Fight For Democracy: The Story Of Thailand
What is the meaning of Democracy? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it means “A political system that allows the citizens to participate in political decision‐making, or to elect representatives to government bodies.” This means that in an ideal world, people get to choose their government officials. It means that we get to decide who occupies the highest offices in our land, we get to decide who makes the rules that govern our society and we get to decide who is the best person to safeguard our rights and freedoms. But as the real world goes, this is not the case in many countries around the globe -- one of these countries is Thailand.
If one takes a look at Thailand’s history, one will see that the country has a turbulent political past filled with multiple military coups, dictatorships, colonizers and an absolute monarchy.
Over the last 90 years in Thailand, elected governments have frequently been overthrown by military coups. Thirteen successful coups have occurred since the end of absolute rule in the Siamese revolution of 1932.
As head of the Royal Thai Army, Prayut Chan-o-cha instigated the most recent coup in 2014 and led the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the military junta which came to power following the coup. Prayut was eventually appointed Prime Minister, and the NCPO ruled the country for five years, during which political and civil rights were restricted, and economic inequality widened. A disputed referendum, widely called unfree and unfair, was held in 2016 to approve a new military-drafted constitution.
Since 2019, the youth of Thailand have been protesting for their right to Democracy. As the movement picked up speed it was not just students but people from all walks of life joining these demonstrations to fight for their rights. The most recent wave of dissent and protests began in early 2020 with demonstrations against the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. They later expanded to include the unprecedented demands for reform of the Thai monarchy. The protests were initially triggered by the dissolution of the Future Forward Party (FFP) in late February 2020 which was critical of Prayut, the changes to the Thai constitution in 2017 and the country's political landscape that it gave rise to. FFP was founded on a progressive platform that sought to restrain the military's power in Thai politics, decentralize the bureaucracy, and improve social and economic equality. The party was dissolved by the Constitutional Court on 21 February 2020.
The protesters were seen carrying duck-shaped pool floats to protect themselves from water cannons and also a way to protect their identities, following the footsteps of their fellow protesters of Hong Kong. The Government responses to these protests include filing criminal charges using the Emergency Decree; arbitrary detention and police intimidation; delaying tactics; the deployment of military information warfare units; media censorship; the mobilisation of pro-government and royalist groups who have accused the protesters of receiving support from foreign governments or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as part of a global conspiracy against Thailand; and the deployment of thousands of police at protests. The government ordered university chancellors to prevent students from demanding reforms to the monarchy and to identify student protest leaders.
According to the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, since November 2020 dozens of protesters have been accused of breaching a feared lèse-majesté law that punishes those who insult senior members of the royal family with jail time. Use of the law had been suspended for nearly three years, and the reintroduction has earned Thailand the condemnation of the United Nations human rights agency.
Not being deterred by everything thrown at them, the people of Thailand stand strong. They remain firm on their stance and still fight for their right to democracy. In the book V for Vendetta, Alan Moore rightly says, “People shouldn't be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.” This quote can be interpreted in many ways, but the point that Moore tries to make is that people in numbers have the strength and power to change their fate. It is our right to choose who rules and represents us on the world stage. We give them that power, so they need to cater to us. The Thai people continue to fight the good fight for their country even today, hoping that one day they will gain the freedoms they deserve.
Hourd, D. (2020, October 22nd). Democracy Is in Danger In Thailand. The Organisation for World Peace. https://theowp.org/democracy-is-in-danger-in-thailand/
Politics of Thailand. (n.d.). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_Thailand#:~:text=Thai%20kingdoms%20and%20the%20late%20Kingdom%20of%20Siam,government%20head.%20The%20first%20written%20constitution%20was%20issued.
Professor Emeritus Dr. Suchit Bunbongkarn. (n.d.). Democracy and Monarchy in Thailand. Democracy and Monarchy. http://www.thailandtoday.in.th/monarchy/elibrary/article/194
Hannah Beech and Muktita Suhartono. (2021, February 1st). Thailand Targets Pro-Democracy Protesters in Sweeping Legal Dragnet. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/01/world/asia/thailand-protests.html