Conflicts & War

Thai students demonstrate for democratic reform

By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela

Bangkok, Jul 30 (efe-epa).- Hundreds of students took part in demonstrations in Thailand on Thursday calling for democratic reforms, in defiance of pandemic measures.

The young activists took to the streets calling for the dissolution of parliament and a new constitution to end the hegemony of the country’s pro-military and ultra-monarchic elite.

Groups of university students organized several rallies on social media in Bangkok and Nakhon Pathom against the government and prime minister Prayut Chan-ocha, a general who took power in a coup in 2014 and remained in office after winning last year’s elections.

Undergraduates wrote protest messages on the ground and gave speeches under police surveillance at the north campus of King Mongkut’s University in the capital.

Pumiwat Rangkasiwit, a member of the student group New Life Network, told Efe: “First we want the government to stop threatening people, students who are demonstrating.”

The second demand is the repeal of the constitution and the creation of a new one with social participation and the third is the dissolution of parliament and calling new elections, the activist added.

The army has seized power in Thailand in 13 coups since the end of absolute democracy in 1932.

Protests against the government have been frequent in the country’s recent history, including 2010 demonstrations that ended in a bloody military intervention.

“Prayut is screwing up my country,” read one of the messages on white banners.

Other messages criticized Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn and asked where he is.

The monarch has spent the pandemic in a luxury hotel in Germany, where he lives for most of the year.

Falida, a 19-year-old university student, told Efe the government should disband if it cannot resolve the country’s economic problems.

She also accused the monarchical elite of being behind Prayut’s 2014 coup.

High school and university students also took to social media expressing their wishes with labels such as “youth for independence” in Thai.

The messages reflect the weariness felt by many young people in the face of almost total control by the conservative military and monarchic elite, which have overthrown democratically-elected governments in 2006 and 2014.

Counter-protests were staged at the Democracy Memorial in central Bangkok defending the government and the monarchy, with some holding signs that read “citizens of the king”.

The monarchy is a thorny issue in Thailand, a country with one of the world’s strictest lese majeste laws with penalties of up to 15 years imprisonment for insulting the royals.

At least eight activists have disappeared in neighboring Laos and Cambodia in recent years after criticizing the monarchy.

Three of their bodies were found floating in the Mekong River.

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