The first protests since the military coup in 2014 began in the student milieu after the Constitutional Court ordered the dissolution of the Future Forward Party, which was founded in 2018. This party had become the third strongest party in the parliamentary elections in March 2019 and was very popular with the youth. The protests were originally limited to various universities, most notably Thammasat University in Bangkok, and came to a temporary halt at the end of February as a result of the anti-Covid-19 measures, The Associated restrictions and the proclamation of the state of emergency. Before we go into the latest protests in Thailand, however, let us first outline the background against which they are taking place.
In 2014, the army led by the coup leader General Prayut Cha-oncha overthrew the elected civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra. Cha-oncha and his Junta then enforced a new constitution and in 2019, after unfair elections, Cha-oncha changed the general’s uniform for a suit and became prime minister, although he is not even an elected member of Parliament. The forced new constitution, written by the generals, made it possible. Since the military and facade democracy took over again after the elections in March last year, Cha-oncha and his Junta have ruled Thailand under the Form of a “managed democracy”. They, like the entire Thai upper class they represent, unanimously believe that the people are “too stupid to understand democracy,” and that they themselves know better what is best for the people and the Nation.
A new Generation has grown up
The economic crisis after the Lockdown, which has dramatically increased the number of business closures and thus the number of unemployed, has further exacerbated the resentment of the military government. The tourism industry and many other economic sectors are on the ground. In the tourism industry alone, which accounts for about 15 percent of economic output, more than one Million employees out of about four million are already unemployed, and by the end of the year it is likely to be 2.5 million. The Hotels are bankrupt, the Thai airlines, especially the THAI, are heading towards bankruptcy. But the internal market has also suffered enormous slumps due to the lack of purchasing power. Business closures in all economic sectors are commonplace. The Thai economy is expected to slump by at least 8 percent this year, causing the country huge revenue losses by the end of the year. There is no unemployment benefit in Thailand, many unemployed people returned to their families in the country and hope for better times so that they can find work again.
Although the Coronapandemic has been defeated, there are only 59 sick people left in Thailand, but the country continues to keep its borders closed and an end of the tunnel is not in sight. The government has no concept, it drives on sight with constant changes of course. And it is hardly to be expected that the military junta will find a solution other than to ask the people to pay.
The young Generation faces a future without prospects. This Generation is much more educated than the generations before. The young people of today have Internet and Smartphones through which they can inform themselves and communicate with the world. In 1960, no more than 20 percent of the population achieved lower secondary education, according to the Ministry of Education, 84 percent of all 12 - to 14-year-olds attended secondary school in 1999. Tendency rising. In the education system, the girls achieved slightly better results than the boys. People do not need to be educated in College to understand democracy, human rights or social justice, but education strengthens the self-confidence to organize, Stand Up and fight.
“Older generations would not dare to speak like the youth of today and say what we really think. We were taught to respect the authorities and obey their orders. Criticism of higher-ranking persons was prohibited. Whether we love or hate something, we have to keep it within us. This has been taught to us since we were very young… “said an older participant in the students' rallies.
But Thailand is also no longer the agricultural country of the past. Meanwhile, only a quarter of the population works in agriculture, the Rest works in industry or in the service sector. And thus the position of women in society has also changed. Today, women no longer work in agriculture under the head of the family, but earn their own money in the farms and thus often support their parents in the countryside. So it has come about that there are as many women as men among today’s demonstrators and their leaders.
Nevertheless, the political structure has hardly changed in the last 70 years. The new Elite still thinks the same as the old Elite. Despite all the modernizations, development has stopped among the elites. The Elite thinks it is above the subordinates, the people are there to work and obey. The royal house is the most reactionary example of maintaining these old feudal traditions. The subordinates are only allowed to approach the King sliding on their knees and must crawl on the ground in front of him. In the royal house an old, foreign language is spoken, which only the initiated understand.
The Thai parliament is a parliament without workers ' parties, there are only different factions of the same Bourgeoisie. In the last elections in 2019, 77 different parties had registered, whose only political program was to gain access to the sources and troughs of power for their leaders.
The System Monarchy
In 1946, at the age of 18, Bhumipol succeeded his brother Anand, who was found shot to death in his room on 9 June 1946. The circumstances, whether accident, murder or suicide, are still unclear. After the death of his brother, Bhumipol returned to Switzerland to continue his education in Lausanne, where he had also lived with his parents until then. It was not until December 1951 that he took over the government in a country which at that time, after a coup, was already ruled by the military. The military commanders at that time were clearly anti-royalist. They feared that the young king would mess with their Western attitude and upbringing.
The decisive turning point came in 1957 with another military coup, this time carried out by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat. Sarit had realized that in order to consolidate the power of the military, it would be useful to invoke the king and the monarchy and to rule with the King’s blessing. He also received this blessing from King Bhumipol, although Sarit had suspended both the parliament and the Constitution. From now on there was only talk of the “King’s government” and of the “royal forces”. The people were supposed to live in harmony with the monarchy and its government and a gigantic propaganda wave began around the values of “Thai-ness” and the three basic principles Nation, monarchy and Buddhism that underlie Thai-ness.
From then on, the System ran smoothly: pictures of the King were hung in all public buildings, placed at all intersections, and all new projects such as road construction, schools, dams, etc.were presented as projects of the King. The King took part in the game and spent his life tirelessly travelling around the country to inaugurate all sorts of new projects, always accompanied by journalists and television. No Evening News in which at least half of the broadcast time was not reported on the King’s benefactions. The teaching in the schools has been adapted to this narrative, the working day in the schools and public institutions begins since then and until today punctually at eight o’clock with the playing of the national anthem, with all rise or stop in the street until it has faded away. King Bhumipol was worshipped like a God by the Thais until his death in 2016.
During the last six decades, king Bhumipol sat on the throne, surrounded by myths and cringing subjects, protected by the military and the draconian law against lese-Majesty. However, the King did not have the leadership. He was a pawn of the military and the elites, one who always played along. It was used by the military to give them legitimacy. He himself benefited from it in economic terms and in terms of his Prestige as King. He has become a multi-billionaire, richer than any European Monarch. At the same time, the military in turn benefited from the King’s protection and went about its business unscathed.
Since Sarit, the country has been ruled alternately by military and civilian governments, with the civilian governments always being governments of the bourgeois Elite, especially the Bangkok Elite. (The Thaksin government was also a purely bourgeois government. We will discuss this chapter in the recent history of Thailand later, it would go beyond the scope of this article. Every military coup always followed the same pattern: after the generals had seized power, they found themselves in the royal palace and asked for the monarch’s blessing, which they always received without exception. After that, Bhumipol installed it as the new “king’s government”. Since the King was revered by the people, hardly anyone questioned the new putschist government, which according to its own Propaganda always wanted only the best for Thailand and accused the slipped government of leading the country into ruin. They now wanted to put a stop to this, for the good of the Nation and for the protection of the monarchy, and then immediately relinquish power to Parliament. Klaro, what else?
First of all, the Constitution was always changed. The most important part has always been an amnesty of the coup generals and articles have been changed in such a way that at the next elections they should, if possible, ensure the continuation of the military’s rule under a democratic cover. What has never been touched is the first section of the 1932 constitution that cements the monarchy’s position in Thai society.
The Thai military has over 1600 generals, more than almost any other country. And all generals also do business. First of all, there are the orders to the arms industry, where they hold up their hands. In addition, they are still in all kinds of shops, be it agriculture, tourism or industry. They are also involved in large – scale illegal transactions such as drug trafficking and Prostitution-without them the business would not work. For example, they guarded in the 1970s, it was proven that the opium and heroin transports from the Golden Triangle to Bangkok, from where the drugs were shipped all over the world, protected the opium farmers and heroin labs from police access and from raids by rival gangsters. Incidentally, the CIA was also involved in these transactions during the Vietnam War, as was Alfred Mc. Coy in his book “the CIA and Heroin” conclusively and based on numerous sources.
But often it is not the generals themselves who run the business, but their family, their wives, sons and daughters. The generals then only ensure that the business flourishes by procuring the orders and eliminating the competition.
The law against insulting Majesty
The draconian lèse Majesté law, Art. 112 of the Criminal Code, protects the monarchy System and is the strictest law against insulting Majesty in the world. The law is not meant to protect the king from personal insults or other attacks, it is a political tool to restrict freedom of speech and the opposition’s demands for reform and change, and is thus the most effective law to prevent any Opposition in Thailand.
What exactly includes the insult to Majesty is nowhere clearly regulated. Also, the king does not have to feel offended himself and file charges. This is what the government does when someone becomes annoying to it. But everyone in Thailand can report another for insulting his majesty or the police can investigate on their own Initiative. Of course, usually only oppositionists are charged. In secret trials, they are then convicted of what exactly the accused is accused of, that no one learns, to repeat or to publish it, would itself again be an insult to majesty. The maximum penalty for insulting His Majesty is 15 years in prison, but it can also be increased if the accused is repeatedly convicted of insulting His Majesty because he has said or done the same or similar thing repeatedly.
In this way, any criticism of the government is made more difficult, because the government was set up by His Majesty. Those who criticize the government also indirectly criticize the king as head of State. In a country where it is a crime to criticize the head of state, any opposition political work is associated with extreme danger to life and limb. Who wants to be in prison for all eternity?
King Bhumipol ruled Thailand for 70 years. When he died in 2016 at the age of almost 89, his son Vajiralongkorn inherited the throne. Unlike his father, Vajiralongkorn is rather unpopular in Thailand. He is known for countless escapades and scandals, and is said to be brutal, irascible and vindictive. Unlike his younger sister Princess Sirindhorn, who, like her father, can be seen almost daily on television handing over university diplomas to students, giving aid packages to the poor or to victims of natural disasters, giving awards to deserving citizens or inaugurating schools, etc., Vajiralongkorn’s public appearances were very rare. Most Thais would have wished Princess Sirindhorn to succeed to the throne, but this would only have been possible through a constitutional amendment, because – who wonders? - only the eldest son of the king in Thailand can take over the succession. If there are no male successors, the succession to the throne is interrupted.
Vijaralongkorn’s commitment to the people did not become known throughout Thailand, but rather his escapades, of which it was not permitted to report publicly, but of which every Thai knew and spoke behind closed doors. This even went so far that his father, King Bhumipol, cut off his “pocket money” out of anger so that he could spend less. Vajiralongkorn is also known as a “womanizer”. He was married four times and has numerous concubines. Currently, he spends most of his time with his court and 20 “companions” in Bavaria, where he has booked the hotel “Sonnenbichl” completely for himself and from where he also governs Thailand! The German tabloids, Bild BamS, Colorful, etc., is happy about the headlines. In contrast, the Thai people are annoyed that the king is not in the country and cares, especially in times of crisis.
Immediately after taking office, Vajiralongkorn also forced control of the royal assets, which had previously been partly managed by the Ministry of Finance and which are estimated to be between 35 and 60 billion dollars. In addition, he has plans to build a new royal palace, which is to overshadow the splendour of his father’s old palace and of which it is still unclear who is to finance it. Certainly not a minor question In times of crisis.
According to the Asia-Times, the budget increase of the royal office by 16.8 percent compared to the previous year is said to have amounted to 8.9 billion Baht (285 million dollars). This at a time when the entire state budget was only increased by 3.1 percent and in the midst of massive economic suffering. The protest movement therefore also calls for a reduction in the expenses for the royal house. In addition, according to Asia Times, there is a rich royal aircraft inventory, including seven commercial aircraft, three Russian Sukhoi Superjets, four light Northrop F5-E fighter aircraft and 21 helicopters, whose maintenance, fuel and other costs are only vaguely stated in the state budget at 2 billion Baht ($64 million) per year. Vajiralongkorn is a trained fighter pilot and likes to fly the planes himself.
In times when the prestige of the king is in decline, of course neither a military junta as the “King’s government” nor the “royal forces” can win a flower pot from the population. With the prestige of the king, whose conduct is only embarrassing, the legitimacy of the military government also wanes. As a role model, Vajiralongkorn is hardly credible anymore. And this also calls into question the 60-year-old “system monarchy”. So there is currently more at stake in Thailand than just the fate of a putschist government. And also the skins of many members of the Bangkok Elite, who through and with this 60-year-old System gained monarchy, wealth and power through their entanglements with the System, now threaten to swim down the stream.
The Protest Movement 2020
The protests broke out again after the Corona forced recess on 18 July with a large demonstration under the roof of the “free youth”. This time, many secondary school students are also taking part in the protests, and the movement has attacked them. The movement among high school students is called “Bad Student” and is directed against the archaic education system in Thailand, which does not teach them to think independently, but only has the goal of educating them to be obedient citizens.
But also many older people throughout Thailand have joined the demonstrations or at least have sympathy for the reform proposals of the students. The approval for their demands goes right through all parts of the population. Many of the older ones were already present at the red shirts ' rallies 15 years ago, the very old ones were still involved in the revolts of the 1970s, some were also witnesses or even victims of the bloodbath of the 6th century. October 1976 to the students at the very Thammasat University where the recent protests have flared up again today. The participants in the protests of 1976 still call themselves the “October people” in memory of the bloodbath of October 6. Witnesses at the time also claim to have seen Vajiralongkorn near the university Campus at dawn, when the military stormed the Campus and the bloodbath began.
In recent months, however, protests have taken place not only in Bangkok, but also in other provinces throughout Thailand. On August 10, 2020, during a Demonstration at Thammasat University, the organizers read a statement that contained further demands and which, among other things, “proposed” to “reform the monarchy according to democratic principles.“It explicitly stated, among other things : :
“For example, if a coup d’état overthrows a government that has emerged from a genuine democratic process, the King has signed to appoint the head of the Junta. This is the confirmation of every single coup as legal.”
As well as:
“The people should know that the king of our country is not above politics. This was the root of political problems throughout. He has neglected his duties as head of State, which binds him to the hearts of the people, and uses the taxes of the people to seek pleasure and live outside the country. This is happening while people are getting into trouble due to the economic downturn. He also has close relations with the rebels who are fomenting coups to overthrow democratic rule.”
Other speakers spoke on 10 August about issues such as labour rights, gender equality and the political crisis.
Another major rally took place on 16 August at the monument to democracy, the landmark in Thailand’s capital, commemorating the overthrow and introduction of the constitutional monarchy in 1932. The demonstrators had three demands: the dissolution of Parliament, the drafting of a new constitution, which also modifies the section on the monarchy and ending the intimidation of the people and its activists. Since then, the activists have stretched out their arms at their rallies, pointing three fingers as a Symbol of their demands.
These demands are the most radical demands in the political history of Thailand, according to the unanimous opinion of all who know Thailand. It is particularly explosive that the role of the monarchy has been publicly criticised for the first time since 1932. Why this is so explosive has already been discussed above. In any case, the fact is that all those who have done so in the past as clearly as today’s activists are either in prison or, if they were able to escape in time, in political exile abroad.
The largest rally so far took place on September 19 under the Motto “Give power back to the people” in the well-known, centrally located Park “Sanam Luang” (Central Park) in Bangkok. Estimates vary between 20,000 and 200,000 participants depending on the source. There were participants from 24 provinces, most of them from the northeast, Isan, the stronghold of the Red Shirts, whose rallies were brutally suppressed in 2010 under the leadership of today’s prime minister and then army chief Prayut Cha-oncha.
The rally was more professionally organized this time, which suggests potential donors. Despite all the fears that there could be violent clashes with the military again, the rallies have all been surprisingly peaceful so far. In order not to arouse new resentment, the military does not seem to be focusing on confrontation at the moment. At present, both sides seem to be focusing on de-escalation. While Prime Minister Cha-Oncha, who had never been squeamish when it came to the brutal suppression of any Opposition, begged the movement that they could talk, but they should leave the monarchy out of the game, and admitted that “the future belongs to the youth,” the movement conciliated.
“We must be able to speak openly about the monarchy. With respect for the Institution of the monarchy, of course – but free. Therefore, the lèse-Majesté law, which criminalizes the insult to Majesty, must be abolished. I say this not with the intent to destroy the Institution of the monarchy, but the monarchy can fit into this society under a democracy with a king as head of state,” said Ms. Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, a 21-year-old sociology student and leader of the movement, called “Rainbow,” and you also said: “We do not want to overthrow the Institution. Our proposal is a Reform, not a Revolution.”
Astonishingly, King Vajiralongkorn is also said to have told the prime minister on the occasion of his two – day visit to celebrate the birthday of his sick mother Sirikit – he was actually in Thailand for a whole two days-to “leave the children alone” and not to accuse them of insulting their majesty.
It is also noteworthy that all the leaders of the movement who have been arrested so far have already been released after a short interrogation, although often only on bail – this despite the fact that only in June a dissident was kidnapped and disappeared without a trace. At least nine opposition members living abroad have disappeared since 2014. Two of them were later found dead. Nobody knows what happened to them.
“Rainbow” presented the police chief with an envelope containing the “proposals” of the united Front of Thammasat and Demonstrations (UFTD) during the rally on September 19 at Sanam Luang. On the night of September 20, after the peaceful rally, leaders of the movement placed a brass plaque on the edge of Sanam Luang. It said, " at dawn on September 20, people here proclaim that this Land belongs to the people.“Sometime between the closing of Sanam Luang at 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., the plaque was removed.
Under pressure from the protests, Cha-oncha convened a parliamentary session last Thursday, September 24, to discuss a possible constitutional reform. The movement had also called for a rally on that day, this time in front of the parliamentary seat. They threatened not to let the parliamentarians out again until they had decided on a constitutional amendment. How serious the government was about the concessions to the demonstrators, however, could be seen in the outcome of the meeting. As expected, the parliamentarians decided to postpone the vote on six Opposition bills until next month. And as far as constitutional reform is concerned, it was decided to set up a 45-member committee to draw up proposals for this, in other words: they decided to postpone a constitutional amendment to St. Nimmerleinstag. When the parliamentarians then in the evening, it was already dark, wanted to leave the building, they found the exits blocked as announced by a few thousand protesters. Therefore, they fled via a back exit of the estate with a boat across the Chao Phraya River, which divides Bangkok in half and flows past there.
On Wednesday, the day before this parliamentary delaying tactics took place, were state-of-the-old army chief and 266 generals into retirement and a new army chief, General Narongphan, took over the scepter. He praised the generals for their services to the country. “Protecting the monarchy with absolute loyalty and supporting the government in solving national problems and working for the country’s progress are tasks for which (the generals) deserve honor,” he said. The outgoing General said he was proud to have served in the armed forces and defended the sovereignty of the country, the people and the monarchy. A change of opinion in the “Royal Army” is therefore not to be expected.
Because many of the protesters had also spread their criticism on social media, the Ministry of Digital had asked them to remove comments from activists who “insult” the country and the monarchy. According to the minister for digital affairs, the media did not fully comply with this request, and he therefore filed criminal charges against Facebook and Twitter, as well as at least five users of these services. It is the first time in Thailand that the computer crime law is also applied to law enforcement by service providers.
How the protests are going on is not yet clear. The next big rally is scheduled for October 14, a symbolic day. On October 14, 1973, a popular uprising that originated in student protests led to the overthrow of the authoritarian military government of Thanom Kittikachorn. A general strike was also called for October 14.
The young activist and leader of the movement, Parit Chiwarak, whom his friends call “Penguin”, told the French newspaper Le Monde: “the democracy train has left the station, nothing will stop it.“We are probably witnessing the consolidation of a movement that will last.
The massacre at Thammasat University on 6 October 1976 is always like a ghost above every new Demonstration. No one can predict when the military will intervene by force. ” The possibility of bloodshed is always there, " said lawyer Anon Nampa, who himself has been arrested several times and spent several nights in police custody.