New wave of anti-authoritarianism rising in Thailand

Youth demand dissolution of legislature, surrender of junta's power

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Protesters in Thailand raise their hands with three-fingered salute as symbol of resistance during anti-government gathering.

Protesters in Thailand raise their hands with three-fingered salute as symbol of resistance during anti-government gathering. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Young Thais are demanding changes from their military government, a regime which has led the country into an economic recession and gravely eroded personal freedoms in the years since it took power in a 2014 coup.

Following the FreeYOUTH protests held at the Democracy Monument in central Bangkok on July 18, anti-government demonstrations — which had been diminishing amid the pandemic — are rising again across the Southeast Asian nation. Protesters have been borrowing the three-fingered salute from the Hollywood blockbuster "The Hunger Games" while urging the authorities to dissolve the parliament, cease harassment of government critics, and amend the military-drafted constitution.

Former Thai Army General Officer Prayuth Chan-ocha launched a coup in 2014 and successfully overthrew the government. His military junta later amended the constitution and required all members of the Thai Senate to be appointed by the junta in a move that paved Prayuth's way to assuming the role of prime minister after the general election in 2019.

The recent demonstrations, spearheaded by young activists, aim to take back the country’s future. At the beginning of 2020, the constitutional court ruled to dismiss the Future Forward Party, a rising pro-democracy party that won 81 seats in the parliamentary election last year, barring its executives from politics for 10 years.

For Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree (Ford), secretary-general of FreeYOUTH, a pro-democracy youth organization, taking back the future means fixing the wealth inequality and power distribution in the nation. "There is one man in Thailand who controls the social structure, and 99 percent of others struggle to survive beneath his feet with their poor salaries. Democracy is the foundation of economic improvement," he told Stand News.

The young activist, who hopes the mounting protests across the country will remain peaceful, wishes Thailand can gain more international concern for its continued authoritarian society. The government generally restricts activists from going abroad, while seeking political asylum is even harder.

Ford is confident that public pressure will push the conservative camp to compromise, and some legislators have already changed their minds on the constitutional amendment. "The first step is to keep pushing the authorities to accept our three demands; the second is to amass more resources and donations to continue our movement," he said.