Thai protesters expect biggest anti-govt rally in years

Pro-democracy protesters in front of the Royal Thai Army headquarters in Bangkok during a demonstration against the government and military on Thursday. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK • Thai protest leaders said yesterday that they expected the biggest anti-government demonstration in years this weekend, and vowed to reiterate their calls for reforms of the monarchy despite official pressure to stop.

Protesters have, since the middle of July, been demanding the removal of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former junta leader, and changes to a Constitution that they say was designed to extend military domination of politics after a general election last year.

Some protesters have also called for unprecedented reforms of the monarchy, previously a taboo subject in Thailand.

Today's "rally will make history and will be the biggest one since the 2014 coup", said Mr Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak, one of the protest leaders, adding that he believed up to 100,000 people could show up.

Police said they expected up to 50,000 to join the protest.

Thai politics has for years been marked by challenges to the royalist, military establishment by politicians backed by poor urban and rural voters, and more recently by the student protesters.

The military, which proclaims itself the defender of the country's core institutions, in particular the monarchy, has stepped in to overthrow civilian governments numerous times, most recently in 2014, citing the need to maintain stability.

Tens of thousands of protesters are due to gather today at Bangkok's Thammasat University and march to the prime minister's offices, known as Government House, tomorrow to put pressure on Mr Prayut.

A group of protesters from the university last month staged a rally at which a 10-point demand for reform of the monarchy was read out, including a call for the abolition of a law against royal criticism.

Mr Prayut has said the government would allow protests as a form of free speech, but that demands for reform of the monarchy were not acceptable.

Mr Parit said the demands would be reiterated this weekend.

Thammasat University said last week that it would not allow the gathering on its campus, but protesters said they were sticking to their plan.

They will also use nearby Sanam Luang, a large open space in front of the Grand Palace.

Police said marching to Government House could break a law prohibiting large gatherings near restricted sites.

On Thursday, Mr Prayut warned the protesters against raising the risks of spreading the coronavirus and urged them to put the health crisis before politics.

Meanwhile, many filmgoers in Thailand are choosing to sit when the royal anthem is played before cinema screenings, the South China Morning Post reported yesterday.

The anthem is played alongside a video montage celebrating the life of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

The Hong Kong newspaper said this week that a Thai-language hashtag translating to "don't stand in the cinema" was shared more than 52,000 times.

"I don't stand. I don't want to, it's not necessary, I don't care," wrote one Facebook user, as quoted by the newspaper.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2020, with the headline Thai protesters expect biggest anti-govt rally in years. Subscribe