Last weekend, pro-democracy protesters were met with a brutal crackdown from riot police as they defied the state of emergency that banned public gatherings, to show their dissent against the monarch and the military-led regime.
Thai protesters have asked for the resignation of Prayut Chan-o-cha – a retired general officer of the Royal Thai Army – and the current prime minister and defence minister of the country, along with reforms of the Thai monarchy and the drafting of a new constitution.
Young protesters, mostly students, have been organising massive demonstrations in Bangkok and other cities using social media and instant messengers like the Telegram app for over a month, which has led the Thai authorities to order internet providers to block the messenger and further crackdown on the internet to quell the rising resentment towards the regime.
Despite these moves from Thai citizens, the military-led Thai regime has vowed to protect the monarchy at all cost.
The Military-Monarch Domination
Prayut first came to power in May 2014, after staging a coup d'état against the caretaker government of Thailand led by Yingluck Shinawatra, following a prolonged period of political unrest in the country.
Under Prayut's first term as prime minister, his administration made sweeping changes to the constitution (eventually drafting a new one in 2017) and oversaw the succession of monarchy from King Bhumibol Adulyadej to King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Thailand also saw general elections last year, securing a re-election for Prayut – but election watchers and poll researchers called it a 'ritual to transform a military junta into an elected government'.
Future Forward Party – a newly formed progressive party – had shown considerably promise by bringing in surprisingly large number of votes. However, the party's political career was short-lived as it was dissolved earlier this year by a Constitutional Court, with its executives being banned for 10 years from running for office.
Under Prayut's regime, the current king also moved to consolidate power and was granted personal ownership of the royal assets (formerly considered publicly owned) from the Crown Property Bureau.
Furthermore, on the king's behalf, the current regime also sought to rewrite history and remove crucial monuments linked to the 1932 revolution which saw the end of absolute monarchy in the country and the beginning of a constitutional monarchy in its place.
For young Thai citizens, these steps were seen as moves to return to absolute monarchy once again, moving them to openly challenge the position of the king – which is unprecedented in recent Thai history.
Protests And Crackdown
On July 18, around 2500 protesters defied a COVID-19 ban on public gatherings to gather at Bangkok's Democracy Monument in one of the largest protests since the 2014 coup d'état. Protesters demanded the dissolution of the parliament, an end to intimidation of critics of the regime, and the drafting of a new constitution.
The protests started growing, and soon spread to other parts of the country, with many smaller groups joining in. Protesters also started borrowing from pop culture - from the Harry Potter and The Hunger Games films - to symbolise their movement.
On September 18, Thailand saw one of the largest protests in recent history, as an estimated 30,000 to 100,000 people attended a two-day rally at a public ground near the Grand Palace.
In response, the Thai regime has arrested several student activists and human rights lawyer using the lèse majesté (insulting monarchy) laws.
After nearly a month of calm, scores of protesters were detained on October 13 after they attempted to block the king's motorcade and raised the three-finger salute from The Hunger Games films in defiance, starting off yet another round of protests.
Two days later, Thai authorities declared a state of emergency that banned the gathering of five or more people, and used riot police to crackdown on protesters and detain them. Despite this move, over 20,000 protesters held multiple rallies in Bangkok last weekend, which was met by a brutal crackdown from the authorities.
Thai protesters took cues from last year's pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong using strategies and protective gears like umbrellas and eye-goggles to defend themselves against the riot police.
While the regime shows no signs of meeting the protesters' demands, after the Saturday rallies the government sought to take a more amicable approach to quell the protests.
"The government is willing to listen to everyone 's problems and continues to solve problems in all areas," a government spokesperson quoted Prayut as saying.
The protests are hardly over, and are gaining fervour with each passing day as rallies have been organised by protesters in the upcoming days of October.