Thousands Join Protest Against Thai Prime Minister

On Thursday 2 September, thousands of people took to the streets of Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. The protest was aimed at the Prime Minister’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Thailand has recorded over 1.2 million cases, with 12,100 deaths and their worst wave hitting in April. However, among the criticisms, this protest was also fueled by claims from the opposition that the Prime Minister, along with five other cabinet members, is corrupt. Their response was also condemned as economically mismanaged and clumsy.

Prayuth and the five other Ministers defended themselves against these allegations. However, Bangkok Post has reported that the main opposition Pheu Tha party will still submit a no-confidence motion against Prayuth and at least four of these ministers. Among the issues targeted for censure would be the government’s plan to procure 8.5 million Chinese-made antigen testing kits. This would be the third vote of no-confidence against Prayut since the current administration took office in 2019, according to the Insider.

Channel News Asia predicted that Prayuth and his government will likely survive the vote due to enjoying a clear parliamentary majority, as they have the past two votes. However, the protestors made it clear that they will not stop until Prayuth has resigned. According to the Gulf Times, one of the main organizers of the protests Nattawut Saikua, said “the members of parliament have to choose between the people and Prayuth who has failed, causing losses and deaths of more than 10,000 people. If Prayuth passes the no-confidence vote and remains prime minister we will continue to drive him out.”

Thailand has been experiencing a series of protests aimed against Prayuth’s government since the beginning of 2020. These earlier protests were triggered by the dissolution of the Future Forward Party in February of 2020, a party that often criticized Prayuth. Later these protests expanded to included demands for reforms of the Thai Monarchy. However, when the pandemic hit, these protests came to a brief halt before picking up again in July last year. This time the protests were triggered by the impact of COVID-19 and enforcement of the Emergency Decree, which put the nation into lockdown. The protesters had three demands. First, the dissolution of parliament. Second, ending the intimidation of the people and third, drafting a new constitution.

Protests picked up momentum through to October when a state of emergency was declared in Bangkok from the 15th to the 22nd. In November, Parliament passed bills aimed at amending the constitution. However, neither bill met the protestors’ demands of abolishing the Senate and reforming the monarchy, leading to more protests and clashes between police and protestors. The government attempted to control the protests through the use of Emergency Decree, arbitrary detention, police intimidation, media censorship and the deployment of thousands of police and military information warfare units.

Protests have been picking up momentum again this year since late June, as more civilians grow frustrated with the handling of the pandemic. These protests have occurred despite restrictions put in place by the government, such as the ban on public gatherings in July. While the protests have remained relatively peaceful so far, reports of clashes between riot police and protestors are becoming more and more frequent with riot police being quick to tear-gas sitting protestors. According to Foreign Policy, violence has now become a part of the daily existence of these protests, with multiple police boxes around the city being destroyed. Arrests have also been made, with police having arrested at least 10 pro-democracy protestors in early August, during another round of protests.