Police forces in Thailand fired a water cannon November 8th against thousands of peaceful pro-democracy protestors in Bangkok. The demonstrators, numbering between 7,000 and 10,000, marched towards the Grand Palace to hand-deliver letters demanding governmental reform to King Maha Vajiralongkorn. This protest comes as the latest in a series that began in July, according to Al Jazeera, the BBC, and the Guardian.
In Thailand, the monarchy has historically been a sacred and untouchable institution. The country’s lese majeste law, known as one of the most severe worldwide, states that criticism of royalty mandates imprisonment of up to fifteen years.
In 2014, Prayuth Chan-ocha, now Thailand’s prime minister, came to power through a military coup. The coup removed the elected government and instated Chan-ocha as leader of the new military government. This government instituted a new constitution for Thailand, bolstering efforts to eliminate dissent. Chan-ocha became Prime Minister in the 2019 election, which operated under rules established by the military. Hence, to believers in democracy, his right to rule lacks legitimacy.
Over the last several months, a largely peaceful student-led movement has applied enough pressure to Chan-ocha’s government to prompt consideration of some demands. However, since October 13th, over 84 protestors have been charged with crimes. Most have been charged with sedition, which carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years. Amnesty International has said that the government is using “vague, overly restrictive laws to harass and silence people.”
On November 8th, up to 10,000 protestors marched towards the Grand Palace. The demonstration was meant to pressure the government to fulfill four primary demands: the resignation of Prime Minister Chan-ocha, amendments to the constitution to enshrine democratic freedoms, an end to the abuse of state critics, and most controversially, reforms which prevent the monarchy from interference in politics, according to the BBC.
In the first week of November, King Vajiralongkorn said, “We love them [the protestors] all the same.” He concluded his statement saying that “Thailand is the land of compromise,” write Al Jazeera and the Guardian.
In a statement signed “with power of equal human dignity” by “the people,” protestors urge that the king listen to “fearless criticisms.” “It does not matter whether the people love the king or not, he must love them all the same,” it reads. In conclusion, the statement proclaims that the demands for reform are “the utmost compromise,” according to the Guardian. The use of the phrases ‘all the same’ and ‘compromise’ reference the king’s claims, emphasizing the vacuity of the monarchy’s response.
On the evening of the demonstration, having met at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, the demonstrators aimed to deliver letters from supporters of the protest to the king, in mobile mock letterboxes fashioned from waste bins. The police had built a barricade of buses and barbed wire in their path. Protestors advanced through a thin line of police, throwing objects at the officers. Minutes later, the protestors and officers retreated, momentarily restoring order.
Later, when police declared the march illegal, protestors in protective goggles and hard hats pushed aside one of the buses to break through the barricade. In response, police deployed the water cannon supposedly “at the sky,” as a warning rather than an attack, against the protestors, who refused to vacate the area. Fortunately, no one suffered any serious injuries, though medical authorities said that one officer and four protestors were hurt. This marks the second time that a water cannon has been used on demonstrators in Thailand this year, according to Al Jazeera, the BBC, and the Guardian.
In response to the demands to reform the monarchy, Thai authorities have intensified their crackdown and royalists have initiated counter-protests. They claim that protestors demand abolition of the monarchy, which protestors deny. Even the Thai government’s most prominent opposition party, which is largely sympathetic to the protestors, has refused to change laws regarding the monarchy.
As pro-democracy resistance continues to grow and as the government refuses to enact change, the future of democracy in Thailand remains very uncertain. A protestor named Thawatchai Tongsuk reflected, “People just wanted to submit the letters. There was no sign of violence from protesters at all. … If the police gave way, I believe that the leaders would have submitted the letters and then been finished. … The more violence they use, the more people will join the protest.”
Meanwhile, though the Thai parliament has agreed to discuss amending the constitution, Prime Minister Chan-ocha has refused to resign, leaving little hope for reform to the monarchy. Still, as the successes so far can attest, as long as peaceful protests making pointed demands for democracy in Thailand continue to gain strength, it is only a matter of time before the government gives in to the pressure and accepts change.
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