Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 420, 11 August 2021

Thailand: Protests return to the streets, this time triggered by the pandemic
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

In the news
On 7 August, thousands of anti-government protesters clashed with the police in Bangkok. They were rallying against the government's failure to handle Covid-19 outbreaks and its impact on the economy. Some protesters were marching, and others formed a convoy of bikes and cars towards the Government House-the office of the prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha and other leaders, demanding their resignation. 

The police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse protesters and to stop them to reach their destination. The protesters also retaliated with violence and set two police booths on fire. The Deputy Head of Bangkok Police stated that nine police officers were injured but was unclear about the numbered of protesters injured.

Issues at large
First, Thailand's recent protests and its long history. Since 2019, there have been a series of protests. The protests started in February, after the unfair abolition of the opposition party. The protests largely depicted the youth anger against the current government and the monarch. Since the establishment of the constitutional monarchy in 1932, there have been 12 successful and seven attempted coups in Thailand; the country has also witnessed 20 Constitutions enforced by different governments. Prolonged political instability is one of the primary causes of protests. 

Second, multiple protests with multiple actors. Protests by farmers, educated-uneducated youth, pro or anti-government, pro or anti-political parties, pro or anti-army, and royalists are some of the different actors of protests in Thailand. Until recently, anti-monarchy protests have been unheard of; however, 2019 changed it. The current monarch's policies and numerous arrests under the draconian Lèse-majesté law are seen as cause for the youth anger and the recurring protests.

Third, Covid-19 and the government's inability to recover the economy and ensure political stability. In 2020, the GDP fell by 6.1 per cent, the highest the country has witnessed since the Asian financial crisis. The Covid-19 is just one of the causes of this downfall, and the larger share of the blame goes to the inefficiency and corruption of the government. The rush for opening normalcy to recover the economy has led to the worsening of the situation.

Fourth, the precarious pandemic situation in Southeast Asia, outside Thailand. In Malaysia and Indonesia, there are serious questions on the ability of the government to handle, as the health and economic situation worsens. In Myanmar, the new regime's handling is acting as a catalyst for continuing the anti-government protest.

In perspective
First, since February 2019, anti-government protests have become a recurring event in Thailand. Second, despite the pandemic restrictions, they have continued and now include people of all ages to join the protests. Third, geographically, from being centred in Bangkok in 2019, the protests spread to the rest of Thailand. The protests, now in 2021, are centred again in Bangkok; the pandemic restrictions could be one of the reasons.

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