Anti-government demonstrators took to the streets in Thailand’s capital Saturday following a court ruling allowing Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha to stay in office.
Around 500 demonstrators gathered at Bangkok’s Victory Monument to protest the decision.
Prayut, 68, is a former Royal Thai Army officer who led a military coup in Thailand in 2014 and has been in power since. In 2017 a new constitution was drafted by the military, limiting a prime minister’s time in the job to only eight years.
In August, Thai opposition political parties filed cases with Thailand’s Constitutional Court arguing that the prime minister’s time in the job should have ended this year, saying his term began with the coup takeover.
But after suspending Prayut to review the case, the court Friday ruled in favor of the prime minister, stating his term as the head of the government had not exceeded its limit. It ruled 6-3 that Prayut’s time in charge began August 6, 2017, a day after the new constitution took effect.
In response, Thalufah, an activist group in Thailand, organized a protest beside Bangkok’s Victory Monument, a regular demonstration venue in recent years that has seen protesters and police clash violently.
But the mood Saturday afternoon was much lighter than demonstrations in recent years, as protesters gathered beside market stalls to sing, dance, and voice their disapproval at the court’s decision. Activists took to the stage to voice their anger at Prayut, but the atmosphere remained upbeat, as the demonstration mirrored a mini concert.
Politics, not justice
Chuveath Dethddidark, an activist in Thailand, reiterated the reason for the protest. “We cannot accept about what the Constitution Court do yesterday. But they allow Prayut Chan-ocha to stay on. This is politics, it is not justice. We know, everyone knows it’s not from just the court that makes this decision. We cannot allow this, four more years or anymore. I expect (more protests) but to be realistic people may express their anger [during] the elections,” he added.
Ladoo, who declined to provide a surname, is an activist for Thalufah. He said protests against Prayut would continue until elections, which are likely to be held in 2023.
“The reasons we are [protesting], the decisions made yesterday that Prayut Chan-ocha can still be the prime minister of Thailand, we the people, the people of Thailand are against [this], it is against the people, the right of the people, it is all wrong the decision came this way. Today we came to express ourselves, express our freedom, express our opinion to prove we disagree with the decision made yesterday.”
We are planning to launch the activities before the elections to express the freedom of people,” he added.
Although hundreds turned out for the demonstration Saturday in Bangkok, the numbers are a sharp decline from street protests in recent years.
Thousands of protesters have been calling for a change in government and reform of the country’s monarchy since 2020. But protests have regularly turned into clashes with police, who have used rubber bullets, pepper spray and water cannons to repel demonstrations with hundreds since being arrested and charged. In 2021 most demonstrations were aimed at the government’s COVID-19 policy that resulted in violent clashes in Bangkok’s Din Daeng district.
The activist said times have changed now and attributes the decrease in numbers to Thailand’s economic rebound.
“I don’t think we expect the people to come out a lot more, because we understand the condition of the people isn’t the same as it was in 2020 or 2021 because at that time the economy started falling. We understand so many people are waiting for the elections, but we want to launch the activities to connect that period of time to express we are still fighting and even if you are at home you are fighting with us,” Ladoo added.
Amid the pandemic in recent years, Thailand’s GDP declined by 6% in 2020 but has since grown and is on the path to recovery. As most of the world has learned to live with COVID-19, Thailand has followed suit. Tourism is one the biggest incomes in the Southeast Asian country, and as of today all remaining coronavirus restrictions were dropped for international arrivals.
Last week there were concerns that Thailand could see another military coup if protests were to escalate amid Friday’s decision. Thailand’s digital economy minister, Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, warned another military coup could take place, but experts and analysts in the country said it would not happen. Thailand has endured more than 10 coups in the last century.
More protests in Bangkok are expected Sunday.