Why The Demonstration Broke Out in Thailand?

He Yongjie, Xie Mulan, Li Gen

In recent days, Thai demonstrations have intensified. Tens of thousands of people have gathered on the streets of Bangkok to demand Prime Minister Prayuth to step down and to restrict the power of the king. In the early morning of October 15th, Thai Prime Minister Prayut issued the “State of Emergency Order”, announcing that Bangkok had entered a “serious” state and prohibited groups of 5 or more from gatherings. However, the government’s ban did not stop the people from marching and protesting. At present, the demonstrations and protests have risen to the use of force. The police have begun to use high-pressure water cannons and tear gas to expel the demonstrators, but the protests continue to spread, from Bangkok to other surrounding areas. This is the largest protest in Thailand since 2014. The demonstration has attracted widespread attention from the international community at a time when the epidemic is still severe.

The demonstration began in February this year. As the Constitutional Court of Thailand disbanded the Future Kadima Party, which is popular among young people, it triggered demonstrations in high schools and universities across the country. Later, affected by the epidemic, the government closed schools and protests This is the reason why the demonstrations temporarily stopped. In July this year, Thailand broke out a second wave of protests and has continued to this day. Different from the previous demonstrations by the red shirts and yellow shirts, this parade was attended by a large number of young people. Among them, students were the main force in the parade, and they made clear political demands: first, to dissolve the parliament and reform the monarchy ; Second, stop cracking down on those who raise objections; third, revise the new constitution formulated by the military in 2017. These three demands constitute the core of this protest. But why did young people who were not concerned about politics suddenly participate in this parade? Why did the proposal mainly for “democratic reform” suddenly turn to “King of Thailand”? What impact will this parade have? For the analysis of these issues, the author believes that:

First, the long-term autocratic rule of the military government has aroused public dissatisfaction, especially the promulgation of the new constitution in 2017, which further strengthened the military’s political advantage. The controversy of the 2017 new constitution is that the Prime Minister Prayut is given special powers, that is, the military has the right to order to prevent and suppress any acts that threaten public peace and order; secondly, all 250 seats in the Senate are appointed by the military, and the military has the right Restrict the rights of elected members; again, the prime minister can be a non-elected member. These regulations have further consolidated the power of kingship, military power, and local dignitaries, and aggravated the consolidation of the upper class. Many Thai people expressed dissatisfaction with this and called for democratic reforms of the country’s political system.

Second, the economic recession caused by the epidemic intensified social conflicts. According to the Asian Development Bank’s estimates, Thailand’s GDP will shrink by nearly 8.0% in 2020, and inflation will be -1.6%. The World Bank estimates that Thailand will be one of the countries with the worst economic downturn in East Asia and the Pacific, with GDP shrinking by more than 5%. Among them, the global economic weakness has led to a decline in global trade, which has greatly affected Thailand’s exports. In addition, since March, Thailand’s tourism industry has also been severely affected. Foreign tourists have fallen sharply. More than 30% of tourism companies have closed down. The level of taxation has dropped significantly, and these factors have led to poor performance in Thailand’s economic indicators. The government’s control measures to control the spread of the epidemic have also affected the retail and entertainment industries. The unemployment rate has increased sharply compared to 2019. According to the latest data from the Bank of Thailand, the unemployment rate has reached 2%, of which the number of unemployed 20-29 years old most. The severe social and economic damage, the ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor, the division of society, and the blockage of the ascending channels have caused young people who cannot see hope to flood the streets.

Third, legal inequality has intensified public sentiment. The grandson of the founder of Thai Red Bull Beverage, Vorayuth, was indicted on suspicion of driving and hitting a policeman to death in 2012. With conclusive evidence, he must be sentenced in accordance with Thai law. However, the case has been delayed. In July this year, the Thai prosecutor announced its withdrawal. He was found not guilty of the crime. The Thai prosecutors did not give a convincing answer as to why the charges were dropped. The injustice of the judiciary further angered the Thai people. Countless people launched protests in Bangkok’s universities and streets to demand democratic reforms.

Fourth, the royal family’s privilege is a reason of the Demonstrations. The king’s long residence in Germany made the people disappointed. According to Thai law, no one is allowed to comment or accuse the king. The king enjoys the supreme power in Thailand. The law has become a tool to maintain the king’s power. When the epidemic spread in Thailand in March, King Rama X brought 100 servants and 20 The concubine ran to Germany to escape the epidemic, but did not perform the duties of a king. In addition, the exposure of his “luxurious” isolation life has aroused strong dissatisfaction among the Thai people. When the Thai people were in dire straits, the king did not return to his country to stabilize the situation, but instead took refuge outside. Angry protesters targeted the target. The Thai royal family and the current king demanded to restrict royal power and reform the monarchy.

However, COVID-19 is only one of the fuse of the protests. The contradictions within the country have been around for a long time. The growing gap between the rich and the poor, the division of society, and the serious class antagonism are all deep-seated factors that led to the outbreak of the protests. Prime Minister Prayut has been in power as a military representative for many years. The 2017 Constitution was amended and promulgated to build a joint system of military power and royal power. Since 2014, Thailand’s economic growth has been slow, and the people have long been dissatisfied with the rule of the military government, and the military has firmly stood on the side of the king, causing the people to target the king. However, it is difficult to get a satisfactory answer to the three major demands made by the public, and any one of them is a huge concession to the Thai royal family and military.

If Thailand fails to develop economically and has not changed its politics, it is expected that demonstrations will continue for a long time. This may lead to turbulence in the regional security situation. Neighboring countries are also affected by the epidemic, and the economy is hit hard. It is necessary to be alert to the spillover effects of Thai demonstrations on neighboring countries. Secondly, China’s investment and construction in Thailand and enterprises in Thailand will also be greatly affected. Third, the gathering of large-scale demonstrators also needs to pay attention to the spread of the epidemic. A little carelessness may lead to the “second spread” of the epidemic in Thailand. Finally, the continued protests may damage Thailand’s national image and make Thailand’s economy even worse. Although this is not the first time that protests and demonstrations have erupted in Thailand, compared with previous demonstrations, the intensity and breadth of this demonstration have changed dramatically. It is necessary to be more vigilant about internal changes to prevent violence and unrest.

(The Three authors are scholars at Yunnan University Institute of International Relations, China.)