More Democracy: what is common between 1976, 2020 protests in Thailand

By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela

Bangkok, Oct 6 (efe-epa).- On the anniversary of the student massacre during the 1976 protests in Bangkok, activists of that era and leaders of the current anti-government protests came together on Tuesday to call for more democracy in Thailand.

The commemoration at Thammasat University, where at least 100 students died 46 years ago at the hands of far-right groups and security forces, has been of particular importance this year given that it has served as an inspiration for university leaders of the current pro-democracy movement.

During the small but heartfelt ceremony on Tuesday at the Thammasat campus – where an exhibition displayed belongings of some victims -, people offered flowers and read speeches in memory of those who died in the violence unleashed on Oct. 6, 1976.

“Although not directly inspiring, it (the 1976 protest) is something that reminds us that some people have fought before and we believe that now we are not staying on the flimsy ground, we are staying on the ground that was constructed by the previous generations,” Marat Jaitui, a 21-year-old university student, told EFE.

Marat, a participant in the current protests, added that students also need the participation of the rest of society to democratize the country’s political system.

Earlier this year in February, Thai university students began protests to denounce the dissolution by court order of opposition party Anakot Mai (“New Future”), which enjoyed considerable support of the youth for its reformist and progressive agenda.

After a hiatus caused by the pandemic, the students resumed demonstrations in July and called for an end to the government led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, who had earlier orchestrated coup as head of the armed forces.

They also demanded a reform of the Constitution that was drafted by the previous military junta (2014-2019) led by Prayut.

Students have also sought reforms to reduce the power of the military, who have seized power 13 times since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, as well as the king, especially concerning the lese majeste law, under which those criticizing the royalty could face up to 15 years in prison.

Although the demonstrations have almost always been peaceful, many of their leaders have been charged with sedition, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison, and other charges.

The next protest are scheduled for Oct. 14, the anniversary of the popular student-led revolts of 1973.

“The similarities (between 1976 and 2020) could be that everyone has a pure conscience and power wanting to see democracy that is accepted internationally,” Sutham Saengpratoom, secretary of the Students Federation of Thailand for 44 years, told EFE.

The 66-year old former student leader said students these days can delve deeper into social issues thanks to the wealth of information available on the internet.

Besides activists and leaders of the current protests, such as lawyer Anon Nampa and Panupong Jadnok, the ceremony in Thammasat also featured several participants of the 1976 demonstrations, such as Chaturon Chaisang, who advocated avoiding non-violence.

Although both the 1976 and 2020 protests have been directed against the power of the military, the former occurred during a more convulsive time, due to the Communist victories in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, as part of a cold war in Southeast Asia that resulted in several brutal armed conflicts.

The students, after the fall of the military dictatorship during the mass demonstrations of 1973, were subject to a campaign of being discredited by the most conservative sectors, who accused them of being pro-Communists and anti-monarchists.

On Oct. 6, 1976, security forces and far-right organizations dispersed protesters using firearms in Thammasat, where several demonstrators were lynched, as shown in the iconic photo of AP journalist Neal Ulevich.

On that tragic day, 46 people were killed, including five assailants, according to the authorities, whereas other sources mention more than 100 deaths.

Hours after the massacre, the army seizing power in a coup, ending period of three years of democracy in the country. EFE-EPA

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