Late on Friday (19 Feb), hundreds of protestors gathered outside of parliament in Bangkok, holding a demonstration coinciding with the censure debate against Prime Minister Prayut-o-cha’s government by opposition lawmakers inside the building.
In anticipation of the following protest, thousands of police officers were put ahead of an expected no-confidence parliamentary vote.
The censure debate began on 16 February, led by opposition lawmakers saying the 2019 election results were schemed to secure Prayut’s maintaining of power five years after overthrowing the elected government. Prayut’s government claims the election was free and fair. However, the opposition has accused Prayut and nine of his cabinet members of various failings.
Activists got onto the makeshift stage on the road leading to the parliament buildings and took turns speaking, criticizing the prime minister and his cabinet members for abuse of power, policy failures, and mismanagement.
“We know that it will be difficult to stop this government inside parliament,” Sukriffee Lateh, a student activist, told Reuters.
He said, “So our movement outside will help the public better understand the real problems that ordinary people face from this government.”
The protest is part of the larger youth-led anti-government movement that had emerged at the beginning of 2020, demanding the resignation of the coup leader Prayut, as well as breaking the longstanding taboos by criticizing and calling for reform of the dominant monarchy. Activists say the monarchy enables the establishment’s power and rule. The palace has yet to comment.
Prime Minister Prayut and his cabinet are both expected to survive the no-confidence vote.
Police have said that all protests in Bangkok are illegal, referencing the recent ban on all public gatherings due to the second wave of coronavirus infections that emerged in December. Water cannons have already been spotted near the parliament building ahead of the vote, raising the possibility of renewing confrontations between protestors and police officers.
Police Major General Piya Tavichai, the deputy commissioner of Bangkok Metropolitan Police Bureau, said the police department has deployed 900 police officers around the parliament area, along with another 11,850 officers remaining on standby for the weekend.
“We will not allow the demonstrators to enter the area in front of parliament,” Tavichai added, “We will not use all (our forces) but we have the force to be called upon when necessary.”
In the last week, clashes occurred between police and protestors demanding the release of four jailed activists. The jailed activists are currently pending trial for charges that insulted the monarchy, a crime punishable by prison sentences as high as 15 years in Thailand.
The Thai protests against Prime Minister Prayut’s government and calling for monarchy reform were initially triggered by the government’s dissolution of the Future Forward Party (FFP) in February 2020. The party had been critical of Prayut and his changes to the Thai constitution in 2017 and its consequences. Protests were initially held exclusively on school campuses but were halted by the coronavirus pandemic. However, with partial inspiration from the Hong Kong democracy protestors, demonstrations would resume in July under the Free Youth umbrella movement in Bangkok at the Democracy Monument. Activists presented three demands to the Thai government: the dissolution of parliament, ending the intimidation of the people, and drafting a new constitution. Protests were sparked by the coronavirus pandemic’s impact and the nationwide Emergency Decree lockdown.
Since the return of Thailand’s King to the country from Germany in October 2020, protests have come with the government’s deploying of riot police, military personnel, and mass arrests of protestors.
The efforts of the activists in demonstrating as peaceful as possible despite government violence against them must be acknowledged. However, with the absolute power the current Thai government has, along with the ongoing pandemic, protests must continue to take precautionary measures to make their voices heard in the Thai and international community. As the no-confidence vote results come in, all of us on the outside should be remain wary of the future implications these violent crackdowns on peaceful opposition demonstrators could set precedent in both Thailand and the Southeast Asian region.