Protests and counter-protests

Thousands demand reforms, pressure Prayut in Bangkok

Thai protesters staged another peaceful rally in Bangkok yesterday to press their demands for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and reform of the monarchy. But a growing number of counter-protests by royalists have raised the spectre of the demonstrations turning violent.

Activists flashing a three-finger salute at an anti-government Bangkok rally yesterday. They want the premier to resign, a rewrite of the 2017 Constitution and the authorities to "stop harassing" political opponents. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Activists flashing a three-finger salute at an anti-government Bangkok rally yesterday. They want the premier to resign, a rewrite of the 2017 Constitution and the authorities to "stop harassing" political opponents. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK • Thousands of people protested in the centre of Thailand's capital Bangkok yesterday in the first demonstration since Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha ignored their Saturday night deadline to resign.

It was also the first major show of force since Mr Prayut lifted the Oct 15 emergency measures that had been meant to stop three months of protests against the government and monarchy, but which brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets.

"If he doesn't resign, then we must come out to ask him to quit in a peaceful way," protest leader Jatupat "Pai" Boonpattararaksa said as people chanted "Prayut Out".

He reaffirmed the movement's core three demands - for Mr Prayut to step down, a rewrite of the 2017 military-scripted Constitution, and for the authorities to "stop harassing" political opponents.

The Prime Minister's office posted a note on Twitter to say Mr Prayut was not quitting. He has said the crisis should be discussed in Parliament, which is due to hold a special session today and tomorrow. But his opponents have little faith in an assembly dominated by his supporters.

There was no sign of a major police presence around protesters at the Ratchaprasong Intersection, an emotive location for protesters as the scene of bloodshed in 2010 in a crackdown by security forces on anti-establishment protests.

A government spokesman said there would be no use of force and called on people to remain peaceful and respect the law.

The gathering saw a diverse crowd - drag queens in full regalia, young people in hard hats ready for a police crackdown and older protesters worried about Thailand's free-falling economy.

Protests since mid-July have put the greatest pressure in years on the establishment, particularly with taboo-breaking calls to limit the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn's monarchy.

Protesters are planning to march to the German Embassy today in a message to the King, who is currently in Thailand, but spends much of his time in Germany.

"Going to the German Embassy reflects the evident problem of the King's exercise of power making many people uncomfortable and raises questions whether it violates the German law," said activist Piyarat "Toto" Chongthep.

The monarch has been back in Thailand for the past week and a half to commemorate a Buddhist holiday and the death of his late father Bhumibol Adulyadej.

He has not commented on the demonstrations, despite tension in Bangkok as protesters grow bolder in their challenge to the royal institution. But the king has made rare public visits with his supporters waiting outside the palace - a charm offensive for an army of local and international media.

Thais abroad have also held demonstrations in solidarity with the student movement, with some gathering in Tokyo yesterday, waving the three-finger salute while protesters in Seoul held signs that said "Restore power to the people".

Growing public disapproval of Mr Prayut's performance is fuelling the anti-government protests, according to an opinion poll.

More than 62 per cent of participants in a survey last week said discontent with Mr Prayut was the key reason for the recent demonstrations, the poll by Suan Dusit University showed yesterday.

About 50 per cent of the 5,738 participants during the Oct 19 to 22 poll believed the protesters are fighting for more democracy and an end to the continuation of the "dictatorship". Another survey by the National Institute of Development Administration from Oct 19 to 20 showed 59 per cent of the 1,336 respondents are worried the protests will lead to violence and conflict.

While about 36 per cent of the participants have yet to decide on supporting either the protesters or the government, 33 per cent said they had made up their minds.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2020, with the headline Thousands demand reforms, pressure Prayut in Bangkok . Subscribe