Bangkok, Jan 13 (efe-epa).- Mass student-led protests calling for democratic reforms in Thailand have been postponed until the middle of the year due to the resurgence of COVID-19 in the country, one of the leaders of the protests said.
Arnon Nampa, who is a human rights lawyer, said Wednesday on social media that the pro-democracy movement, spearheaded mainly by student groups, hopes to resume mass rallies against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha’s government in mid-2021, without specifying a date.
The large demonstrations, which brought together around 100,000 people in front of Bangkok’s Grand Palace, had already hit pause since mid-December although small protests have continued to be held whenever a leader or protester has been summoned to testify before the police.
Thailand is currently recording its largest COVID-19 outbreak and has seen the total number of cases almost triple since an outbreak at a seafood market was detected in middle of December that has already spread almost throughout the country.
In the face of this new wave, the government has imposed a series of measures including a ban on gatherings “posing a risk of disease transmission.”
The protest movement, which began in July last year, is calling for the resignation of the prime minister and former coup leader Prayut Chan-ocha, who revalidated his position as prime minister last year in controversial elections.
The demonstrators also want to see changes made to the constitution, which they say was inherited by the former military junta, in power between 2014 and 2019, as well a reduction in the powerful influence wielded by the military, which has taken power in 13 coups since 1932.
However, the most controversial demand of the students has been for reducing the power and privileges of the king, who ascended the throne in 2016.
This demand has created the most friction with the more conservative sectors of Thailand.
The demonstrators have challenged the royal family with messages that until a few months ago would have been unthinkable in public.
Arnon and at least 39 other people – including the main leaders – have been accused of the crime of lese majeste for their participation in the protests. The law protects the monarchy from criticism with punishment of up to 15 years in prison.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who ascended the throne in 2016, doesn’t enjoy the reverence of his late father Bhumibol Adulyadej, and his long stays in Germany and opulent lifestyle in Bavaria have drawn criticism during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is crippling the Thai economy.
The monarch, who has been in Thailand since mid-October, has increased his power by taking personal control of several military units in Bangkok and Crown Property Bureau assets, valued at at least $35 billion. EFE-EPA