On 15th October, Thailand’s government banned protests and police arrested three protest leaders in the face of escalating demonstrations targeting King Maha Vajiralongkorn as well as Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. Additionally, a state of emergency was declared in Bangkok, along with the Emergency Decree enforced since March which includes a nationwide ban on publishing and broadcasting news and information.
However, the suppression of dissent is not new in Thailand. It has been embroiled in a political turmoil since time immemorial. Till 1932, the kingdom was a monarchy with no written constitution. The rule of the monarch was absolute, and he was the originator of all laws. In 1932, a monumental revolution brought about a written constitution to get drafted for the first time. Since then, the state recognised itself as a constitutional monarchy, whereby the prime minister is the head of the government and the hereditary monarch is the head of the state. Both these branches work in tandem to regulate the governance of the State. The judiciary system was independent of the executive and the legislative branches until 22 May 2014.
Moreover, many abrogations and changes were drafted to the Constitution since, but the 2014 coup d’etat revoked the constitution completely. A military organization or a junta called the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) took over the administration. The chief of NCPO abolished the national assembly and assumed the responsibilities of the legislative branch. A new constitution was amended in 2017.
The constitution was rewritten to maintain a hold over the 2019 elections. The general elections are an example of electoral authoritarianism that is “partly free and not fair.” This was the tipping point in Thailand after which the NCPO exercised arbitrary control in Thailand.
The 2020 protests were triggered when the Future Forward Party was disbanded in late February. The Party, a growing growing power against the NCPO, was critical of Prayut. It promulgated a pro-democracy rhetoric that condemned the country’s political landscape. The first wave of protests was heralded by academics. They were held on campuses but were suspended soon after the COVID-19 pandemic. Soon after, a large demonstration was organised on the 18th of July, which listed three demands from the government: parliament dissolution, a new constitution, and an end to harassment against individuals. It was triggered by the large-scale impact of the pandemic and the lockdown Emergency Decree. They demanded reform. Next, a 19 September rally saw approximately 50,000 protesters. The protests are no longer student-led. They have been described as an open challenge to King Vajiralongkorn.
Moreover, in recent months, demonstrators have reported being subject to intensifying intimidation by the police despite being involved in just peaceful protests. They want an end to the harassment of Thai dissidents, who have been arrested, abducted, and murdered since the 2014 coup.