Conflict Alerts # 189, 19 November 2020
In the news
On 18 November, the charter amendment draft proposed by human rights NGO iLaw was rejected by the parliament in its first reading. The proposal had more than 100,000 public signatures and its rejection was criticized by the protestors. On the same day, protestors also called the Thailand King a giant monitor lizard and painted graffiti portraying his sexual activities.
On 17 November, pro-democracy protestors gathered near the parliament even as legislators were debating the constitutional amendments. When protestors marched towards the parliament, police used water cannons and tear gas to stop them. Protestors also clashed with the royal supporters. At least 55 people were injured, including 6 who were treated for gunshot wounds.
Issues at large
First, the charter amendment. The current constitution was written by the military regime in 2017, and changing it is one of the primary demands of the protestors. The Parliament considered many draft proposals, including those by the government, opposition and iLaw. Only the government and the opposition proposed drafts were passed in the first reading, while the iLaw proposal was rejected. This was because the latter's reform agenda was comprehensive and also included the monarchy. The passed proposals, however, leave the institution of monarchy untouched; they also call for the establishment of a panel for charter writing. They will now go through second and third readings.
Second, the response by State. Thailand has a history of State resorting to violence for quelling protests. However, in the current protests, which have continued for more than four months now, the State has so far refrained from the use of large scale force. Police have used water cannons and tear gas to deal with demonstrators and also arrested/detained protest leaders. Prime Minister Prayut has also softened his position over the last few months and also occasionally extended the olive branch to calm down tensions. Further, on 18 November, in reference to the clashes, Prayut said that the government would not bring special laws and only enforce the regular laws more strictly.
Third, the intensifying clashes between pro-democracy protestors and royal institution supporters. Although both sides have clashed before, the clashes on 17 November were the most violent. Police said they found bullets near the protest site and one royalist supporter was also arrested for carrying a gun.
Fourth, the increasing criticisms against the King. The monarchy is protected by strict 'lese majeste' laws, which entail a punishment of up to 15 years for criticizing the institution. Monarchy is not only revered but criticizing it is considered a taboo. Despite this, in the past few months, protestors have broken all conservatisms, and the intensity of their attack on the King has only increased. Never before has the King being called a lizard or subjected to a satire bordering on mockery. This stipulates the extent to which the anger against the monarchy has tipped.
Rejection of the iLaw proposal means that the protests would continue. However, despite the passed proposals leaving out monarchy reform, consideration of charter amendment even in its limited form is a victory for the protestors.
The protestors-royalists clashes on 17 November are more worrying. Polarization between both the camps has increased over the last few months, and further violent clashes cannot be ruled out at this stage. How the monarchy and the state respond to intensifying attacks on the King is also to be seen.