government House to demand the resignation of the dictator Prayut Chan-ocha. 

They also demanded the writing of a new constitution and the reform of the monarchy.

Student protests in Thailand demand democracy
Student protests in Thailand demand democracy
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The military government insisted that the protest should be cancelled because the king had decided to visit a nearby temple. The powerful military has traditionally used the weak monarchy as a tool to justify authoritarian rule. 

Protesters ignored the government and the numbers increased when people joined after work.

The junta conscripted state municipal employees to line the roads wearing yellow royalist shirts in order to welcome the royal cavalcade. 

They were treated like dirt by the government as many were transported in open trucks and some even had to sit in dust carts.

Many voiced their displeasure and some were seen making the three fingered salute used by the pro-democracy protesters. 

Police allowed the queen to be driven through the pro-democracy crowds and she was met with the three fingered salute and even a few middle finger gestures.

The crowd shouted “My taxes!” at her.

Striking

The protests are being organised by a group of mainly young people and university students. The militancy of school students, especially women, is very striking. 

What marks this latest movement out from the previous Red Shirt movement for democracy ten years ago is that they are independent of any political parties.

In fact the mainstream opposition parties cannot keep up with the movement.

The present junta came to power through a coup in 2014. Elections were eventually held in 2019, but under anti-democratic rules. 

Despite losing the popular vote, the military appointed senate helped to propel the junta back into government. 

People are scandalised by the behaviour of the king who spends his life with his harem in Germany. He has changed the constitution in order to allow this lifestyle and in order to amass even more wealth. 

It is the first time in decades that people have had the confidence to criticise the king in public, despite the fact that there are draconian laws against this.

The junta announced emergency powers, banned all protest and arrested some of the protest leaders. 

However, the next day thousands gathered in the city centre to defy the government.

The following day protesters gathered again. But this time the paramilitary riot police moved in, and sprayed the young people with water mixed with a liquid irritant using water cannons. Many were arrested.

People regrouped and organised protests again the following day at a number of different sites because the junta had shut down public transport. 

Such tactics and determination are impressive. But the movement is at a junction. Either they move forward to organise more militant action such as strikes, or the momentum will be lost.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a Thai socialist in exile. Follow his blog at https://uglytruththailand.wordpress.com/

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