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Protesters gather in Thailand's capital Bangkok to demand pro-democracy reforms
Image: Kyodo/picture alliance

Thai democracy protesters resilient amid violent crackdown

Emmy Sasipornkarn
November 19, 2020

Protesters continue to take to the streets demanding the resignation of PM Prayuth Chan-ocha. They are also calling for reforms to the monarchy, a powerful institution that has long been shielded from public criticism.


Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha ordered security agencies on Thursday to crack down on escalating pro-democracy demonstrations.  Protesters are calling for the prime minister's resignation, a new constitution and reforms to restrict the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Prayuth, a former army chief who rose to power in a 2014 coup, issued a statement warning that protesters will meet the full force of the law. Activists warned that this could result in the renewal of prosecutions under some of the world's toughest lese majeste laws.

On Tuesday, clashes broke out in Bangkok between pro-democracy protesters and royalists. Police used tear gas and high-pressure water cannon to disperse crowds outside parliament as lawmakers rejected a draft charter backed by the pro-democracy movement. At least 55 people were injured, with six suffering from gunshot wounds and 32 from tear gas, Bangkok's emergency medical services reported.

Some 20,000 protesters gathered in retaliation the following day in the capital's main shopping district, tagging anti-royal and anti-government graffiti outside the Thai National Police headquarters.

"I think it will become more violent but I'm not that afraid … Those who have come out have disappeared or died but they were not afraid. We shouldn't be afraid either. We'll win one day. It's a marathon and time is on our side," Pam (name changed) told DW. She attended the protest site on Wednesday to bring water and help the injured.

"We cannot let them fight alone anymore. Everyone is at risk…" Pam said, adding she felt guilty that back in 2010, during protests led by the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), also known as the "Red Shirts," against the Democrat Party-ruling government, she "didn't do anything."

The bloody crackdown claimed 99 lives.

"Now that I know better, I will always join the protests and I will not be discouraged," Pam said.

Thailand has been rocked since July by youth-led protests. The movement has posed the greatest challenge in years to the country's established military and royal forces.

Read more: Pandemic and protests: Thailand's double whammy

Senators 'afraid' to amend all sections

During a two-day joint session of the House and Senate on Wednesday, lawmakers debated seven motions for amending the constitution. Lawmakers, however, turned down the draft of charter amendments which was submitted by the human rights NGO Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw).

Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida
Protesters are also calling for reforms to the monarchy, a powerful institution that has long been shielded from public criticismImage: Wason Wanichakorn/dpa/picture-alliance

The motion, which is backed by more than 100,000 signatures and supported by pro-democracy protesters, failed to secure enough votes for approval. The iLaw version would have allowed all aspects of the constitution to be changed, including articles dealing with  Thailand's powerful monarchy. 

Two motions to set up a constitution drafting committee did pass. One, initiated by the governing coalition, calls for the committee to be made up of a mix of appointed and elected members. The other, supported by the parliamentary opposition, stipulates all members should be elected. The other motions, mostly dealing with details of proposed changes, were all rejected.

The outcome was hardly a surprise. Thailand's monarchy is virtually an untouchable institution, while Prayuth and his supporters hold a majority in the parliament, and the entire Senate was handpicked by the military junta.

"The only reason why senators are 'afraid' to amend all sections is because they are 'afraid' that part of the protesters' demands to reform the monarchy will become a reality through the process of drafting the new constitution," iLaw manager Yingcheep Atchanont wrote on Facebook.

The motions that passed are expected to go through second and third votes after at least a month.

A 'feudal dictatorship'

In response to the government's decision, key pro-democracy group Free Youth accused the government of "feudal dictatorship."

"The vote clearly shows that most members of parliament and senators chose to uphold the power of feudal dictatorship and completely ignore the demands of the people," it said in a Facebook statement.

According to the group, there has never been a constitution that prohibited amendments to a particular section. "It can be predicted that the new constitution will not reflect the will of the people because monarchy reform will not be discussed by the rewriting committee," it said.

Learning of the rejection, Pam told DW that she has  lost hope in Thailand's leadership. 

"I was disappointed but I don't have any hopes for the parliament anymore. If the system is not adjusted, definitely nothing will change," she said.

But protesters have made it clear that they would not back down unless the motion proposed by iLaw passed. Protest leaders have announced that the next major rally will take place on November 25 at the Crown Property Bureau in Bangkok.

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